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Dialect & Oral History: The East Midlands

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Our key findings relate mainly to the phonology of the dialect. The words in capitals are items from the standard lexical sets developed by Wells (1982) for the purpose of comparing vowels in different accents of English.


  • The lack of FOOT/STRUT split, a salient marker of 'northern' English, is found in 25 out of our 30 speakers and in all the areas represented. Every sample from Nottinghamshire shows this feature, while in Leicestershire there is some variation between [ʊ] and [ə]. However, this variation is not used to distinguish words in the FOOT set from those of the STRUT set in the same way as for RP.

  • The lack of BATH/TRAP distinction, another 'northern' feature, is found in just over 43% of the sample across the region as a whole, with the highest proportion in Leicestershire. Surprisingly, only 2 out of 8 speakers in our Nottinghamshire data make no distinction between words in the BATH set and words in the TRAP set.

  • Where the PRICE diphthong occurs in lexical words, as opposed to grammatical or function words such as the pronoun 'my', there is evidence of a shift towards the back vowel [ɑɪ] rather than [aɪ] or [ʌɪ] in 46% of the data (combining consistent and inconsistent usage). The strongest evidence for this pronunciation is in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, with little significant usage in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Younger speakers are less consistent than older speakers.

  • happY vowel: 22 out of 30 speakers (73%) use a 'tensed' vowel (e.g. high front) for words ending in <y>, though 8 of these also use non-tensed (or lax) vowels. There is considerable variation and inconsistency in usage according to whether the word is, for example, a proper noun or used in its plural form.

  • Monophthongisation:
    (i) A third of the sample uses the monophthong [ɪ] rather than the diphthong [eɪ] in the words 'they' or 'they've'. Two male speakers from Lincolnshire also use a monophthong for these words, but the more open vowel [ɛ].
    (ii) A third of the sample uses the monophthong [æ] or [a] for 'I'/'my'/'myself', with most evidence in Nottinghamshire.
    (iii) Among other (less significant) instances of monophthongisation, we find inconsistent usage for MOUTH with [aː ] and FACE with [ɛ]
    (iv) Use of [ʊ], specifically in the words 'go' and 'going', is found in six rural speakers from Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire.

  • There is considerable variation regarding L-vocalisation in the data. More speakers vocalise /l/ in a word-medial and/or final position than retain /l/, though their usage is inconsistent.

  • Glottalisation occurs widely throughout the samples. T-glottalisation is a common feature in the data from all areas, particularly in word-final position, though it is used inconsistently both medially and finally. Though their usage is inconsistent, younger speakers show more use of K-glottalisation than older speakers.

  • The pronunciation of words ending in <ng> as [n] is particularly consistent in the Nottinghamshire data. It is also common in Derbyshire and Leicestershire, but there is relatively little evidence of it in the Lincolnshire data. Other possible variations in the pronunciation of <ng> words are not significant.

  • H-dropping is frequent across the region, particularly in the Nottinghamshire data, with 7 out of 8 speakers H-dropping at least some of the time and 5 of these doing so consistently.

  • Vowel lowering takes place for words ending in schwa; this is observed only in female speakers predominantly from Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

  • Resyllabification of words (by inserting schwa and/or linking consonants in monosyllabic words to make them disyllabic; e.g. lane - [lɛjɪn], school - [skuːwəɫ], 7 speakers in Derbyshire (predominantly), Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.


  • Lexically, our main findings focus on fairly isolated differences between the vocabulary of older and younger speakers. The use of 'like' as a discourse filler is, as we would expect, shown predominantly in the data from younger speakers. The use of 'o'er' (over), 'owt' (anything), 'and all' (as well), and 'aye' (yes) are used only by the older male speakers.


  • Grammatically, our data will need further analysis before we can draw detailed conclusions, though some findings are quite clear. For instance, there is some evidence of non-standard subject-verb agreement for 'be' in the data for all areas except Lincolnshire. Overall, both older and younger speakers, and both male and female, occasionally use non-standard forms (though they are slightly more frequent in the older speakers' recordings). However, certain forms occur in one and not the other generation, e.g. the omission of specific prepositions is not shared by both groups, whereas non-standard 'me' for 'my' is found in both young and old.



Last updated: 26/02/2013
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