LINGUIST List 16.802

Wed Mar 16 2005

Disc: New: Re: Media:BBC: Searching for Welsh-Hindi Link

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        1.    Briony Williams, The supposed Welsh-Hindi link


Message 1: The supposed Welsh-Hindi link

Date: 16-Mar-2005
From: Briony Williams <b.williamsbangor.ac.uk>
Subject: The supposed Welsh-Hindi link


In Linguist 16.970 (Tuesday March 15th 2005) Anthony Green highlighted a
BBC news story on the supposed similarity between a Welsh English accent
and a Hindi English accent: see
http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-790.html

He writes:
''At http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4328733.stm there's a story
about a BBC journalist from India, now living in Wales, who has noticed
'peculiar similarites' between the Indian accent and the Welsh accent of
English, and calling on professional linguists to help her figure out why.''

The similarity betwen Welsh-accented English and the English spoken by
Asian language speakers has long been noted. For example, Mark Green (no
relation?) notes:

''... though you have to be careful with Welsh because if you're not
careful a bad Welsh accent pretty soon starts to sound like a good
Pakistani one.''
(see http://www.licc.org.uk/articles/article.php/id/139 )

The cause is probably the fact that, in regularly-stressed Welsh
polysyllables, the linguistic stress falls on the penultimate syllable, but
the pitch peak actually falls on the immediately following unstressed
syllable - the ultima. This is the syllable that has high pitch, and also
is more likely to contain an phonologically long vowel. It's likely that
this pattern was taken over into Welsh-accented English, so that the
intonation peak falls on the unstressed syllable immediately AFTER the
stressed syllable. This might be one source of the perceived similarity
between Welsh and Hindi/Pakistani etc.

Anthony Green continues:
'' In my opinion, her speculations are unlikely to yield any useful results. I
can predict what the results of any serious linguistic comparison will be:
Welsh and Hindi are both pitch-accent languages, resulting in superficial
intonational similarities in the respective accents of English. The fact
that Welsh and Hindi are both pitch-accent languages is probably
coincidental, as Welsh at least does not preserve the Proto-Indo-European
pitch accent (Proto-Celtic almost certainly had a stress accent). And
calling Indo-European 'the mother of all languages' is just absurd, and
really shoddy journalism.''

Welsh USED to be a pitch-accent language, but since the Old Welsh Accent
Shift it has become a stress language. However, there is a residue of the
old accent seen in the delayed pitch peak described above. In the case of
stressed monosyllabic words, however, the situation is simpler: the pitch
peak, length, etc are all seen on the stressed single syllable.

However, the prosodic similarities will no doubt continue to provide
entertaining fodder for journalists.

Briony Williams
(University of Wales, Bangor)


Linguistic Field(s): Phonology

Subject Language(s): English (ENG)
Hindi (HND)
Welsh (WLS)
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