Boom time for dialects
Global travel and migration have given an unexpected shot in the arm to world’s dialects, until recently often viewed as a quaint, doomed relic of more primitive times. Incoming communities have married their own forms of speech to the argot of their new neighbours, creating fresh versions of spoken languages such as English, Arabic and Chinese. The growth is rapid enough to qualify as a “dialect explosion”, according to specialists who met in England to discuss — occasionally in dialect — the boom. “Language has always developed over time,” said Karen Corrigan, a linguist at Newcastle University and co-organiser of the event. “But at the moment it’s changing much faster than it ever has done because of increased opportunities for social and geographical mobility.”
The research findings, which will be debated by about 400 linguists from across the world, reverse long-standing assumptions about dialects. A mammoth project by British academics, started in the 1950s and still running, began because of a conviction that peculiarities in speech of rural England or nation’s inner-cities were bound to die out. “Just the opposite has happened,” said Charley Rowe, another linguist. “It is RP, received pronunciation or ‘BBC English’, which has been in retreat. Here in Newcastle, where new dialects now mean we’ve got at least 10 ways of saying the word ‘don’t’, there are people who now see a general north-east (English) accent as too posh, let alone RP.”
The new dialects are far from complete languages, but follow their predecessors’ tradition in enriching vocabulary or changing pronunciations. Old Bristolian, which habitually adds an “l” to words ending in a vowel, has been given Caribbean, Indian and eastern European spins.
New terms in the African-Caribbean versions include ‘irie’, meaning nice or good,and ‘facety’, a version of the English word feisty. Asian English novelties include ‘chuddies’ for underpants, and ‘gora’, meaning white person. The conference is also discussing the spread of new dialect phrases and usages such as “bigging something up” (praising) and the ubiquitous use of “like”. New dialects are expected to increase yet more rapidly, particularly in Europe and the US, with the movement.