'It is widely recognized that recent years have seen a marked decline in the use of the traditional dialects of Yorkshire.' (French, 1986: 29).
To this Ellis (1992:16) adds that although it is still possible to identify local speech it is only in terms of pronunciation and grammar. Wakelin attributes this general decline in dialect to the influences of Standard English (1994: 51).
The Influence of Standard English (henceforth SE)
Wakelin (1994) claims that, apart from such isolated areas as the Yorkshire Dales where dialect speech tends to be preserved, regional dialect is being eroded by the influence of SE. He further observes that, even where dialect continues to be spoken, speakers tend to be 'bi-dialectal', i.e. they use dialect within their own localities but employ SE when away from home and 'for the benefit of outsiders'. Wakelin (1994) goes on to say that dialect is best preserved within rural areas, particularly among the older generation, although it is still subject to erosion 'especially as it is passed down to the new generations'. He does however observe that whether dialect ceases to exist or maintains some state of preservation can vary from locality to locality and from one family to another. (Wakelin, 1994: 50-1). What then are the channels through which SE brings its influence to bear on other dialects, and are all the elements of dialect (phonology, grammar and lexis) affected at the same rate? The available literature suggests that the main sources of pressure on traditional dialect are: the media, social change, geographical mobility, the educational system and social attitudes.
Trudgill (1990) claims that, with regard to the products of national and international companies, the language of advertising in the media tends to display a uniformity of vocabulary relating to the objects advertised (e.g. trainers may well replace such words as plimsolls, sand shoes and pumps). Local words have a greater chance of survival where neighbourhood companies and shops remain in business preparing and selling goods locally. For example, as a local butcher continues to sell chitterlings alternative dialect words such as hides, knotlings and ropps will survive (Trudgill 1990: 125).
Trudgill (1990: 125) claims that many dialect words were associated with rural life and non-mechanised working methods employed in agriculture. As these techniques disappear so do the words. By way of example he cites the variety of words recorded in the SED describing the process of placing sheaves of corn in fields for drying: hiling, shocking stitching and thraving are just a small example. Not only do words die out, they are also subject to replacement or change of meaning (Hughes and Trudgill, 1996: 11). For example, wireless has been replaced by radio, and gay once meant light-hearted and carefree. The latter is an example described by Burchfield (1985: 122-3) as a form of pejoration brought about by social circumstances in which the word is used.
Trudgill (1990: 126) suggests that geographical mobility, resulting from improvements in transport facilities, is responsible for the loss of 'regional diversity'.
Cheshire and Milroy (1993) claim that, within the educational system, recent thinking has emphasized the importance of teaching SE in schools, the aim being to broaden the pupils' 'linguistic repertoire' by furnishing them with the ability to use SE forms in addition to the non-standard forms encountered locally. The main consideration is that the individual child, by possessing such an ability, will not be disadvantaged in 'those situations where the standard is customarily used' and will accordingly not 'find many areas of importance in our society closed to them'. Cheshire and Milroy (1993) suggest that 'as things stand currently , proficiency in standard English conveys distinct social and economic advantages.' They conclude that 'ignorance, prejudice and lack of understanding of the nature of standard and non- standard varieties have tended to compound the problems of linguistic and social inequality in the British Isles' (1993: 17, 25, 31). This view appears to be supported by the social attitude of many native English speakers.
Hughes and Trudgill (1996: 9-14) refer to the fact that SE, which they describe as 'the dialect of educated people of the British Isles' and as 'the most prestigious British dialect', is used for writing, for teaching throughout the education system, and as the language of radio and television. In relation to the notion of prestige, Cheshire and Milroy (1993) observe that although the standard variety has achieved importance and social prestige, it is not necessarily superior, linguistically speaking, to any of the others. They view it as more a question of social acceptability. Standard forms, both spoken and written, are used by people in positions of power and influence and are perceived to be indicative of education and culture, a view reinforced by the opinion that such forms are 'correct' and 'proper'. They consider that such perceptions have been internalized by 'almost all native speakers of English' whether or not they are users of standard forms. Conversely, use of nonstandard forms such as I were or he knowed are seen to be bad English and thus devalued (although, strangely, the use of nonstandard vocabulary such as noolies (marbles) or goodies (sweets) is not perceived in the same way). Furthermore nonstandard forms of syntax and morphology are considered to be grammatical corruptions (Cheshire and Milroy, 1993 14-15). With regard to this theme of social attitudes Cheshire and Edwards (1993: 42) observe, in relation to accent, that speakers of Received Pronunciation (British Standard English which has no regional variation and which is sometimes referred to as 'BBC English') are seen to be more competent and intelligent than speakers of regional dialect, a perception shared by both speakers of SE and non-SE alike. Trudgill (1990: 126) claims that it is 'still considered acceptable to discriminate against people, especially young people, on the grounds of their dialect'.
Burchfield, R. (1985) The English Language, London: Guild Publishing.
Cheshire, J. and Edwards, V (1993) Sociolinguistics in the classroom: exploring linguistic diversity. In J. Milroy and L. Milroy (eds.) Real English: The Grammar of English Dialects in the British Isles, London: Longman
Cheshire, J. and Milroy, J. (1993) Syntactic variation in nonstandard dialects: background issues. In J. Milroy and L. Milroy (eds.) Real English: The Grammar of English Dialects in the British Isles, London: Longman.
Ellis, S. (1992) 40 Years On: Is Dialect Dead? In Transactions of The Yorkshire Dialect Society, Vol. XVIII, Part XCII.
French, P. with Miller, S. Cade, V. and Hunt, C. (1986) Documenting Language Change in East Yorkshire. In Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society Vol. XVI, Part LXXXVI.
Hughes, A. and Trudgill, P. (1996) English Accents and Dialects, Third Edition, London: Arnold.
Trudgill, P.(1990) The Dialects of England, Oxford: Blackwell.
Wakelin, M. F. (1994) Discovering English Dialects, Fourth Edition, Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd.