Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bristol liquids

The British Library website has an extensive collection of sound recordings — more than 25,000 of them that anyone can listen to on-line. They include nearly three hundred digitized recordings of accents and dialects made for the questionnaire-based Leeds Survey of English Dialects carried out over half a century ago. Over the following 25 years fieldworkers revisited many of the sites to record further interviews in the form of unscripted and unrehearsed narratives. There are also numerous other recordings made subsequently, often by local radio stations. The sound clips, from all over England, are supported by commentaries on the lexis, phonology and grammar of the recorded passages. What a resource for us all!
The current “recording of the week” is from Bristol. It bears the headline “Ever heard the Bristol ‘l’?”, a reference to the intrusive l for which the area(l)’s accent is known. You can duly hear area pronounced as ˈɛːɹjəɫ just over two minutes into the recording, and piano as piˈanəɫ right at the end.
I discuss this phenomenon in Accents of English (CUP 1982), vol. 2, p. 344, where I mention the Bristolian father whose three daughters were supposedly called Evil, Idle, and Normal.

You can compare the BL recording (Knowle, speaker born 1937) with a more recent YouTube one made by Terry the odd job man (Filton, born 1970; blog, 12 Oct 2007). Terry has now progressed to offering “Bristolian language lessons”. It might be difficult to detect putative intrusive l with him, because he tends to vocalize dark l anyway. Notice his massage with “hyperrhotic” r, ˈmasɑːɻdʒ (discussed in AofE, p. 343).
I suspect he’s actually an actor playing a character, but if so it’s a good act.

12 comments:

  1. A good contemporary example of the Bristolian accent is Ian Holloway, the manager of Blackpool FC.

    I noticed in the BL recording that "school" was pronounced /skuəl/ constantly, which is a new one on me.

    With the SED recordings, I defy anyone to follow the one from Dent in Yorkshire. I have often challenged dialect-lovers to follow it, and nobody can.

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  2. Ed: There's a clip of Ian Holloway here: http://www.ave-it.net/ianholloway.wmv .
    Oh, and my maternal grandmother came from Dent...

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  3. Another Bristolian accent is that of Stephen Merchant, who can currently be heard advertising "ˈbɑɹkliːz" (or something like that) on British TV.

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  4. I think Ian Holloway is a funny man. I can only understand a word or two every now and then from the Dent man. It sounds almost as if he doesn't want to be understood by outsiders.

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  5. I look forward to having time to listen to these! In passing, thought I'd mention that I once had a client from northern New Jersey who could not say idea without turning it into ideal. Came out of left field - it's not a feature of the local accent to my knowledge.

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  6. I've heard that quite a lot actually. I used to pronounce "idea" as "ideal" when I was younger and some of my cousins did too (we're American, btw). I remember how our grandma would remark on that and tell us how it was "wrong". She probably thought it was our parents' fault. It seems like a pronunciation that some people (like me) "grow out of" and others (like your client) don't. I don't why that happens, but it does.

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  7. @John Wells: Thanks for sharing that clip. Ian Holloway is one of the few football managers who can make me laugh.

    I've just noticed that the Dent recording says that it was done by Stanley Ellis, but it is clearly not his voice that is conducting the interview.

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  8. Oh, it is his voice: very high-pitched, though.

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  9. That is a surprise. Very high-pitched and "broader" than usual. He seems to pronounce "know" as /naʊ/ at the start of the recording.

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  10. Is Mr. Ellis really even understanding anything in that recording or is he just being polite? I'm sure he was a very skilled linguist (he was an expert witness in several court cases after all), but I still can't help but wonder about that.

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  11. During my visit to family in Bournemouth (on the South coast of England) this Christmas, I don't think I heard alveolar closure in a nonprevocalic /l/ once (except in a couple of conservative RP-style newsreaders on television). Is L going the way of R in southern England?

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  12. @Anonymous: He asks several questions, so he must've understood the jist of it. I can understand about a third of the recording.

    It's a shame that the SED didn't cover anywhere remotely near Bristol with which we might've compared the 1998 recording. I wonder whether the Bristolian l was found in any SED sites. I don't think it has a very large geographical domain.

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