Dr Joanna Przedlacka
My doctoral project was a sociophonetic study of a putative variety of Southern British English, popularly known as Estuary English. To work out the exact phonetic nature of this variety, I did fieldwork in four Home Counties: Buckinghamshire, Kent, Essex and Surrey. Fourteen sociophonetic variables were investigated in the study. I looked at differences between the counties, male and female speakers and two social classes. All data came from a word elicitation task from sixteen teenage speakers.
The study showed that there is no homogeneity in the accents spoken in the area, given the extent of geographical variation alone. Tendencies observed include: vowel fronting, as in GOOSE or STRUT, and syllable non-initial t-glottaling, which are led by female speakers. Contrary to speculation in other sources, th-fronting is present in the teenage speech of the Home Counties, the variant being used more frequently by males. Generally, social class turned out not to be a good indicator of change, there being little differences between the classes.
The current data were compared to data taken from the Survey of English Dialects. Glottaling, in popular opinion a distintive feature of Estuary English, shows a pattern not dissimilar to that of fifty years ago, as shown in the SED data, but l-vocalisation has increased. A comparison was also made between the Estuary English data and recordings of RP and Cockney speakers. It was demonstrated that Estuary speakers are in a sense indeed ‘between RP and Cockney’ as regards the incidence of t-glottaling and l-vocalisation. However, this is an oversimplification of the issue as factors such as geographical variation or idiosyncratic characteristics of the speakers should be taken into consideration.