Accents
January 3, 2017 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I have three accent questions: 1. What modern accents are closest to the sound of English before and after the Great Vowel Shift? 2. Where (as exactly as you can place it) did the stereotypical salty seaman accent come from? 3. What accent do dictionaries use in their IPA pronunciation guides? (And do prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries approach pronunciation differently?)
posted by clawsoon to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't answer the other two questions, but according to Talk Like a Pirate, that accent was used by the late Robert Newton, an exaggeration of the English West Country accent he grew up with.
posted by angiep at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've always read that the stereotypical seaman/pirate accent is West Country English. Usually people say it's because so many English sailors would have come from that area, but on dialectblog they propose it might be more about famous performances of pirates in plays and movies, e.g. stemming from Long John Silver in particular having a West Country accent.
posted by theatro at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Most British dictionaries using Southern British English for their pronunciation guides. I don't know about differences between dictionaries! I think it used to be more common to use received pronunciation but these days that is the very small minority.
posted by kadia_a at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2017


The OED, at least, uses pronunciations "in use among educated urban speakers of standard English in Britain and the United States", although for particular words it may also include other varieties of English.
posted by theodolite at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2017


The first question's a tricky one to answer, because English in the fourteenth century had multiple distinct dialect families, and the corresponding accents were affected differently by the GVS, so there's no single "before" or "after" as a reference point. If you start around London with Chaucer and end with Shakespeare, you follow a different trajectory to that which took place further north.
posted by holgate at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


holgate: The first question's a tricky one to answer, because English in the fourteenth century had multiple distinct dialect families, and the corresponding accents were affected differently by the GVS, so there's no single "before" or "after" as a reference point.

Ah, okay. One half-baked theory I had was that the Great Vowel Shift was perhaps a change in who had privilege/power, so that "standard English" changed because the group of people defining "standard English" changed. You're saying that the change was more general than that?
posted by clawsoon at 2:18 PM on January 3, 2017


The pirate voice is kind of a West Country / Cornish hybrid to my ears. You hear all kinds of odd piraty speech in Cornwall, like saying "zar!", and Cornwall has long been famous for its smugglers and pirates.
posted by w0mbat at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2017


You're saying that the change was more general than that?

It was more general but manifests itself differently within different dialectal regions and the accents associated with them. Here's a pretty chewy technical paper that traces back from 20th-c northern English and argues that the back-vowel components of the GVS weren't absorbed because those vowels were already in different places. (The Northern Cities Shift in the US is becoming a kind of in-progress model for historical shifts, trying to identify what takes where, and what doesn't.)

The big "why?" is a messy question with lots of hypotheses but no clear answer: population movement during the Black Death, the rise of London English in the halls of power, the absorption of words from Romance languages, the arrival of print. There are certainly a lot of references to the roughness and incomprehensibility of northern speech in the 1300s, but not much has changed there.
posted by holgate at 7:26 PM on January 3, 2017


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