The accent of East Anglian English

The East Anglian accent is very distinctive—and not very well known outside the area. Rural East Anglians typically do not drop their ‘h’s, though truly local speakers in Ipswich and Norwich do. They pronounce words like David and naked as ‘Dayvuhd’, and ‘naykuhd’, like Australians and New Zealanders, rather than ‘Dayvidd’ and ‘naykidd’—East Anglian English may actually be one of the sources of the Antipodean pronunciation. Many East Anglians also pronounce words like sure, pure, fury with the same vowel as nurse, so that surely is pronounced the same as Shirley. And older speakers may pronounce words like home, stone, boat with the short vowel of foot, so that boat and goat can rhyme with foot and put. A similar feature can be found in the northeastern USA, where it is called ‘the New England short o’. This comes as no surprise if we note that Massachusetts and neighbouring states are full of towns with names like Norwich, Yarmouth, Ipswich, Lynn, and Haverhill. Puritanism was a potent force in seventeenth-century East Anglia, and the Pilgrim Fathers included many migrants from this area.

The East Anglian do also found its way to the United States. One informant for the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) wrote that during the 1920s in eastern North Carolina they remembered ‘hearing White people, speakers with moderate education, saying things like “Shut the door tight, do it’ll blow open before morning” and “Leave the note in the middle of the table, do she won’t see it”.’

Writers on East Anglian English have been predicting its demise for many decades now. In his Vocabulary of East Anglia, compiled in the 1820s, the philologist Robert Forby set out his concern that improved education and ease of transport would lead to the rapid disappearance of the dialect. It is true that the reach of linguistic East Anglia is now smaller than it was, and that the proportion of natives in the area is being reduced by in-migration from the Home Counties and elsewhere. But East Anglian grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation are still alive and well, and still distinctive.

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