LINGUIST List 27.3900

Mon Oct 03 2016

Disc: Re: Re: Review of 'Researching Northern English'

Editor for this issue: Michael Czerniakowski <>

Date: 03-Oct-2016
From: Patrick Honeybone <>
Subject: Re: Re: Review of 'Researching Northern English'
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Read Review:
Disc: Review of 'Researching Northern English':
Disc: Re: Honeybone's critique of my book review:

In defence of his review of the book 'Researching Northern English', Geoffrey Sampson objects that my criticism of his review (, published in the Linguist List on 19th August) is down to ''some differences of academic opinion'' and is ''ad hominem''. I do not agree.

Because I say that perceptual dialectology addresses some interesting linguistic questions, Sampson (who dismisses that approach) assumes that I would disagree with Trudgill's seminal taxonomisation of British English dialects, which is done on the basis of phonological dialect features. This does not follow. In order to fully understand English from the north of England (or any linguistic area anywhere), we need to combine 'standard' dialectology (such as some of Trudgill's work), research on the precise patterning of the linguistic features found in the dialects, and also research into how speakers (and outsiders) perceive the varieties concerned (that is, perceptual dialectology). It is to be expected that results based on the study of structural dialect features and those from the study of of perceptions may not coincide, and it is interesting when that is the case.

Sampson says that it is ''nit-picking'' to point out that he mischaracterised the linguistic features that he singled out for discussion in his review, but I can't help thinking that it's important to be accurate. It can certainly be useful to have a non-expert review a book, but it is fair to expect them to be cautious when contradicting its contents. One of the features that Sampson picked out for discussion is 'Definite Article Reduction' (DAR). This is a feature found in many varieties of English from the north of England, giving realisations of the definite article (such as single oral and glottal stops and fricatives) that are unlike those found in other varieties of English, with much written about it. My objection to Sampson's discussion of DAR in his review was that he ignored all previous scholarship on it and criticised the discussion in the volume on the basis of his own anecdotal experience.

Sampson unfortunately compounds the issue in his response. One of the criticisms in his review is that the author of a chapter on Lancashire English says that DAR can be realised by a singleton voiceless fricative. In his response he claims that this is ''misleading'' because ''I am used to hearing a voiced interdental fricative in this context''. The passage in the book is not misleading. In Lancashire English voiceless fricatives are widely recognised as a form of DAR. But, more importantly, it is generally recognised that Northern English DAR has nothing to do with the much more widespread phenomenon in which the vowel of the Standard English definite article can be elided, leaving just a voiced fricative - that kind of thing is found widely in the English speaking world, including the north of England, and is presumably what Sampson has heard there. It is not nit-picking to recognise that ''this 'vowel-elided' Standard English article can be distinguished from the reduced article in the DAR sense proper. Vowel-less fricative forms of DAR are usually voiceless'' (Rupp 2007, 217). Voiced fricative realisations are by definition not canonical cases of DAR. It is likely, therefore, that the anecdotal evidence that Sampson adduces is entirely irrelevant to the issue.

My main objection to Sampson's review was that ''[u]nsystematic personal experience of linguistic features should not outweigh expert linguistic study''. Sampson did not address this objection in his response.


Rupp, Laura. 1999. The (socio-)linguistic cycle of Definite Article Reduction. _Folia Linguistica Historica_ 28, 215-249.

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

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