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‘Strong r’ in danger of disappearing across North of England, study finds

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Research shows that Blackburn is one of the last places you can hear a rhotic accent

The “strong r” sound at the end of words could disappear across the North of England, a study suggests.

Lancaster University (LU) researchers say rhotic speakers, who pronounce the “r” sound in words like car, she and bird, are “becoming a thing of the past” across the region, except an exception.

Dr Danielle Turton said east Lancashire remains an “island of life”.

But even there, the “strong r” sound was decreasing in younger people, the study’s lead researcher said.

Rhoticity is the term for speaking with an accent in which the r sound is pronounced not only before a vowel but also before a consonant or at the end of a word.

An LU representative said that hundreds of years ago, in England it was common to “pronounce the ‘r” strongly”, but that has diminished as the language has developed and is most commonly recorded in Cornwall and West Country.

They said “most sociolinguistic research on rhoticity” has focused on the Southwest and “relatively little” is known about it in the North.

“This research is timely because northern rhoticity is predicted to disappear over the next few generations, a process that has now been completed in many areas of the Southwest,” they added.

‘Language uniformity’

Dr. Turton said the study is titled “An acoustic analysis of rhotic degrees in Lancashire, England“, found that speakers from Blackburn and the surrounding area “often distinguish between pairs of words, such as ‘stellar’ and ‘stella’, whereas most British people consider them the same”.

“However, for the youngest people in Blackburn, these ‘r sounds were very weak, which raises the question of whether future generations will hear these weak ‘r sounds, and whether the Whether this difference will eventually disappear or not,” she said.

“The accent change is often like a puddle: it dries up in most places and leaves remnants around the edges, which is why Cornwall and East Lancs behave similarly here today .”

Research shows that the strongest ‘r’s are said by older and more prominent men in formal conversation, which, they say, raises “interesting questions about social prestige and clarity of speech”.

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Dr Turton said that for the youngest speakers at Blackburn, the ‘r was very weak’.

The researchers also say that although speakers of rhotic Blackburn and East Lancashire may be a minority in Britain, they “make up the majority across the English-speaking world”, as are speakers of North American, Scottish and Ireland also uses that pronunciation, “as do many others”. second language learners of English”.

Dr Turton said the East Lancashire ‘r’ is weaker than non-English ‘r’s, “possibly because it is undergoing a change to British standards” and may eventually disappear. lost.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the disappearance of traditional dialects and linguistic homogeneity between regions in England,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it appears this is the case with the ‘rhoticity island’ in East Lancashire.

“In the next few generations, this tradition may be lost.”

However, she added that all is not affected by regional accents.

“Blackburn retains many of the other vowel features that make it unique, and changes like these often pave the way for further language development in the future,” she said.

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