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Review of  New-Dialect Formation

Reviewer: Philip A Shaw
Book Title: New-Dialect Formation
Book Author: Peter Trudgill
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.3423

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Date: Tue, 07 Dec 2004 17:07:55 +0100
From: Philip Shaw
Subject: New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes

AUTHOR: Trudgill, Peter
TITLE: New-Dialect Formation
SUBTITLE: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2004

Philip Shaw, University of Stockholm, Sweden


This monograph argues that under certain circumstances the formation of a
new variety of a language (a 'new dialect') is deterministic, that is, it
depends only on the dialect characteristics of the initiators and not on
extraneous factors like status and identity. Support for this thesis is
largely from a corpus now known as ONZE -- Origins of New Zealand English
(hereafter NZE) -- which derives from the spoken reminiscences of some 325
first- generation Anglo New Zealanders (born in New Zealand between 1850
and 1900) recorded between 1946 and 1948. Trudgill argues that the corpus
represents an almost unique record of the moment before a new variety is
born. Some support for Trudgill's thesis also comes from other varieties
of English, particularly other Southern Hemisphere ones with nineteenth-
century roots. The findings of the ONZE project are described thoroughly
in another publication of which Trudgill is an author -- Gordon et al
2004 -- and this book aims to use those findings to make a general point.

The first chapter establishes that most colonial varieties of European
languages (and of Hindi) derive their distinctive features in part from
dialect mixture among the founding settlers. The similarities among the
Southern Hemisphere varieties are due to similarities in the dialect mix
among the original settlers, who came from (Southern) England, Scotland
and Ireland in that order of frequency. To these observations Trudgill
adds the evidence that new dialects are formed by quite young children who
are relatively impervious to considerations of status or prestige. Hence,
Trudgill can argue that under tabula-rasa conditions (i.e. where there is
no local variety of the incomers' language) new-dialect formation is
deterministic, affected only by the initial linguistic mix.

The second chapter aims to establish relevant features of nineteenth-
century British English, to see how it differed from early NZE, which
seems to have become focused around 1900. The first generation
of 'colonial' children has no peer-group variety to adopt, and thus
follows its parents' variety more closely than elsewhere, so that sound
changes in progress are held up for a generation. As a result the ONZE
sample includes features which would have died out in the speech of the
sample's contemporaries in Britain and Ireland. Thus the ONZE sample can
be used, along with written sources on nineteenth-century English, to
define the English of the first settlers, and the chapter proceeds to
reconstruct the accents spoken by those settlers. The argument can be
exemplified by considering h-dropping, the 'English' English feature by
which word-initial /h/ in stressed content words is lost, so that 'ill'
and 'hill' are homophonous. In the Southern Hemisphere the phenomenon is
nowadays absent or rare. In the ONZE recordings about 25% of speakers
exhibit h-dropping, which suggests that it was less common in nineteenth-
century English varieties than it is today. This is corroborated by
dialect studies over the last hundred years, suggesting that only a
minority of the first settlers exhibited h-dropping, which meant,
deterministically, that the feature did not survive into modern New
Zealand speech.

The remaining five chapters develop the proposed model of new-dialect
formation, referring to Trudgill 1986. This involves six key processes,
which Trudgill illustrates in chapter 3 from New World Spanish and French
and Fiji Hindi: mixing of people with different dialects; levelling, in
which demographically minor variants are lost; unmarking -- linguistically
unmarked forms survive in preference to marked ones; interdialect
development -- new forms arise from the interaction of dialects;
reallocation, where each of two surviving forms becomes specialised to a
different allophonic or social niche; and focussing, in which the new
variety becomes stable, with its own norms.

These processes operate over three stages. Chapter 3 describes Stage I of
the process, rudimentary levelling in the speech of the first settlers.
The speech of the ONZE informants does not include instances of many
localised phenomena (such as the merger of /v/ and /w/) which must have
been in the speech of their parents -- the first settlers. Trudgill infers
that these features were levelled out early because of their extreme
minority status, perhaps especially if they had a low status, since among
these adults status would presumably be an operative factor. At this stage
interdialect development also occurred, the ONZE tapes including for
example "a high level" of hypercorrect initial /h/ and even /hw/ in words
with no historical /h(w)/ like 'apple' and 'witch'.

Chapter 4 describes the speech of Stage II, represented by the ONZE corpus
speakers themselves, who do not sound like each other or like modern New
Zealanders. Because there was "no common peer-group dialect for them to
accommodate to", parental varieties had an unusual influence on first-
generation children's speech, but even so they were not followed
precisely. The ONZE speakers, in fact, combine features from various input
varieties in very unusual ways. They also vary very much in their own
speech, with vowel realisations varying apparently at random between
values typical of different British varieties. The third way in which they
vary is that individuals born and brought up in the same place speak in
very different ways. It seems that the accommodation which caused
rudimentary levelling at Stage I did not operate at Stage II. However
there was 'apparent levelling' in which some fairly widespread features of
nineteenth-century British English (such as Scottish centralised KIT, and
Northern English retention of the same vowel in FOOT and STRUT) failed to
make it into the ONZE varieties. Trudgill argues that this is not because
the features had been diluted by accommodation among adults, as in Stage
I, but because a feature had to have a given threshold frequency in the
input data (of the whole community, not just the parents) to be adopted by

Chapter 5 describes Stage III in which koinéisation (levelling, unmarking,
reallocation) and focusing deterministically formed NZE from something
like the variable and varied speech of the ONZE interviewees. The second
generation of New Zealand-born English speakers were faced with fewer
variants and simply selected those that were most common, which,
coincidentally, were often, but not always, typical of the South East of
England. Where non-southeastern forms were in the majority in the ONZE-
type varieties, they were chosen for NZE. Examples are h-retention and
retention of front realisations of START/PALM. Sometimes the majority for
the Southeastern- type form that survived was very small: for example,
modern NZE consistently has a rounded vowel (like RP) in LOT words even
though only 53% of ONZE informants used such a vowel. A small majority
this size did not always guarantee focussing. In ONZE 57% of speakers used
a short vowel in CLOTH words but in modern NZE both long and short vowels
can be heard in this set, according to Trudgill. Moreover, other factors
than majority status also operated. About two-thirds of ONZE informants
had the shwa/I distinction in unstressed syllables('Lenin' = 'Lennon').
Nevertheless NZE does not, showing that "unmarkedness may sway the balance
in favour of [large] minority variants" (120).

The Southern Hemisphere Englishes are similar to one another because a
similar mix of actual dialect features was available in the feature
supermarket (Trudgill's equivalent of Mufwene's feature pool), but also
because of drift -- potential for change inherent in the starting system.
In Chapter 6 Trudgill gives a number of examples of parallel developments
taking place after the varieties had split, such as HAPPY tensing (tense
[i] rather than lax [I] in unstressed open final syllables) and Glide
Weakening (centering of the endpoint of rising diphthongs).

Chapter 7 makes explicit the point that the previous chapters have made
implicitly: social factors can be dispensed with. Like Labov and Croft,
Trudgill argues that adaptation and the speech of the individuals in
contact are all that is needed to explain language change. The drift
phenomena cannot be the result of the prestige of British varieties
because some have not affected Britain, and the developments have
generally gone further in the Southern Hemisphere than in Britain.
Proponents of an explanation based on prestige would also have to explain
why other prestige innovations in Britain have not been adopted in NZE.
Similarly stigma cannot have been strong in the relatively egalitarian
conditions of New Zealand, even less so before compulsory schooling in
1877, so it cannot be invoked as the cause of the failure of h-dropping to
survive. Nor should we consider identity or ideology as possible causative
factors in this situation. Why should New Zealanders talking to other New
Zealanders need to signal their identity? Trudgill accounts for the unity
of NZE by the mobility of its speakers.


The book's argument is convincing and Trudgill's style is very clear and
unpretentious. Nevertheless the reader can have a feeling that Trudgill's
agenda is not completely overt. The reasons may be his strategy of not
foregrounding the context of his argument and some unclarity about the
strength of his claim.

The first means that he appears to presuppose readers who need the short-
vowel phonology of varieties of English explained in detail, but are so
familiar with current developments away from purpose-oriented explanation
in sociolinguistics that they can piece together where Trudgill's ideas
fit in from passing references to Labov and others. This reader at least
was frustrated not to have a broader view of such trends presented here,
particularly as it would have helped to differentiate this book from
Gordon et al 2004.

The strength of the term 'deterministic' is not clear. It is not formally
defined, and sometimes it seems to mean only that social factors --
speaker intentions of some sort -- do not apply, while at other times it
seems to mean that the outcome is wholly determined by the initial
condition. The case for the second meaning is not made, as there seems to
be some chance involved as well as in the cases of unmarking and
variability in CLOTH words, contrasted with deterministic elimination of
variability in cases like LOT.

Trudgill uses a methodological criterion that one should not invoke
speaker intentions, status, identity, etc. unless one has to. But he is
not necessarily consistent in eliminating unnecessary entities. He gives
both rudimentary levelling at Stage I and the threshold effect at Stage II
as explanations of the absence of features in the ONZE data, even though
the evidence for both entities is the same, and seems to justify this by
saying the processes are plausible (as of course they are), without
showing that they are necessary.

Once one admits a process just because it is plausible one is laid open to
arguments that social factors are plausible too. Trudgill does not explain
why drift failed to carry h-dropping forward, as it did Diphthong Shift,
or why the unmarking involved in h-loss did not overcome statistical
tendencies, as it did for the unstressed /I/- shwa merger. In fact the
frequency of hypercorrect /h/ insertion among the ONZE speakers and the
coincidence of loss of h-dropping with the rise of schooling in the last
third of the nineteenth century would provide evidence for an argument
that h-dropping was stigmatised. This argument might seem as plausible as
the deterministic one for this feature, and if one is to reject it on
methodological grounds the rigour has to be consistent

Nonetheless the case that prestige and identity can be largely dispensed
with in this context is made. On that basis the book is very successful.
It is written with Trudgill's habitual lucidity, handles masses of data
clearly, reveals very wide reading, and, as I hope my summary shows, makes
a generally very impressive case. Certainly one finishes it convinced that
the story presented here of the development of NZE is more convincing than
any of its rivals. Trudgill's abilities applied to such wonderful data as
the ONZE material have resulted in a fascinating book which enlarges our
understanding of the processes which created colonial Englishes.


Gordon, Elizabeth, Lyle Campbell, Jennifer B Hay, Margaret Maclagan,
Andrea Sudbury, and Peter Trudgill. 2004. New Zealand English: Its Origins
and Evolution Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Trudgill, Peter. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.


Philip Shaw has degrees in English and linguistics from the universities
of Oxford, Reading, and Newcastle upon Tyne. He has taught at universities
in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Silpakorn), Germany (Bonn), England (Newcastle),
and Denmark (Aarhus School of Business), and is currently working in the
Department of English at Stockholm University. He is co-author (with
Gunnel Melchers) of 'World Englishes: an Introduction' (Arnold 2003) and
has published widely in journals. He is interested in the structure and
uses of English worldwide, particularly in business and academic settings
and across cultures.

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