LINGUIST List 7.1602

Wed Nov 13 1996

Disc: Estuary English

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Keith Battarbee, estuary english

Message 1: estuary english

Date: Thu, 07 Nov 1996 15:59:06 +0200
From: Keith Battarbee <>
Subject: estuary english
dear Pia and others interested

Looking thru your summary about the state of current knowledge
regarding Estuary English, a couple of points call for comment:

 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". 

Yes, this is valid: an area with a diameter of around 150 km (90
miles), tho including some pockets, especially probably in East
Anglia, which are more resistant. More significant than these
enclaves is the fact that EE is restricted to the SE region, but is
parallelled by similar regional-homogenization going on elsewhere in
the British Isles: in other words, what is evidently emerging is a
pattern of half a dozen to a dozen metropolis-regional varieties (eg:
homogenization of speech in the NorthEast around the Newcastle-on-Tyne
base, or in the West Midlands around Birmingham) (I owe this comment
particularly to Jonathan Hope at the University of Middlesex)

In letters-to-the-editor columns the debate has been heated; ...

...stressing prepositions and auxiliary verbs (which can create
misunderstandings: "Totters have been in operation FOR years").

Some prepositions have always been stressed, particularly those with
argumentative functions (eg: despite). The feature which is attracting
attention here is the stressing of locative prepositions, since it is
more usual to stress the complement in locative prepositional phrases
(eg: marked "IN the London region" versus "in the LONDON region"). But
in any case, altho the phenomenon of locative-prepositional stress is
definitely in existence, it is NOT a feature of Estuary English, but
of the register of radio journalism. Outside radio journalism, Estuary
speakers do NOT display this feature; conversely, radio journalists
speaking other varieties DO use it. Over the past week I have
monitored examples on the American channel Public Network Radio and on
Network Africa (the international service of the South African
Broadcasting Corporation):

PNR: "voting trends [journalese for 'policy decisions'] IN the White
 "IN Geneva, this is NN reporting" 
Nwk Africa: "all OVER Africa..." (I had other examples but I lost my
notes; I'll send in some more when I can)

The attribution of preposition-stress to EE is a classic example of the
unreliability of letters-to-the-editor evidence! 

I might also add that the label 'Estuary English', now well enough
established not to be worth battling against, is actually yet another
(if relatively trivial) example of the regional arrogance of the
SouthEast within the UK: it takes for granted that 'Estuary' means the
Thames Estuary. There are many estuaries in Great Britain, and several
of the emerging regional mega-accents are estuarially based (a
geographer might also object that it's a river basin rather than the
estuary which is relevant)

Keith Battarbee MA PHD
Department of English
FIN-20014 University of Turku, Finland 

tel + 358 (2) 333 5318
fax + 358 (2) 333 5630 
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