World dialect explosion becomes a talking point

03/30/04

The world's dialects are multiplying faster than ever before - quashing fears that globalisation is leading to a standardising of language.

Immigrants to places like Europe, the US and Australia are creating completely new dialects when they learn the language of their host country by mixing it with aspects of their native tongue, experts will discuss at a major international conference at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, today (April 1 2004).

Previous research has shown the old dialects - such as Yorkshire and Geordie in Britain - are disappearing due to increased social mobility. However, linguists now say they are rapidly being replaced or extended by an even greater variety of speech, with a cross-fertilisation that results in varieties of English that are influenced by Caribbean or Asian language.

Black English terms include babymother (the mother of one or more of one's children); irie (nice, good, or pleasing); and big something up (recommend or praise something). Other West Indian terms in the Oxford Dictionary of English include 'facety', an adjective meaning rude, arrogant, or excessively bold, probably influenced by the English word feisty, and 'bad-minded', meaning malicious, unsympathetic, or cynical.

Asian English terms include 'gora', meaning 'a white person', and chuddies for 'underpants'.

The number of dialects is expected to increase even more rapidly over the next few years as asylum seekers from countries from Bosnia to Iraq continue to seek refuge with other nations. Experts say it is hard to quantify how many new dialects are developing but estimate there are several times as many as there were 50 years ago.

Dialect will be among the many sociolinguistic topics to be discussed at Europe's premier conference on language in society, whose four-day programme begins today at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The event kicks off today with a post-graduate workshop.

Four hundred of the world's leading linguists will attend the event, which has been organised by a team from the Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Durham, which are all based in North East England.

One of the organisers, Dr Karen Corrigan, a linguist at Newcastle University, said: "Language has always developed over time but at the moment it is changing much faster than it ever has done as a result of increased opportunities for social and geographical mobility."

"Research still suggests that your dialect or accent remains an important indicator of your social status. It's just that the expanding number of varieties means that people have a greater choice of where to place themselves in society."

"It's hard to say how new migrants will affect the languages of their host communities in the longer term but history does have a tendency to repeat itself and cases like contemporary Ireland, which has a range of unique dialects simply because it was subject to mass-migrations from Britain in Shakespeare's time are a good case in point. We could be experiencing the emergence of even more dialects here in the future."

Co-organisers and linguists Dr Mark Garner, of Northumbria University, and Dr Charley Rowe, of the University of Newcastle, noted that new communities quickly develop their own version of their host country's mother tongue, which is reinforced when conversing with their peers.

Dr Garner said: "This type of dialect is unlikely to stay the same through the generations. Offspring inevitably start to move in new spheres of society and may move out of the area in which they grew up, leading to a further multiplication of dialects as they mix with new people from all over the country and the world."

Judy Pearsall, Publishing Manager, English Dictionaries, Oxford University Press said: "Our research at Oxford Dictionaries suggests that global media, particularly TV, play a large part in popularising particular dialect vocabulary or forms of expression.

"Soaps such as Brookside bring dialect words from a particular region into the sitting rooms of people hundreds of miles away, leading to a 'peppering' of dialect words throughout other forms of English."

Newcastle University linguists, who are analysing a rare archive of Geordie voices - www.ncl.ac.uk/necte - have previously reported this traditional dialect of North East England could die out within 30 years.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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