LINGUIST List 7.1602

Wed Nov 13 1996

Disc: Estuary English

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  • 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:

    YOU WROTE: 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".

    COMMENT 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)

    YOU WROTE: 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").

    COMMENT 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 House" "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

    PLEASE NOTE NEW AREA CODES IN FINLAND: TURKU NOW (2) tel + 358 (2) 333 5318 fax + 358 (2) 333 5630 home + 358 (2) 470 3798 mobile +358 (422) 316 401