A town between dialects

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Speakers’ psycho-social orientation and social knowledge have often been identified as having an important role in linguistic change. We know, for example, that speakers’ adoption of linguistic features from a neighbouring region often correlates with their positive social orientation towards that region (Llamas 2007), and that their social orientation can be discussed with reference to their interpretation of physical, political and social ‘boundaries’ (Llamas 2010). Southport, located 17 miles north of the large industrial city of Liverpool, is historically an independent borough but was absorbed into Merseyside in 1974. Southport and Liverpool are well connected by frequent transport links and, given the high levels of contact between people, it has been predicted that phonetic features of the Liverpool accent will diffuse into the traditional Lancashire accent of Southport (Grey & Richardson 2007). However, a complicating factor is Liverpool’s negative stereotype (Montgomery 2007), which may be predicted to act as a barrier to the diffusion of Liverpool features. This paper aims to analyse the diffusion of two local Liverpool features – the lenition of intervocalic and word-final /t/ and /k/ – in speech from a corpus of 39 speakers stratified by age, gender and socio-economic status. I show that despite the links between the two locations, the features of Liverpool are not diffusing into Southport speech as rapidly as originally hypothesised. The second aim is to investigate whether there is a correlation between speakers’ language use and their spatial mobility patterns by mapping their external (contact) and extra-linguistic (attitudinal) behaviour onto their linguistic production. I show that varying patterns of contact could provide an explanation for the reduced level of diffusion of Liverpool features. In conclusion, I argue that understanding speakers’ psycho-social orientations and social awareness, in conjunction with correlative patterns of speech production is crucial for explaining language change.


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