Regional dialect levelling

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Regional dialect levelling is the process whereby the local dialects of a region become less distinctive as a result of mixing with each other. This involves the spread of non-standard dialect features, for example in British English, TH-fronting as in 'fink' for 'think'.

This should be contrasted with dialect standardisation, whereby local dialects adopt features from the standard language; for example, the loss of /w/ for /v/ (as in 'winegar' for 'vinegar') in most dialects of English.

D. Britain defines regional dialect levelling as "the eradication of marked or minority forms in situations of dialect competition, where the number of variants in the output is dramatically reduced from the number in the input" (Britain, 2001: 1). Torgersen and Kerswill define it as "the reduction in the number of realisations of linguistic units found in a defined area, usually through the loss of geographically and demographically restricted, or ‘marked’, variants, and the closely related notion of dialect convergence, by which two or more varieties become more alike through convergent changes" (Torgersen & Kerswill, 2004: 24, orig. emphasis).

Dialect standardisation can be explained as the result of literacy, and access to standardised written materials. By contrast, because regional dialect levelling involves the spread of non-standard dialect features, it is usually explained as a result of contact between speakers of different dialects, whose non-standard local dialects then gradually blend together without influence from the standard language.

Since regional dialect levelling is about contact between people, it is often explained as a result of increases in geographical and social mobility, leading to the gradual dissolution of close-knit, insular communities that create and sustain distinctive local dialects (see e.g. Milroy, 1987). This type of sociological insight has allowed comparisons with descriptions of late modernity, as described by sociologists such as Anthony Giddens. Late modernity is characterised by historically extreme increases in travel (from daily commuting to more long term moves like migration) and communication (especially mass media, the internet and omnipresent telecommunications). This simultaneous shrinking and accelerating of everyday life Giddens refers to as time-space compression, a concept that is easily related to accounts of dialect change based on increasing contact between people from different places.


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