LINGUIST List 7.1366

Thu Oct 3 1996

Sum: Estuary English

Editor for this issue: Susan Robinson <>


  1. Pia Kohlmyr, SUM: Estuary English

Message 1: SUM: Estuary English

Date: Thu, 03 Oct 1996 10:43:15 BST
From: Pia Kohlmyr <>
Subject: SUM: Estuary English
Some time ago I posted a query about the latest information on Estuary
English. I got several replies (and further questions) and I'd like to
thank all of you and especially the following: Ted Harding, Tony Bex, Paul
Foulkes,and Paul Kerswill. Sorry about the late summary but here it is.

What is Estuary English and where do we find it??

Most (linguistic) people seem to agree on EE being a variant (accent) that
is rapidly spreading in England.It can apparently be found in the area
south of The Wash to the Avon. Linguists have described it as "a levelling
of regional varieties towards London speech" and a "mixture of non-regional
and local south-eastern English pronunciation and intonation". In
letters-to-the-editor columns the debate has been heated; it's been called
"slobspeak", ugly and vulgar, a "thing" that has to be corrected especially
in school. Pronunciation traits include vocalisation of dark /l/ the use of
glottal stops in certain positions, the change of st- (station, estuary,
Christian) and -str- (strike, industrial, instruction) to the sound of sh-
in she. This was observed on the BBC only a month ago. The quality of some
vowels and diphthongs change which can lead to homophones like: way- why ,
say- sigh, pulls-pools-Paul's (- pause). Other features are: vocabulary
(Americanisms and Cockney, the adding of basically), tags are very frequent
(inni',don't I),stressing prepositions and auxiliary verbs (which can
create misunderstanfings:"Totters have been in operation FOR
years").Several other features can be seen but I will refrain from giving
more on this here.Suggestions for further reading will be put at the end of
this SUM.

Who speaks EE?

It is very popular among the young probably because it is said to obscure
social origins - very often it is adopted as a neutral accent.It increases
"street cred" among the young from an RP background and young people with
local accents adopt it because it sounds more "sophisticated". EE speakers
are to be found "grouped in the middle ground", but it can be heard in the
House of Commons as well as being used by some of the members of the Lords.
It can be heard on the BBC and it is well established among the business
men in the City.

These are very interesting changes in language that we are witnessing and
here are some tips on what to read:

Bex, Tony "Estuary English", Education Guardian, 6 Sept 1994

Coggle, Paul, "Between Cockney and the Queen", Sunday Times,
Wordpower Supplement, part 3, 28 March 1993

Coggle, Paul "Do you speak Estuary?", Bloomsbury, 1993

Edmonds, M "The sound of the suburbs", Options, Oct 1991

Evans, A "Social class split infinitively", Times Educational
Supplement, Update [supp], April 1993

Fitzsimons, C "Should we make our kids talk proper?",The Guardian, 29
June 1993

Hymas, Carles "Yer wot? 'Estuary English' sweeps Britain", Sunday
Times 14 March 1993

Kerswill,Paul "Milton Keynes and dialect levelling in south-eastern
British English." in English :History, diversity and
change (Open University Text)1996 ,ed. Graddol,Leith and Swann, Routledge,

Rosewarne, D "Estuary English", Times Educational Supplement,
19 Oct 1984

Waugh, Auberon "Rage" (column), in The Oldie, 2 April 1993

Wells, John "Estuary English?!?", paper given at the Colloquium
of British Academic Phoneticians, Manchester, Easter

Wells, John "Can we codify Estuary English?", conference paper,
Heidelberg, Nov 1994

Mrs Pia Kohlmyr (PhD student) Phone: Int +46 (0)31 773 17 83
Gothenburg University E-mail:
Department of English Fax: Int +46 (0)31 773 47 26
S-412 98 Gothenburg
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