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The phonology of the dialects of England Sándi, Gábor

Abstract

The dialects of England can be classified into three main groups: standard, urban and rural dialects. Rural dialects exhibit the greatest divergence from standard speech as well as showing the greatest variation among themselves. Geographically, rural dialects are grouped into three main regions: those of the South, of the Midlands and of the North. The concept of diaphonemes is needed for a simple description of the phonologies of individual dialects. They are also necessary for an adequate method of comparison between dialects. Diaphonemic merger or split in synchronic grammar corresponds to phonetic merger or split in diachronic grammar. Thus the diaphonemic contrasts /e:/ vs. /ei/, /o:/ vs. /ou/ present in some rural dialects (mostly in the west of England) exist wherever the Middle English (ME) phonemes /a:/ and /ai/; /o:/and /ou/, respectively, did not merge in early Modern English. Other important developments in standard English not shared by all dialects include the raising of /a/ to [æ], the unrounding and lowering of ME /u/ to /^/, the diphthongization of /u:/ to /au/, the rounding of /a/ to /o/ after /w/, the lengthening of /a/ to /a:/ when followed by voiceless fricatives, the merger of ME /ε:/ with /e:/ and the loss of /r/ finally and before consonants. On the other hand, there are often dialectal developments absent from the standard language. These include the widespread loss of /h/, the voicing of initial voiceless fricatives in south-western England and such local changes as the South Yorkshire diphthongization of ME /o:/ and /o:/ to /oi/ and /ui/, respectively. Sound changes do not usually happen in isolation. The study of the phonologies of individual dialects reveals the inter-dependency of most sound changes - due mostly to a tendency in people to keep different phonemes apart in pronunciation and to maintain existing symmetries.

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