chapter  2
22 Pages

Grammatical variation in the contemporary spoken English of England

ByDavid Britain

Standard English is a minority dialect in England. Surveys of speech communities across the country over the past few decades have consistently found a majority of the population of whichever geographically based speech community is under investigation using at least some non-standard dialect forms. The first person to guestimate what proportion of the population of the UK spoke Standard English was Trudgill (1974). He suggested that just 12 per cent of the population spoke it (and therefore around 49 million people didn’t). He later (2002: 171) presented a case to justify this figure. His survey of the speech of Norwich in eastern England was based, as was common then, but unusual in social dialectological work today, on a random sample of the Norwich speech community, using the electoral register as the sampling frame. Given that only 12 per cent of his random sample had no non-standard grammatical features, he suggested that this was a fair estimate of the figure nationally too. He recognized that there would possibly have been a (small) sampling error and that some towns and cities (he suggested Bath and Cheltenham) would likely have more standard speakers than that proportion and others (Hull and Glasgow) were likely to have many fewer. Few have scrutinized this claim in any detail, but the nearest we have to a con-

temporary figure is a 1995 report by Dick Hudson and Jason Holmes on the use of nonstandard grammatical features found among school children in four locations across the country (the south west, London, Merseyside and Tyneside). The authors make it clear that the recordings were expressly made to find out about the children’s (semi)formal speech, rather than about their everyday informal vernacular that tends to be the prime focus of social dialectological research.