Between North and South: The Fenland

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This chapter presents both a brief diachronic and a more substantial synchronic contemporary snapshot of an area of the country – the Fenland of the East Midlands and East Anglia – where dialects of the North of England border those of the south. The area is important for a number of reasons: firstly it is one that has received a good deal of diachronic dialectological commentary over the past 150 years about its border status. Secondly, changing local geographical circumstances – both of the physical, geomorphological kind, and the (resulting) socio-economic kind – have, for some variables, optimised the emergence and retention of a relatively sharply defined north-south isogloss, whereas for others they have blurred it. The North-South dialect boundary simultaneously shows both stable and dynamic characteristics. Thirdly, the Fenland area straddles two of the most iconic isoglosses in English dialectology – the FOOT-STRUT boundary and the TRAP-BATH boundary. Here, two of the most enregistered variants of Northern Englishes – [ʊ] for STRUT and [a] for BATH – both come into contact with their southern counterparts. Following a brief introduction exploring how the Fenland has become an important dialect boundary, the paper examines three areas of the Fens. For each, an outline will be presented of both the phonological system (adopting Wells’ (1982) lexical set approach, and in the manner of the presentations of the urban phonologies in Foulkes and Docherty (1999)), as well as the main non-standard grammatical characteristics of the three Fenland varieties.


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