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Debate: When we use dialects

Updated Tuesday, 6th September 2005

Diana Honeybone of The Open University suggested that sometimes the heat of debate can reveal secrets about our upbringing

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Some of the speakers on the 'word4word' programmes, and some senders of messages to these discussions, have pointed out that they have several varieties of English to use, and can move between a local dialect and a more standard English. Many of us do a modified form of this -even if we're not using local dialect words, we use a more noticeable local accent in certain circumstances.

I'm interested in what these circumstances are. When I'm speaking informally to someone who uses my own East Midlands accent or dialect words, then I tend to do so as well; but I notice that even if they're using a dialect I'm not familiar with, my own local accent can become more pronounced, e.g. when listening to the 'word4word' interviewees and also speaking to my husband. He didn't have the fortune to grow up in the East Midlands, but when he's stressing a point, his Birmingham 'g' on the end of words ending in 'ing' can make an appearance.

Being very tired, strong emotions or excitement can also bring out the local dialect or accent. I'm not alone in this - does anyone else remember the occasion when Mrs Thatcher, whose Grantham accent had been carefully removed by elocution lessons in youth, was taunting a Labour member in Parliament, and she came out with the classic local phrase, 'Ye're frit!' Afterwards she claimed she'd done it deliberately, but she didn't use local dialect again. How far does this reflect other people's experience?





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