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Developments overseas

Dialect survival in relic areas
Diaspora communities

The emergence of overseas varieties

Competing sources for dialect features require that one considers more general aspects of language development in trying to reach a decision about which source is the most likely in a particular situation. An example of this is provided by vowel epenthesis in Irish English and Afrikaans English. The epenthetic vowel in question is a shwa in words with final /-lm/ clusters, i.e. with heavy codas consisting of more than one nonhomorganic sonorant, hence film is typically [fɪləm]. Branford (1994: 486) in his discussion of English in South Africa mentions the presence of the same feature in Irish English and suggests that it might be a source. But the number of Irish settlers in South Africa was only about 1%, so hardly significant in the genesis of varieties of English there. However, Afrikaans shows a similar epenthesis and studies of the geographical distribution of epenthesis (Hickey 1986) confirm that it is a low-level phonetic phenomenon with a typically areal spread, for instance it is found in Dutch and in the adjacent German dialects of the northern Rhineland. Its occurrence in Afrikaans — as a transported feature of Dutch, of course — would suggest its appearance in South African English is the result of an areal spread from the former language, given the close contact between Afrikaans and English in South Africa.

‘Colonial lag’

Historically, commentators on varieties of English outside Britain tend to highlight their conservative nature. For the dialect of Forth and Bargy in Ireland (see below) there are remarks from as far back as 1577 by Richard Stanyhurst on the similarity between that variety and Chaucerian English which for Stanyhurst would have been a vague reference to an antique form of English. Latter-day writers refer to the language of the Elizabethan era or to that of Shakespeare and frequently maintain that dialects tend to maintain this still (there are many such references to Irish English, for example, and to Appalachian English, Montgomery 1998, 2001: 107-9; Schneider 2003). Precisely what such labels mean is frequently not specified, the power of the argument seems to derive from its very vagueness. Nonetheless, a certain antiquity is the point being made and the situation where colonies seem to fall behind developments in the mainland is often labelled ‘colonial lag’ (Görlach 1987).

But a closer look at allegedly conservative dialects reveals that they are not simply preserved versions of earlier forms of the language on the mainland but have themselves gone through processes of their own. Such processes can be inherited, i.e. overseas varieties continue processes initiated at their historical source (Branford 1994: 477). This is clearly the case with the raising of short front vowels in varieties of English in the Southern Hemisphere. Furthermore, varieties at new locations obviously undergo independent developments which may be triggered by language/dialect contact or result from internal motivation within the language or triggered by the new society using it. In addition, the specific nature of an overseas variety may rest substantially on dialect mixture, given settlers from different regions of the Britain and Ireland. In such cases the attention of linguists has rested on the nature of the mixture and the results it engendered.

False leads

Another caveat concerns features which seem to have a single identifiable source. The clarity of such cases often masks other sources which might be considered. A case in point is a-prefixing as in They were out a-playing on the strand. Some authors have pointed to parallels in Irish and Scottish Gaelic (Majewicz 1984) in which there is a structural parallel, consider the Irish rendering of the English sentence just given: Bhí siad amuigh ag imirt ar an trá. [was they out at playing on the strand]. But this obvious parallel would appear to be coincidental. The structure a-V-ing is well attested in British English during the colonial period, deriving historically from on V-ing with phonetic reduction of the preposition on much as in asleep from an earlier on sleep. This may well be the source for those varieties of American English which show this structure as Montgomery (2000), who is sceptical of the Celtic origin, rightly points out.

The neglect of distinctions

One can also mention that the neglect of distinctions, present in more standard forms of English, can be characteristic of a particular variety. A clear example of what is intended here is provided by the use of the so-called ‘extended present’ of Irish English (Filppula 1997). By this is meant the use of a present form of a verb to encompass an action which stretches back into the past. In such cases, for instance, in sentences with the temporal adverbial since, e.g. He has been here since we moved to Dublin, English requires the present perfect. However, Irish English only uses the present and so neglects the tense distinction found in standard English, e.g. We’re living here for ten years now. A significant source for this usage in Ireland (it is also found in Scotland) may well be Irish where an equivalent to the present perfect of English does not exist.

Factors determining the shape of overseas varieties

1) Dialect input and the survival of features from a mainland source or sources.
2) Independent developments within the overseas communities, including realignments of features in the dialect input.
3) Contact phenomena where English speakers co-existed with those of other languages.
4) An indirect influence through the educational system in those countries in which English arose without significant numbers of native speaker settlers.
5) Creolisation in those situations where there was no linguistic continuity and where virtually the only input was a pidgin, based on English, from the preceding generation.

Dialect survival in relic areas

There is a characteristic topography which goes with dialect survival overseas. In general inaccessible, mountainous or isolated coastal regions keep the features which were characteristic of the input varieties. Appalachia and Newfoundland are two classic examples of this kind of situation as is the Ozark Plateau. Indeed there may well be interconnections between such regions as Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988: 2) postulate for Appalachia and the Ozarks (see map in Carver 1987: 119; he notes, for instance, the occurrence of poke ‘bag, small sack’ in the Appalachians and the Ozarks). The Outer Banks of North Carolina provide an example of an isolated coastal region with dialect features not found in mainstream varieties of American English (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1997: 5-15). Features in such areas which are not necessarily characteristic of the country they are part of tend to be retained. In the Ottawa Valley, to the north-west of Ottawa city, remnants of the speech of 19th century Irish emigrants are supposed to still survive (Pringle and Padolsky 1981, 1983). Rhoticism — the Southland ‘burr’ — in the Otago region of the south island of New Zealand is not typical of the rest of the country. Such locations exist in the contemporary anglophone world and may have existed historically, but have since disappeared, e.g the baronies of Forth and Bargy in the extreme south-east of Ireland.

Dialect diaspora

Movement away from one area to a smaller, more remote one is what one can term ‘dialect diaspora’. This situation is found in a few cases in the anglophone world and has been the subject of investigation by a number of linguists (notably Shana Poplack, Sali Tagliamonte and John Singler for diaspora forms of African American English). The linguistic interest of such areas derives from their separation from the core area and hence their lack of participation in later developments in this latter area. A case in point is offered by the Americana settlement in Brazil which consists of African Americans who left the southern United States in the wake of defeat after the American Civil War (Montgomery and Melo 1990: 195). Certain features which are regarded as prototypical of present-day southern United States speech, such as diphthong flattening in the PRICE lexical set, are not found here. The conclusion which can be drawn is that this phonetic feature is a recent phenomenon, post-dating the movement of African Americans to Brazil.

There are other African American diasporas, notable on Samaná peninsula in the Dominican Republic and in Nova Scotia (Poplack 2000: 4-10; Poplack and Tagliamonte 2001: 10-38; 39-68). The return to West Africa by African Americans in the newly founded state of Liberia in the 19th century (it was proclaimed a republic in 1847) has been investigated by John Singler along with the development of African American English after this displacement from the core area in the southern United States (Singler 1991).

Dialect features can also offer information about migration routes within a country. In the movement of African Americans from the south to the north in the United States there were two basic streams, one which involved African Americans from North and South Carolina moving up along the coast to Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and one which involved those who took a Midwestern route up into St Louis, Chicago, Detroit. It has been noted (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1998: 115) that the latter group are less likely to show the shift of [ð] to [v], as in brother [-v-], smooth [-v], than are their counterparts at Eastern Seaboard locations.

An isolated variety in a group: Gullah and African American English

In 1670 British colonials and African slaves moved up from Barbados and landed at Charleston in South Carolina. The slaves were put to work on the rice plantations in the area and they continued their form of English which became what is now known as Gullah or Sea Island Creole. The latter term refers to the fact that this variety is now only found on the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia and in the marshy coastal region of these south-eastern states. Within the group of African American varieties in the present-day United States, Gullah occupies a special position. On the one hand it is spoken in a relatively isolated part of the country (and shows no urban forms) and on the other its actual its source is well-known, given the transportation of African slaves from the Caribbean to this region in the late 17th century.

Gullah shares many grammatical structures with other forms of African American English, notably aspectual distinctions, e.g. They bin come ‘They had come’ (remove past), They duh come ‘They come regularly’ (habitual, a form found on Barbados), They done sold the car ‘They have sold the car now’ (perfective). There are also many words in Gullah which are most probably of African origin (see the famous treatment of this topic in Turner 1949), one or two of which have entered English, e.g. juke ‘raucous, bawdy’, found in jukebox.


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