New research shows that watching television can be a factor in accent change
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education
New research has provided the first evidence to prove that active and engaged television viewing does help to accelerate language change.
In particular the study, funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and published in the American journal ‘Language’, looked at how watching the television soap ‘EastEnders’ is altering certain features of the Scottish accent.
Professor Barrie Gunter, of the University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication, worked with linguists at the University of Glasgow on the study.
They found two particular features of pronunciation typically associated with London English that were becoming increasingly apparent in the Glaswegian dialect among people who regularly watched the television soap opera.
The particular features in question are:
- using “[f]” for “/th/” in words like “think” and “tooth”
- using a vowel like that in “good” in place of “/l/” in words like “milk” and “people”
The results show significant correlations between using these features with strong emotional and psychological engagement by the viewers of this programme.
However, the study also concluded that simply being exposed to television is not sufficient to cause accent change; for someone’s speech to alter, they need to regularly watch the show and become emotionally engaged with the characters.
The authors caution that television and other forms of popular media constitute only one of many factors that help accelerate language change and other, more powerful factors, such as social interaction between peers has a much stronger effect on language change in this study.
Professor Barrie Gunter said: “The findings are interesting because they provide evidence about the role that television could play in promoting the migration of regional dialects or speech patterns from one location to another.
“Sociolinguists have known for a long time that when people move to new geographical locations they take their speech patterns with them. If sufficient numbers of people move in this way, alien speech patterns can become integrated with the local speech vernacular.
“Although the mass media have previously been referred to anecdotally as playing a part in this process, this research has provided more systematic, scientific evidence for this effect.
“Thus, the researchers here asked whether the exposure of children in Glasgow to a soap opera such as EastEnders would result in some of the east end of London forms of speech being adopted locally.
“The research provided some evidence that this mediated influence on speech had occurred, most especially for children who were most closely attached to the programme and also after controlling for possible effects of meeting people from London.
“We now need to extend this work to include other media examples of speech, other speech forms and bigger samples of people. We also need to study more closely the psychological and linguistic mechanisms that underpin these speech change effects.”
Jane Stuart-Smith, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Glasgow and lead researcher on the project, said: “We don’t properly understand the mechanisms behind these changes, but we do see that the impact of the media is weaker than that of actual social interaction.
“We need many more studies of this kind in order to appreciate properly the influence of television and other popular media on language change.”