Investigating East Midlands adolescents’ perception of language variation in the UK
Post written by Natalie Braber based on an article in English Today
The concept of identity in the East Midlands can be relatively problematic as it is not immediately clear what is included in the region and where it fits in the North-South divide in the UK. It is an interesting area linguistically, because of its shared features with northern varieties, as well as southern varieties of English. It has also been argued that the Midlands form a transition zone between North and South and that a clear North/South divide cannot be made. There has been relatively little survey of the local dialects but despite this lack of empirical evidence, anecdotally it appears that language in the East Midlands remains distinctive (both within the region and compared to other regions) and locals insist there is considerable difference, for instance, between speech in the major urban centres of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.
This paper aims to extend this topic by investigating views of young people living in the East Midlands using a folk linguistic approach which looks at non-linguists’ beliefs and perceptions about the similarities of their own speech to, and differences from, the speech of others. This involves examining where participants believe dialect areas to be and what the characteristics of local speech are. This paper examines dialect identification and investigates the abilities of a sample group of adolescents to place correctly local and regional varieties of English. The main goal of this study was to start the discussion of perceptual dialectology in the region and to learn about what adolescents think and know about language variation in the East Midlands and the UK more widely. It examines in detail the accents and dialects this group believes to exist in the UK and to see how well they can recognise these. It shows that these adolescents were not accurate at recognising local accents and were unlikely to name local towns and regions as having a distinctive accent.