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Terms for varieties of English



accent 1) Strictly speaking this indicates pronunciation, i.e. it refers to the collection of phonetic features which allow a speaker to be identified regionally or socially. It is frequently used to indicate that a given speaker does not speak the standard form of a language. 2) The stress placed on a syllable of a word or the type of stress used by a language (pressure or pitch). In the International Phonetic Alphabet the accent mark is a superscript vertical stroke placed before the stressed syllable as in polite [pəˡlaɪt].

accommodation A term from sociology and applied to sociolinguistics, above all by Peter Trudgill. It assumes that speakers when in face-to-face interaction with other speakers of different dialects will adapt their speech to that of their interlocutors, perhaps in an effort to make them feel at ease or to be socially accepted by them. If this accommodation occurs across an entire community then it can lead to new dialects which contain combinations of features. See dissociation.

acrolect The variety in a creole-speaking community which is closest to the standard form of the language which served as original input (see lexifier language), e.g. English, Dutch, Portuguese in former colonies. The acrolect usually enjoys greatest prestige in the community where it is found, e.g. standard Jamaican English.

actuation In theories of language change this is postulated at the beginning phase of change which is initiated by a certain trigger. This can be the preference for a type of pronunciation or a certain grammatical structure among speakers of a group which enjoys prestige in a society (an external trigger). The pressure to regularise paradigms in morphology would be an example of an internal trigger (see analogy, propagation, termination).

adaptation A stage which often follows borrowing in which foreign words are made to conform to the phonology of the receiving language, e.g. early French loans in English have initial stress (as is typical of the lexical stems in English), e.g. certain, forest, hostel, malice, but later French loans have not been adapted to this pattern, e.g. détente, hotel, police all with stress on the second syllable.

advanced pronunciation A progressive form of some language variety and which shows the most recent changes in it clearly. For example, advanced Received Pronunciation would show the merger of words like poor and pour, something which does not hold for all speakers of this form of English.

African American [Vernacular] English (AA[V]E) has been used for some time (the qualifier ‘Vernacular’ is normally left out now). It is found in preference to other terms, when referring to the specific varieties of American English used by that section of the population which stems from the African slaves initially brought to the south of the country during the early colonial period. Black English Vernacular (BEV) is sometimes used when specifically discussing earlier literature which employs this term. Then the equivalence of the older and the newer term should be pointed out.

African languages There are four large groups which are generally recognised by scholars in the field. These are (from north to south) (1) Afroasiatic, (2) Nilo-Saharan, (3) Niger-Congo and (4) Khoisan.

Afrikaans A colonial form of Dutch which developed in the Cape region of South Africa from the second half of the 17c onwards. Its grammar has been simplified compared to Dutch a fact which has led many linguists to believe that Afrikaans arose through a process of pidginisation with later creolisation followed by decreolisation, much as African American English may have done in North America.

Anglo- A prefix which refers to forms of English in different Asian countries which show some historical continuity, often through the male ancestors of speakers, e.g. Anglo-Indian, Anglo-Malay.

anglophone A term used to refer to English-speaking countries or to pidgins and creoles which have English as their lexifier language.

Atlantic creoles A collective reference to the creoles spoken in West Africa and in the Caribbean region including remnants of African American English creole such as Gullah.

apparent time A reference to a technique in sociolinguistics whereby the speech of older speakers is examined to determine what the variety they speak was like at the time of their youth. The technique rests on the (not uncontested) assumption that the accent of speakers does not vary considerably after it has been established in late childhood. See real time.

Asian Englishes A collective reference to forms of English spoken in South Asia and South-East Asia from Pakistan to the Philippines. The range of English varies greatly in these countries, from poor second language knowledge to native competence (recently in Singapore). A common trait of these varieties is that they have arisen not through large numbers of anglophone settlers but through exposure to English in public life, typically in education.

Asian languages The continent of Asia stretches from Turkey to Japan and from northern Siberia down to Sri Lanka in the centre and Singapore in the east. A great diversity of languages is found in this large area. The following is a tentative classification. (1) West Asia: (a) Caucasian languages, (b) Indo-European languages, (2) Siberia: (a) Uralic languages (Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic, Yukaghir), (b) Paleosiberian languages, (3) Central Asia: (a) Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolian, Tungusic), (4) China: (a) Sino-Tibetan (Sinitic, Tibeto-Burman), (5) Middle East, South Asia: (a) Indo-European, (b) Afroasiatic, (c) Dravidian, (6) South-East Asia: (a) Tibeto-Burman, (b) Tai-Kadai, (c) Austroasiatic (Munda languages, Mon-Khmer group), (d) Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien).

aspect One of the three axes on which verbs may vary (the other two being tense and mood). Aspect refers to the way in which an action is viewed by the speaker, i.e. as being terminated (perfective), on-going (progressive), recurring (habitual), etc. Put in a simple formula, tense specifies when an action took place and aspect how. Creoles are noted for having a complex aspectual system. Only some of the distinctions found in these languages are attested for the colonial languages from which they are derived.

Australian languages These can be divided into two large groups: Pama-Nyungan and non-Pama-Nyungan. This term comes from the word for ‘man’ in two languages which are probably related but maximally removed from each other geographically. The remaining languages are simply termed non-Pama-Nyungan and are typologically very diverse. Relationships are difficult to determine as no written records exist. At the start of the colonial period (the late 18th century) the number of languages was probably more than 500, but today only about 200 exist. The Pama-Nyungan languages are spoken in nine-tenths of Australia. Non-Pama-Nyungan languages are located in a small part of the Northern Territory. Only five languages are spoken by more than 1,000 people four of which are Pama-Nyungan. Several pidgins and creoles have developed in the north of the continent, on the Torres Straits Islands between Australia and Papua-New Guinea.


baby talk theory The now outdated notion that pidgins originated from a deliberately simplified form of the colonial language analogous to the language of infants.

background language A term found in Asian English studies to refer to languages other than English which are present in a region, which may be the first language of sections of the population and which have a structural effect on the form of English which arises in the region. A background language need not be an indigenous language, e.g. Chinese and Tamil in Singapore were themselves transported there through migration in the last few centuries. The notion of background language is similar to that of substrate in pidgin and creole studies.

Bantu The major branch of the Niger-Congo family consisting of 300-500 languages. Its affiliation is contested, some authors group it into the Benue-Congo branch. The majority of the Bantu languages are tone languages (with the exception of Swahili) and are agglutinative in type with complex noun classes.

Barnes, William (1801-1886) A poet from Dorset. Barnes was a schoolmaster and clergyman who produced much work in the dialect of his native county. He is known to linguistics for his grammars of the Dorset dialect and for a glossary of the archaic dialect of Irish English found in the baronies of Forth and Bargy in the south-east corner of Ireland. Barnes was much in favour of using native Germanic elements in creating alternatives to classical compounds in English.

Basic English A core vocabulary for English which was devised by C. K. Ogden in the 1930s. The aim was to produce a simplified form of English for nonnative usage.

basilect, mesolect, acrolect Terms from creole studies to refer to the varieties furthest away from, in the middle and nearest to the standard of the lexifier language respectively.

BBC English An incorrect reference to the accent known to linguists as Received Pronunciation because the institution referred to used only employ people with this accent of English.

Bickerton, Derek An American linguist who is known for his views on how children ‘create’ language in a creole situation. Bickerton believes that there is an innate bioprogram which comes to the fore in situations of uncontrolled first language acquisition with little or no linguistic background input. This bioprogram contains various elements, such as aspectual distinctions for verbs, which have been repeatedly observed among the world’s creoles.

bidialectism A situation in which a speaker is able to converse effortlessly in two dialects, to switch at ease between both and keep them apart. It is in fact a type of bilingualism.

bilingualism (1) The ability to speak two languages with native-like competence. In individual cases one language will be dominant. Lay people often use the term if someone can simply speak a second language well. But among linguists there is much debate on the degree of competence required in two languages for an individual to be classified as bilingual. There are other factors involved here such as whether two languages are acquired simultaneously in early childhood or whether the second language is acquired later on, often in adulthood due to such factors as emigration or marriage to a spouse with a different native language. (2) The term is also applied to societies and/or countries. Well-known examples of bilingual countries in the anglophone world are Canada and South Africa. The latter is in fact multilingual, now recognizing 11 different official languages.

bioprogram hypothesis A postulate by the American linguist Derek Bickerton that children have innate information about the structure of language in general and that this comes to the fore when there is no clear linguistic input in their surroundings as happened for many people on plantations during the colonial period of English. Such structural information would involve semantic primitive, for instance those which are expressed by tense (anterior : non-anterior), aspect (punctual : nonpunctual) and mood (realis : irrealis).

Black English See African American (Vernacular) English.

Blarney An impressionistic term for flattering, cloying speech which is supposed to be typical of the Irish. The term is known in this sense since the time of Elizabethan I (who is reputed to have used the term in this sense). The term derives from a stone on the top side of Blarney Castle near Cork city which is supposed to give the person who kisses it ‘the gift of the gab’.

Bristol The major port in the south-west of England on the Severn estuary. Because of its position with easy access to the Atlantic, Bristol was an important city during the colonial period, servicing ships setting off for and returning from the colonies and also for trade and contact with Ireland, to its immediate west. Linguistically Bristol is known for its intrusive /l/, the use of an unetymological /l/ at the end of a syllable, frequently of a word, as seen in the name of the city itself which derives from an earlier Bristow.

Britain The island of Britain, i.e. consisting of England, Wales and Scotland.

British English A cover term for English in England, Wales and Scotland but not in Ireland, either north or south.

British Isles The islands of Britain and Ireland.

brogue A term stemming from the Irish word either for ‘shoe’ or ‘a knot in the tongue’. Its actual origin cannot be ascertained anymore. The label was already known to Shakespeare and has been used indiscriminately in the past four centuries for any strongly local accent of Irish English. The term is also used outside of Ireland as in ‘Ocracoke Brogue’ to refer to the local accent of offshore islands in North Carolina.

broken English A general term to refer to basilectal forms of English in countries without historically continuous forms of the language, e.g. in India or Malaysia. The term is not a linguistic one, but enjoys a wide currency in everyday speech.

Burgher A label referring to people in Sri Lanka who have at least one parent of European stock.

burr An impressionistic term for a uvular r [ʀ] (rolled) or [ʁ] (not rolled). It is common as a term when referring to the sound in Northumbrian forms of English. Also found in north-east Leinster (Ireland). A uvular r is general in standard forms of French and German and in some other languages of the European mainland such as Dutch and Danish.


cafeteria principle Refers to the opinion that pidgins arose by combining various features and rules from a set of regional varieties of British English which were represented in the English to which nonEnglish speakers, typically slaves in the New World, were exposed.

Canadian Raising A rule, operative in Canadian English and forms of United States English in the northern Mid-West, and at some other locations in the anglophone world, whereby /ai/ and /au/ have centralised onsets before voiceless consonants but lower onsets elsewhere, e.g. lout /ləʊt/ but loud /laʊd/, house /həʊs/ but houses /haʊzɪz/.

cant Language specific to a certain group in society, usually one with low status, cf. thieves’ cant. The word is probably from an earlier usage with the meaning ‘crying, whinging’ (as of beggars) though the Irish word caint ‘talk’ has also been suggested.

Caribbean The large sea and its islands between the southern coast of the United States and the northern coast of South America. It is bounded on the west by Mexico and the Central American states and is open to the east. All the European colonial powers have left their (linguistic) mark on the area by bringing their languages (chiefly English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese) to the various islands which today show a distribution of these languages which reflects European colonial involvement, especially after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The derivatives of European languages in the Caribbean – French in Haiti or English in Jamaica, for instance – are usually creoles arising from interaction with native languages and those of the slaves brought from West Africa to the Caribbean after the 16th century.

catastrophic theory A view that change in pidgins and creoles is so rapid and complete that communication between generations can be impaired. This view is opposed to the notion of gradual and largely imperceptible language change.

categorical rule A rule which must be adhered to. These tend to be very basic, such as all sentences must have a subject. In the current context it is interesting to note that for some varieties rules may be categorical and for others they may be variable, e.g. subject concord rules.

Celtic A branch of the Indo-European family which spread from the continent to the British Isles sometime during the first millennium BC. The split into two branches, a Q-branch, maintaining the inherited /kw/, and a P-Celtic in which this sound was shifted to /p/, took place on the continent. Today there are six surviving languages (strictly speaking four with native speakers), Q-Celtic Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx and P-Celtic Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

chain shift Any set of changes which can be viewed as interconnected in such a way that movement of one element entails movement of others. For instance, in Southern Hemisphere English (in South African, Australian and, to the greatest extent, in New Zealand English) there has been a raising of short front vowels which affected the vowels in the TRAP, DRESS; KIT lexical sets, the three of which moved upwards in tandem in the late 19th century. This means that the TRAP-vowel sounds like DRESS and the DRESS-vowel like KIT to speakers from the Northern Hemisphere where this chain shift did not take place.

Chicano [tʃɪˡkeɪnəʊ] English The type of English spoken by Spanish immigrants in the south-west of the United States. It contains many elements which derive from (Central American) Spanish.

circles, three A means of conceptualising forms of English in the contemporary world which was introduced by the Indian scholar Braj Kachru. In his view there is an inner circle containing in the main British and American English, an outer circle encompassing English in postcolonial Asia and Africa and an expanding circle with second-language varieties in countries without a colonial link to England.

cleft sentence A special type of sentence used for topicalisation purposes and which involves moving an element to the left and placing it in a dummy main clause with it as subject, e.g. It’s tomorrow we’re leaving for Spain. Such sentences occur moderately frequently in standard English but in some varieties, such as Scottish and Irish English, they are much more common.

cliticisation A process whereby lexical elements attach to hosts and lose their phonetic and frequently semantic distinctiveness. One interpretation of the lack of inflectional marking on verbs in the present tense, for those varieties which show this when the subject is a pronoun, is that the latter functions like a clitic, i.e. renders inflectional marking redundant.

Cockney The urban dialect of London, covering quite a range of mainly lower-class varieties. The name derives from ‘cocks’ egg’, i.e. something unusual, unnatural, a self-debunking term used by Londoners for their own speech. Cockney developed separately from the precursor varieties of Received Pronunciation which had their origin in the late medieval English of the capital. In the early modern period these varieties became more and more a closely-knit set of sociolects with considerable prestige as they were used in official quarters and in the educational system. Cockney continued many changes which have their roots in late Middle English, for instance it has carried the shift in the group of long vowels far further than Received Pronunciation where possible later changes were retarded by the function of the latter as a standard in Britain. Cockney is also known for rhyming slang.

code In a sociolinguistic context this term is used as a very broad term for a variety or a language. It is intended to be the most general and neutral of terms.

code mixing Amongst bilingual individuals this is the act of mixing elements from one variety/language with those from another.

code switching Moving from one language to another within a single sentence or phrase. This is a phenomenon found among bilinguals who feel it is appropriate to change languages (or dialects in some cases) — perhaps to say something which can only be said in the language switched to. Code-switching is governed by fairly strict rules concerning the points in a sentence at which one can change over.

colloquial A term referring to a register of language which is informal, normally only spoken and deliberately contrasting with written norms of a language. Colloquial registers are innovative in that many instances of language change first occur in them.

colonial English In the context of the present volume this term is used collectively to refer to all varieties of English which were carried either (i) from England to Ireland (from about 1200) or (ii) from England or Ireland to locations overseas (after about 1600). The concern in the discussions found in this volume is with determining to what extent these inputs influenced the varieties of English which arose at these locations outside of Britain.

colonial lag A term used to denote the supposed conservatism of dialects of a language far away from the historical homeland such as colonial varieties of English (originally American English, also Irish or Scottish English, etc.). The reason proposed for the lag is that these varieties were cut off from the country of origin at some early point in their history and did not undergo those developments which took place there. Of course such varieties have gone through independent developments which may or may not be due to substrate influence from languages in their environments or may have reinterpreted or reallocated input features. Care should be taken not to rely too heavily on colonial lag as an explanation for the features of extraterritorial varieties of English.

Colonial Period A division in the history of English in America which spans the time from the first settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. See National Period, International Period.

common core theory A view that pidgins and creoles share a common stock of grammatical features which can stem from 1) the original lingua franca of the Mediterranean area in the late Middle Ages which provided the initial input for all pidgins (and later creoles) or 2) the language universal nature of pidgins and more definitely of creoles.

consonant cluster simplification A common process in Asian Englishes whereby sequences of two or more consonants, especially at the end of words, are reduced.

constraint hierarchy A hierarchy which specifies the order in which certain forms, for instance, the present tense of verbs with suffixal -s, are likely to occur. Such hierarchies are assumed to be transferred across generations and to be transported to new locations offering evidence for dialect continuation among extraterritorial varieties, especially in communities characterised by relative isolation.

contact The interaction of speakers of two or more languages or dialects with each other. As a shorthand, one speaks of the languages being in contact. Historically, the effects of contact are most obvious in lexical borrowing. Phonological and grammatical features may also be due to contact, but this is notoriously difficult to prove, especially for syntax as often there is not only one explanation for the features in question. See retention.

contact-induced change A reference to a type of language change which can be conclusively traced to contact with another language. There are not many structures in any variety which can be definitively so labelled, but some are to be found in Irish English, for instance the immediate perfective as seen in Fiona is after eating her dinner ‘Fiona has just eaten her dinner’. This represents a calque on an Irish structure with tar éis ‘after’ followed by a nonfinite verb form which indicates that an action has taken place recently.

convergence A term used to indicate that two or more varieties/languages, which have been in contact in history, come to share structural features which then become indicative of a certain area. The term is also employed for a situation in which a feature or category may be the result of more than one factor in the history of a language/variety, i.e. the development of the habitual aspect in Irish English could be due to both its existence in Irish and in the input varieties of English in Ireland.

copula deletion A feature of many varieties of English, particularly of pidgins and creoles, where the element is does not occur in copulative sentences. It is also found in African American English, e.g. My uncle a teacher in our high school.

copula A particular verb – be in English – which links elements in a sentence, usually in assigning attributes or qualities to nouns, e.g. Fergal is a miserable linguist. Fiona is mischievous.

corpus Any structured and principled collection of data from a particular language – usually in electronic form, i.e. on disk – which has been compiled for the purpose of subsequent analysis. The number of corpora available has increased greatly since the spread of the personal computer in the 1980s. The most famous corpus for historical forms of English is the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts which first appeared in 1991. The advantage of a corpus is that it can offer sufficient attestations of a structure or word to allow linguists to make statistically reliable statements. Equally corpora can be used to disprove assumptions, e.g. about when a certain structure appeared, in what type of text, or with what author. A corpus can also be used for style analysis and may in some cases help to determine authorship by looking at recurrent patterns in the syntax or vocabulary of an author.

corpus linguistics The use of computer corpora as a tool in linguistic analysis. As opposed to computational linguistics, which uses computers to simulate grammatical models, corpus linguistics uses data in one or more computer corpora to gain attestations for linguistic phenomena which a linguist is interested in analysing.

correctness An extralinguistic notion, usually deriving from institutions in society, like a language academy, a major publishing house or self-appointed authorities in language, which attempts to lay down rigid rules for language use, especially in written form. Notions of correctness show a high degree of arbitrariness and are based on somewhat conservative usage and are intended to resist change in language.

Cornwall The south-west peninsula of England which is named after the county at its tip. This is an originally Celtic speaking region (like Wales) but Cornish died out in the 18th century and the attempts to revive it have remained confined to a small number of enthusiasts. The English of the region in general shows the features of the West Country, e.g. retroflex /r/.

creole A term used to describe a pidgin after it has become the mother tongue of a certain population. This development usually implies that the pidgin has become more complex grammatically and has increased its vocabulary in order to deal with the entire set of situations in which a native language is used. A well-known present-day example is Tok Pisin, a creole spoken in Papua New Guinea and which has official status there.

creole continuum A term referring to the scale on which varieties of creoles can be identified with pure creoles at one end and more standard forms of language at the other. Such continua are often found in ex-colonies of European countries, e.g. Jamaica where the native creole still exists but where standard English has high prestige in public life. The varieties most distant from the standard may in time die out due to the process of decreolisation.

creolisation A process whereby the children of pidgin speakers only have a reduced code as their sole linguistic input and hence remould the pidgin so that it can function as their native language. Implied here is that the input pidgin is expanded to fulfil all functions of a natural language: syntax and vocabulary are greatly extended with restructuring of the input. Many linguists assume that creolisation involves the activation of innate linguistic knowledge and that this provides structures not available in the input pidgins, or at least explains the similarities in default values for many linguistic parameters such as word order or syllable form. The latter fact is often assumed to account for the structural similarity between creoles in the Atlantic and Pacific areas which have not been in contact with each other.


dark l An l-sound spoken with secondary velarisation which is realised by lowering the body of the tongue and raising the back towards the velum. Such a sound is frequently found in syllable-final position, for instance in Received Pronunciation, cf. milk [mɪɫk]. Historically, this sound occurred frequently in English and French and was vocalised (lost its character as consonant) as attested by words like chalk, walk or French faute ‘fault’ (ultimately from Latin fallitus, the l in this word in English is not original but was ‘restored’ in the early modern period). In Cockney English it is normal for the dark l to be vocalised fully to a [ʊ] sound, cf. ilk [ɪʊk].

data-driven analysis An approach to linguistic analysis in which data is examined in order to make valid statements about language structure. This is generally the approach in sociolinguistics and is generally opposed to formal analyses of language which depend on the intuitions of individual speakers (frequently the linguists themselves) and not on a body of independent data.

dative of (dis)advantage A term used to refer to a largely dialectal usage of personal pronouns to indicate the beneficiary of an action, e.g. I bought me a new car (compare standard English I bought myself a new car). There is a also a contrary case in which the individual adversely affected by an action is expression, often by a prepositional phrase introduced by on, e.g. They broke the vase on me. This usage is common in Irish and Scottish English. Such structures are also acceptable to many speakers of American English.

decreolisation The process in which a creole loses its characteristic features and substitutes these by those from a standard language it is in contact with (usually its lexifier language). This is one view of how African-American English developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, losing many of those features which are viewed as prototypical for a creole.

default The value which a parameter will have if no extraneous factors have influenced it. For instance, typologists assume that the default value for the parameter of word order is SVO. This is the most common word order in the world’s languages, it corresponds to a sequence of mentioning the actor, the action and the person or thing affected by the action. Furthermore, in ‘new’ languages like creoles, SVO is the dominant and often the only word order available. Other word orders such as SOV or VSO can arise historically due to shifts in the syntax of a language, for instance by the movements of elements to the front or rear of a sentence.

deportation A system of forced emigration of convicts or people regarded as politically undesirable to an overseas destination. The early days of settlement in Australia (in the late 18th century) was characterised by deportation but soon afterwards free settlers also arrived in the colony. In the mid 17th century many Irish were deported to Barbados in the Caribbean.

dialect A traditional term referring to a variety of a language spoken in a certain place, i.e. it denotes a geographically distinct variety of a language. There are urban and rural dialects. The boundaries between dialects are always gradual. Because ‘dialect’ does not refer to the social aspect of language, linguists also refer to sociolects. Because most dialects are different from the standard variety of a language in a particular country they tend to be frowned upon by standard speakers. It is important to stress here that the standard of a language is nothing more than a dialect which achieved special political and social status at some stage in the historical development of a country. Standards are codified orthographically and because of their official function have relatively large vocabularies.

dialect continuum A continuous geographical region in which the transition from one dialect to the next is gradual, for instance the Romance dialects spoken on the Northern coast of the Mediterranean from Spain through the south of France to Italy. An anglophone instance would be the dialects spoken between the north and the south of England. In contrast this does not apply to anything like the same extent in Ireland as there is a rather abrupt transition from south Ulster to the north of the Republic of Ireland.

dialectology The area of linguistics which investigates dialects. For most linguists nowadays this branch is regarded as conservative and not concerned with theoretical questions. Also called dialect geography.

diaspora [daɪˡæspərə] variety A variety which has become separated from the main geographical concentration of its speakers. There are instances of this with the African American communities on Samaná peninsula (Dominican Republic) and in Nova Scotia (Canada). Studying the language of such groups can often show what features were typical of the main group before the diaspora set in, assuming that the diaspora community has lived in relative isolation.

diastratic A term referring to variation in language between social classes.

diatopic A term referring to variation in language on a geographical level.

dictionary A reference work which offers varied information – usually arranged in alphabetical order – about words in a language, such as their spelling, pronunciation, meaning and possibly historical origins (etymology), additional shades of meaning, typical combinations (collocations) and status on a stylistics level, e.g. whether a word is colloquial, slang or vulgar. Many dictionaries also offer a phonetic transcription of the words they contain.

diglossia A type of linguistic situation in which there is a division between two languages or two varieties of a language such that one variety (the so-called ‘high’ or H variety) is used in public life (in addresses, in the media, in schools and universities, etc.) and another variety (the so-called ‘low’ variety or L variety) is used in the domestic sphere and among acquaintances. Examples of diglossic situations are to be found in Switzerland (Hochdeutsch and Schwyzerdütsch), in various Arabian countries (Classical Arabic and the local dialect of Arabic), Paraguay (Spanish and Guaraní, a native American language). See H-language, L-language.

diphthong A vowel which is articulated with a change in tongue position between the beginning and end, e.g. /ai/ in sigh /sai/ or /au/ in sow /sau/. Historically, diphthongs tend to develop from long vowels.

diphthongisation An historical process during which a monophthong (a vowel which is articulated without moving the tongue noticeably) develops into a diphthong (where such a movement is observable). The process is initially imperceptible but becomes more and more obvious, the new vowel gaining phonological status in time as when early Middle English /i:/ as in tide became early Modern English /ai/ through diphthongisation where the tongue adopted a low position for the beginning of the vowel.

discourse markers Words which often introduce a sentence and signal to the hearer whether the the sentence which follows is in agreement with or in partial or complete contradiction to what preceded in the discourse, e.g. Well, we have to cut back our expenses. Sure, the idea is basically alright. Quite, I think we all support the plan.

dissociation A type of observable linguistic behaviour, generally with nonlocal speakers who attempt to make their speech different from that of the vernacular of their locality, as in present-day Dublin. See accommodation.

distal A reference to deictic terms indicating distance from the speaker. Some varieties of English, notably Scottish English, still use such a term, e.g. That boat yonder is the ferry to Arran.

dominant language In a bilingual or multilingual situation – either individually or communally – the language which has the most status and is used most often.

donor issue A reference to the question of where remnant dialects such as those along the Mid-Atlantic coast of the United States acquired the structural features that set them apart from other varieties of American English.

double plural The plural form of a noun which, when viewed historically, is seen to consist of two plurals, e.g. brethren which shows a reflex of the umlauted form of brother /o/ > /ø/ > /e/ and an r-plural; another common instance is children which historically contains both an r-plural (compare the dialectal form childer) and a nasal plural similar to the plural oxen.

doublet A member of a pair of words which can be seen as deriving from the same root etymologically, e.g. shirt or skirt both of which represent reflexes of the same Germanic root (the former is West Germanic and the latter North Germanic in origin). Many such instances derive from double borrowing, e.g. catch, hostel, warranty (from Anglo-Norman) and chase, hotel, guarantee (from later Central French) or royal (from medieval French) and regal (from Latin) or risky (from medieval French) and risqué (from modern French).

drift An imperceptible change in the typology of a language in a more or less constant direction as with the shift from synthetic to analytic in the course of the history of English.

durative An aspectual type which expresses that an action took place for a certain length of time. It contrasts with punctual aspect which refers to a single point in time.

Dutch A west Germanic language spoken in The Netherlands and in Belgium (see Flemish) by about 20m people. Dutch is documented since the 12th century. Together with Frisian, Flemish and German dialects, Dutch is part of the Low German dialect continuum across the southern shore of the North Sea. It is also found in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles as a result of a colonial past, but hardly in Indonesia. Another form, Afrikaans, is probably the result of pidginisation in South Africa.


East Anglia The large flat expanse of land to the immediate north and north-east of London with Norwich as its regional centre. This area has been linguistically distinctive since the Middle English period and inhabitants from there who moved to London appear to have affected the speech of the capital in the 14th century.

ebb and flow A term referring to the fact that in language change features can move from one value to another and back to the original one again. The importance of this for linguistic analysis is that an observable feature value need not be a continuation of the original historical input. For instance, velarised [ɫ] in southeastern English is a relatively recent phenomenon despite the fact that /l/ was velarised (and later vocalised) in the history of English, cf. talk and walk where this velarised [ɫ] has long since being vocalised.

Ebonics [ɪˡbɒnɪks] A term used in many discussions of the social and political position of African American English. The term is specifically connected with the debate, unleashed by a controversial decision by a school board in Oakland, California in 1996, about whether African American English is so different from General American English to warrant teaching it as a separate language.

Ekwall, Eilert [e:kval, eilɛrt] (1877-1964) A Swedish scholar of the history of English who produced various important works such as A history of Modern English sounds and morphology (translated from German in 1975).

elision The contraction of two or more sounds in spoken language, usually involving the deletion of an unstressed vowel. It may or may not be indicated orthographically, e.g. can’t < can + not in English.

Ellis, Alexander John (1814-1890) Born in London and educated in Eton and Cambridge, Ellis was to become one of the foremost among early phoneticians and dialectologists on a par with Sweet, for instance. He is the author of a many-volumed study of early English pronunciation.

elocution A practice whereby speakers are taught ostensibly correct diction. Originally about clarity of delivery, it came in the 18th century to be concerned with instructing nonstandard speakers in how to pronounce the standard variety of the language in question. Notable elocutionists of this period are Thomas Sheridan (1719-88), author of Course of Lectures on Elocution (1762) and John Walker, author of a Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791).

emigration voluntary, indentured labour, deportees

English A west Germanic language, most closely related to German and Dutch, spoken originally in England. Historically English is divided into four periods: Old English (450-1066), Middle English (1066 – c 1500), Early Modern English (1500-1800) and Late Modern English (1800 to the present). Due to colonial expansion and recently, due to its status as a lingua franca, English is found in countries across the world. The main countries with native speaker populations are Great Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, various Caribbean countries (notably Jamaica and Barbados), South Africa, Australia, New Zealand as well as various smaller islands, such as the Falklands, with anglophone populations. There are many pidgins deriving from English as a lexifier language, e.g. in West Africa in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria as well as in the south-west Pacific, notably in Papua New Guinea with Tok Pisin. English is also found as a second language, with various degrees of proficiency, in many countries of South and South-East Asia, e.g. India, Pakistan; Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines.

Englishes This word is now used as a countable, qualifiable noun and specifically refers to forms of English outside of Britain, e.g. in the phrase the New Englishes, Asian Englishes, or by a reverse process to English in England, i.e. English English.

epenthesis [əˡpenθɪsɪs] The insertion of a vowel between the elements of a cluster as in pronunciations such as /fɪləm/ for film in Irish English. Epenthesis can be consonantal as with the rise of a homorganic stop after a sonorant or fricative in the history of English or German, cf. English sound < French son and German Palast < French palais.

epistemic [epɪsˡti:mɪk] A term from logic referring to the expression of existence or knowledge rather than obligation. This is illustrated in one use of the modal verbs must in English as in Fiona must be Irish. See deontic.

Estuary English A term invented by the teacher David Rosewarne and first used in 1984 in a newspaper article and has since been taken up by journalists and the general public. It is a label for a variety of English intermediate between RP and Cockney. The term is intended to highlight the fact that many nonworking-class inhabitants of London and the Home Counties move on a cline between the two varieties just mentioned, especially as RP is not necessarily viewed positively in all circles in present-day Britain. The estuary referred to is that of the river Thames and the popularity of the term has certainly to do with the alliteration of the two words of which it consists.

ethnography of communication The study of cultural differences in acts of communication. This is a comprehensive term which goes beyond obvious differences in pronunciation or grammar to cover additional aspects such as formulaic use of language (e.g. in greeting or parting rituals), proxemics (the use of distance between partners in a conversation) and kinesics (the study of body movements used in communication).

ethnolinguistics A type of linguistics which examines language from the point of view of the ethnic groups who use it.

etymology An area within historical linguistics which is concerned with the origin and development of the form and meaning of words and the relationship of both these aspects to each other.

European languages The continent of Europe is remarkably homogenous with respect of the affiliation of the languages to be found there (all but a very few belong to the Indo-European language family). The main groups are: (1) Indo-European languages (Germanic, Italic, Slavic, Baltic, Celtic, Hellenic, Albanian), (2) Finno-Ugric (Uralic): (a) Baltic-Finnic branch: Finnish and Estonian, (b) Ugric branch: Hungarian, (3) Basque (language isolate, north-east Spain/south-west France), (4) Turkish (Altaic), (5) Arabic (Afroasiatic).

exclusive A characteristic of first person plural pronouns whereby the interlocutor in an exchange is not included. There are languages – such as Tok Pisin (the creole of Papua New Guinea) – which have different forms for the inclusion or exclusion of the person addressed in such situations, in Tok Pisin these forms are jumi (< you + me, inclusive ‘we’) and mipela (exclusive ‘we’).

expansion A type of semantic change in which a word increases its range of meaning. For instance, the word culture has dramatically expanded its meaning to cover any type of public behaviour, e.g. Our present-day knife culture is to be deplored. See restriction. Such expansion may be due to the feeling that a term hitherto used is no longer appropriate, consider the use of gender where sex was previously employed, e.g. We must employ teachers of both genders in equal measure.

exponence The realisation of a category or structure, the actual form it takes. The term is often used to contrast form and contents, e.g. the habitual exists in both Irish and colloquial Irish English but its exponence is quite different in both, e.g. Bíonn sí amuigh sa mbaile, lit. ‘is-HABITUAL she out in-the town’ and She does be out in the town.

extraterritorial An adjective, first introduced into recent variety studies by Roger Lass, used to characterise forms of English which developed outside of Britain (the territory implied in the label). It also characterises forms of English in Ireland, which the term overseas varieties does not as it refers to those outside of the British Isles. Other terms exist which refer to specific macro-groupings, e.g. New World English, Southern Hemisphere English, Asian English, etc.

eye dialect An alteration of standard spelling to indicate roughly some of the prominent features of a dialect, e.g. walkin’ for [wɔ:kṇ] in a dialect which has alveolarisation of [ŋ]. Writers of regional literature typically use eye dialect to indicate nonstandard pronunciations.

eye rhyme Two words which appear to rhyme on the basis of their spellings but not their pronunciations, e.g. rough /rʌf/ and cough /kɒf/.


flap A sound [ſ] which is produced by a quick, uncontrolled flick of the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. It often appears as an allophone of /r/ or of intervocalic /t/ or /d/, for instance in many forms of American English, contrast water [ˡwɑ:ſəɻ] and RP [wɔ:tə].

Flytaal [fly:tɑ:l] A type of insider language used by young urban blacks in South Africa. It was originally based on Afrikaans but now has many elements from native African languages and many borrowings from English, the exact combinations varying from region to region.

focal area A centre in a dialect region in which there is relative uniformity and where the speech of this area tends to influence that of surrounding areas.

focussing An historical process whereby a specific variety develops its own linguistic profile. The exact combination of features which go into the making of this is never precisely that of the transported input. Other processes such as reallocation, levelling or removal of features lead to a unique profile arising which lends the focussed variety an identity recognised by the society using it and those who come into contact with it.

foreign language A nonnative language which is learned consciously by a speaker and which is used intermittently and in fewer contexts than his/her own mother tongue.

foreigner talk The view that pidgins and creoles derive their grammatical character from the type of speech which foreigners use when communicating with native speakers of a language, e.g. by simplifying the grammar. This view only partially accounts for features found in pidgins.

Forth and Bargy Two baronies in the extreme south-east of Ireland, in Co Wexford, where a particularly archaic form of English, from the medieval period of settlement in Ireland, was spoken up to the beginning of the 19th century.

fossilisation A reference to a phenomenon in second language acquisition where speakers appear not to progress beyond a certain stage of proficiency, often just that needed for basic communication.

founder generation A term, stemming from Salikoko Mufwene, to refer to those settlers who arrived first in an area. The assumption is that those speakers active in the early and formative period of a variety have a decisive influence on its later shape, irrespective of their numbers.

French A Romance language spoken in France, Canada (Quebec), Belgium (Wallonia), Switzerland (Wallis) and in various former colonies, sometimes in a creolised form, as in Haiti. It is attested from the 9c onwards and became a major literary language by the late Middle Ages. The standard language is based on the dialect of the Paris region. This and the dialect of Normandy had a significant effect on the lexical development of English in the Middle English period.


Gaelic A label used for the languages of the Q-branch of insular Celtic. It is derived from Gael, the word for ‘Irish’. In present-day usage the unqualified term Irish refers to Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic (or Gallick, reflecting the Scottish pronunciation of Gaelic) is used for Q-Celtic in Scotland, which has been separated from northern Irish since the late Middle Ages. Manx Gaelic refers to the now extinct form of Gaelic on the Isle of Man which died out in the first half of the 20th century.

General American A term for a nonregional accent of English in the United States and regarded as a quasi-standard of pronunciation in that country. The basis for this is usually the speech of the Inland North (roughly the band in the north of the United States from the Atlantic Coast across to the Mid West, but excluding New England). It has been used as a baseline for many investigations and descriptions of American English, e.g. by Kurath, Kenyon and Knott, Chomsky and Halle, but has been criticised as having no inherent claim to preference over other varieties in the United States.

gender-neutral language Language which strives to avoid forms which are overtly marked for gender, e.g. using chair rather than chairman, flight attendant rather than air hostess. This may require deliberate effort on occasions, as traditionally generic references in English are male, e.g. The postman hasn’t been here yet, but there are many alternatives which are equally acceptable, e.g. The post hasn’t arrived yet.

genetic classification The arrangement of languages into groups on the basis of their historically recognisable relationships and not going on any similarity in structure. This type of classification makes use of the family metaphor and talks, for instance, of ‘daughter languages’. The splitting of languages which occurs over time is interpreted as binary in this model. See wave theory.

geographical linguistics Examining languages from the point of view of their regional distribution, the type of terrain they occur in, the demographic structure of the areas they occupy and considering the mutual effects of contact between languages.

Geordie The city dialect of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (north-east England) which is unique among British urban dialects in its combination of features: nonrhotic, initial /h/, short /a/ in the BATH lexical set, clear /l/, final glottalisation (spreading), central [a:] for /o:/. The term is a diminutive of George. There is a cline of accents in the city, the most local accent would contain such features as a nonshifted /u:/ in words like town /tu:n/ (part of the MOUTH lexical set).

German A west Germanic language spoken by about 100m people, mainly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland (Schwyzerdütsch), Lichtenstein, Luxembourg (Letzebuergesch) as well in border areas of France, Denmark, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Kazakhstan. It also spoken by diaspora communities in the USA (by the Amish in Pennsylvania) in Brazil and other countries. German is attested form the 9c onwards and is divided into Low German (usually treated as a separate language) and High German (various dialects).

Gilliéron, Jules (1854-1926) A French linguist who was instrumental in the development of modern dialectology and areal linguistics. His main work was an atlas of French dialects which he produced in several volumes at the beginning of the 20th century.

Gimson, Alfred Charles English phonetician. Gimson is the author of An introduction to the pronunciation of English (1962, 4th edition 1989 with Susan Ramsaran, the 1994 and 2001 editions by Alan Cruttenden are both entitled Gimson’s pronunciation of English). This became the definitive book on Received Pronunciation after Daniel Jones’ work. He held the same chair of phonetics as did Jones and also revised the latter’s pronunciation dictionary of English.

glottal stop A plosive formed by closing the vocal folds and then releasing them suddenly. Such a stop occurs as an allophone of /t/ in many forms of British English, cf. Cockney butter [ˡbʊʔə] and is used in German in vowel-initial words and as a hiatus between vowels, cf. Abend [ ˡʔabɛnt] ‘evening’, Theater [teˡʔa:tɐ] ‘theatre’.

grammatical A term which refers to whether a sentence, phrase or form is judged by native speakers to be well-formed in their language. Note that grammatical and correct are two different terms. The latter refers to whether structures or words are deemed right in some externally imposed sense. A structure or word is deemed grammatical if the majority of speakers accept it and use it in this form, that is this notion is usage-based. Many so-called ‘correct’ forms are not in fact used by speakers, e.g. the inflected form whom as a nonnominative relative pronoun, as in The man whom Fiona was talking to, which has long since been abandoned in spoken English.

grammaticalisation An historical process in language which refers to a change in status from lexical to grammatical for certain elements, frequently due to semantic bleaching (loss of lexical meaning). For instance, the (archaic) adverb/adjective whilom ‘formerly, erstwhile’ derives from a dative plural of the Old English word hwilom ‘at times’ which was with time not felt to be an inflected noun but a different word class, an adverb or adjective. This came to be increasingly interpreted in a subjective manner and developed the meaning of ‘although’. The purely temporal meaning can be seen in a sentence like Fiona drank some tea while she was waiting. The more ‘subjective’ meaning is obvious in a sentence like While Fiona is interested in linguistics she still likes literature. Metaphorical uses of language can lead to grammaticalisation as is the case with go to express the future: the locative sense of the verb came to be interpreted in a temporal sense, i.e. from sentences like Fiona is going to Dublin (she is on her way now) purely temporal, metaphorical usages like Fiona is going to learn Basque developed.

Great Vowel Shift A major change in the system of long vowels in the history of English which began in the late Middle Ages and which reached its present stage (for standard British English) in the late modern period. It is basically a raising of long vowels by one level. Front vowels shifted from /ɛ:/ to /e:/ (and later to /i:/ in many cases) and back vowels moved correspondingly, i.e. /ɔ:/ to /o:/ and /o:/ to /u:/. This explains why the words meat (with an original /ɛ:/) and meet (with an original /e:/) are both pronounced with an /i:/ in present-day English and why boat (with an original /ɔ:/) is pronounced with /əʊ/ (from early modern /o:/) and why boot (with an original /o:/) is now pronounced with /u:/. The two original high vowels /i:/ and /u:/ were diphthongised to /ai/ and /au/ respectively which explains the modern pronunciations in the words bite (with an original /i:/) and bout (with an original /u:/).

There was no discernible internal reason why this change should have started as it did so the assumption is that there was external motivation: for some reason a close realisation of long vowels, or a slight diphthongisation of high vowels – whichever occurred first – became fashionable and caught on in southern British English. So the ball starting rolling and has not come to rest since as varieties like Cockney, which have shifted the vowel values further than RP, clearly show. On the other hand there are many conservative varieties which have not undergone the Great Vowel Shift in its entirety, for instance the raising of /e:/ (from /ɛ:/) to /i:/ is not found in all varieties of Irish English and the undiphthongised realisation of original /u:/, as in /hu:s/ for /haus/ house, is typical of dialects in the far north of England.

Gullah An English-based creole, now spoken by African Americans only on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. It has many similarities with African American English and is closely related to Caribbean creoles, the latter fact no doubt due to the emigration from the eastern Caribbean (chiefly from Barbados) which formed the input in the late 17th and 18th centuries out of which Gullah arose.


h-dropping A feature which is endemic in most urban varieties of British English. It consists of deleting the initial /h/ of words. This can lead to hypercorrect forms like /hɒnə/ for honour or /hɒbviəs/ for obvious.

habitual An aspectual type which expresses that an action is repeated at regular intervals. It does not have a formal expression in standard English but the simple present has habitual meaning as seen in The government introduces its budget every spring versus The government is introducing its budget this week. Many varieties use a form of unstressed do to express the habitual as in He does be worrying about his job (Irish English). The form be as an auxiliary (inflected or uninflected) is also found in this function, e.g. He be worrying about his job (African American English).

hagiolect [ˡhægɪəʊlekt] A specific variety of language used for religious purposes, e.g. High German among the Amish population in Pennsylvania or Latin in Europe before the introduction of vernaculars for religious services. The term derives from Greek hagios ‘saint’.

height A reference to the relative distance of the point of articulation of a vowel from the roof of the mouth. Hence /i/ and /u/ are high vowels while /æ/, /a/ and /ɑ/ are low vowels because of their relatively open articulation.

Hiberno-English A term sometimes found for Irish English and deriving from Latin Hibernia ‘Ireland’.

Highlands The mountainous central and northern part of Scotland. This area is that which was Gaelic-speaking longest (along with the western islands) and the English spoken there is closer to standard English than that spoken in the central belt and the lowlands (the area immediately north of the Scottish-English border).

historic(al) present The use of verbs in the present tense in order to heighten the relevance or interest of the narrative, e.g. So I’m sitting there minding my own business and in he comes... Sometimes termed the narrative present.

historical linguistics The study of how languages develop over time as opposed to viewing them at a single point in time. This was the major direction in linguistics up until the advent of structuralism at the beginning of the 20th century.

Hindi The major Indo-European in present-day India and the main member of the Indic sub-branch of Indo-Iranian. It is used by some 500m people, chiefly in northern India but also, due to transportation and emigration, in Fiji and the UK with smaller numbers previously in the Caribbean and South Africa. Hindi is attested from the 7c AD onwards and is a development of later forms of Sanskrit. It is closely related to Urdu (the main Indic language in Pakistan) which is associated with Islam and which contains many Arabic words as a consequence.

H-language A label used for that language in a diglossic situation which is used on formal occasions, e.g. modern literary Arabic in Arab countries or standard German in German-speaking Switzerland. The H-language need not be related to the L-language, e.g. in Paraguay where this is Spanish but the L-language is a native American language Guaraní (belonging to the Tupian group of Andean-Equatorial languages). See L-language.

Home Counties A collective term for the counties adjoining wholly or in part on the city of London, i.e. Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.

hypercorrection A kind of linguistic situation in which a speaker overgeneralises a phenomenon which he/she does not have in his/her native variety. For example, if a speaker from northern England pronounces butcher /bʊtʃə/ with the vowel in but, i.e. as /bʌtʃə/, then this is almost certainly hypercorrection as he/she does not have the but-sound in his/her own dialect and, in an effort to speak ‘correct’ English, overdoes it.

hypocoristic A term for words to which a vowel – typically /o:/ or /i:/ – has been added at the end, usually in colloquial language, e.g. boyo from ‘boy’, brillo from ‘brilliant’ breaky from ‘break(fast)’, deffo from ‘definitely’. This process can also be applied to proper names, e.g. Anto < ‘Anthony’, Rayo < ‘Ray’. Some varieties of English would seem to favour such formations, e.g. Australian English and Dublin English.

hypotaxis [ˡhaɪpəʊˌtæksɪs] A term sometimes used to denote subordination in a sentence as when a clause is introduced by a subordinating conjunction, e.g. Fiona got up early although she had gone to bed late the night before. The term contrasts explicitly with parataxis.


idiolect The language of an individual as opposed to that of a group.

idiom A set of words which always co-occur and where the meaning is not necessarily derived by concatenating the individual parts of the idiom, e.g to take coals to Newcastle ‘to do something entirely superfluous’, the kick the bucket ‘to die’. Idioms frequently show a distinctive metrical pattern, e.g. ˡ ˡ ˌ ˡ ˌ as in ˡTom, ˡDick ˌand ˡHarˌry or ˡhook, ˡline ˌand ˡsinˌker. (vary across varieties)

immigrant language A language used by a community of immigrants in a host country. The language inevitably gives way to pressure from that of the surrounding society, though the rate at which this happens depends on a variety of factors, especially the attitude of the second generation to the cultural background, and hence language, of their immigrant parents.

imposition A scenario in which a group of second-language speakers impose the features of their variety onto that of a group of first-language speakers. The imposing group may be small but have high-prestige, e.g. Anglo-Normans who switched to Irish in the late Middle Ages in Ireland, or it may be large and impose by force of numbers, e.g. the mass of Irish speakers who switched to English in the early modern period and who affected the language of the native English in Ireland. (Hickey, Ireland)

inclusive A reference to a pronoun which includes both the speaker and the addressee. Some languages – such as Tok Pisin – distinguish between an inclusive and an exclusive first person plural pronoun, i.e. youmi and mipela. See exclusive.

indentured labour A system operative in the colonial period whereby emigrants agreed to work for a landowner at an overseas location for a set period of time, typically between five and eight years, to defray the cost of transportation from the British Isles.

independent parallel development Any set of two or more developments in separated languages or dialects which are assumed to have arisen independently of each other, for instance umlaut in West and North Germanic languages. See shared innovation.

Indic A group of about 500 languages forming a distinct group within the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. The languages are spoken by over 700m people throughout India, mainly in the north and centre. Also known as Indo-Aryan.

indicative A factual mood which is used to make statements rather than issue commands (imperative) or make uncertain, hypothetical statements (subjunctive).

indigenised variety A term used to refer to English which has been adopted by an indigenous population in a country which was colonised by Britain. It is intended as a neutral term but is seen by some as having undesirable overtones of colonialism. The term nativised variety is used synonymously.

Indo-European One of the major language families of the world and certainly the one which has been best researched. It comprises nearly all the languages of Europe (except Basque, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish) along with many in the Middle East, e.g. Persian, Kurdish but not Arabic or Hebrew, and as well as in South Asia. The term originated in German where it is indogermanisch which translates literally as ‘Indo-Germanic’.

interdialect A postulated stage in the development of a focussed variety in which basic levelling has occurred but the profile of the new variety has not gained clear contours yet.

interference The transfer of certain phenomena, e.g. syntactic structures, from one language to another where they are not considered grammatical. This may happen on an individual level (during second language learning, for example) or collectively in which case it often leads to language change. Interference is typical of language shift situations such as that which obtained in Ireland in the early modern period.

interloper A person who participates in two speech communities. In the opinion of some sociolinguists, such individuals can be important in transmitting language change from one community to another and thus cause change to spread socially and also geographically.

internal migration A practice of moving people from one part of the British Empire to another during the colonial period, especially to offset a shortage of labour. This is found particularly after the abolition of slavery in 1834. For instance, people from north-western and western India were settled in KwaZulu Natal in the second half of the 19th century. Indians, speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, were also settled in Fiji (Pacific), in Trinidad (Caribbean) and in Guyana (South America) during the 19th century.

internal reconstruction One of the two major procedures of historical linguistics in which evidence from the internal development of a language is used in reconstructing earlier stages. It contrasts explicitly with the comparative method which relies on evidence from related languages. For instance, the use of voiced fricatives in the plurals of some words like knives, rooves, wives, etc. can help in establishing that Old English had voicing of fricatives in intervocalic position (although this was not indicated in writing). The Old English forms wif : wifas can be assumed to have been /wi:f/ : /wi:vas/ because Modern English still has /v/ in the plural of wife. Support for such assumptions is also provided by knowledge of common processes in languages, i.e. intervocalic voicing is a very well attested phenomenon is many languages.

International Period A division in the history of English in America which spans the time from the Spanish-American War and the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 to the present day. See Colonial Period, National Period.

intonation That part of the sound system of a language which involves the use of pitch to convey information. It consists of both accent (stressing a syllable in an individual word) and sentence melody (giving prominence to a word group).

intrusive r The use of an /r/ sound between two vowels where there is no historical justification for it, e.g. law and order [lɔ:-r-əndɔ:də]. This is characteristic of varieties which are nonrhotic such as Received Pronunciation. See linking r.

intrusive shwa [ʃwa] A (unstressed) central vowel which is inserted between the elements of a consonant cluster where there is no etymological reason for this, e.g. film [ˡfɪləm] in Irish English or melk [ˡmɛlək] in Dutch. The motivation in this case is to break up the cluster and render the word disyllabic.

intuition A term referring to speakers’ unconscious knowledge about their native language. Intuition is used frequently when speakers are asked to judge the grammaticality of sentences. The source of intuition is to be found in the internalisation process of the first years of life during which children unconsciously store information about the structure of their native language.

invariant A reference to an element which does not change its form, usually for a certain category, e.g. sheep is invariant in the plural as it does not take an inflection, the verb hit is invariant as it shows neither a vowel change or a suffix in the past.

inverse spelling An incorrect spelling which indicates a possible pronunciation of a word. This phenomenon is of value in historical linguistics, e.g. wright for write in late Middle English which shows that gh no longer represented [x] for a particular scribe but just signalised that the vowel was long, i.e. the word was most likely pronounced /ri:t/.

IPA A system of transcribing the sounds of languages which consists of some Latin and Greek letters and a variety of additional symbols and diacritics. The goal is to represent each recognisable human sound in a unique fashion. The IPA was developed at the end of the 19th century and has been revised on many occasions, most recently in 1993. The acronym stands for International Phonetic Alphabet. There is also an association with its own publication Journal of the International Phonetic Association.

Irish A Celtic language spoken natively by about 30,000 people in Ireland where it is an official language. It is attested from at least 600 AD onwards in an unbroken tradition (there is also an earlier Rune-like form known as Ogam). The present-day language exists in three main dialects, north, west and south which diverge considerably.

irregular A form which can be regarded as an exception to a given pattern or rule, e.g. the plurals formed with a stem vowel change in Modern English, man : men, tooth : teeth or the so-called ‘strong’ verbs such as sing : sang : sung, see : saw : seen. Irregular forms typically involve alteration of the stem and not affixation which is characteristic of regular nouns and verbs. If the entire form alters as in good : better : best or bad : worse : worst one speaks of suppletion. Normally, only a small subset of word forms (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) are irregular.

isogloss A line shown on a map and which represents the boundary between two linguistic features, e.g. the isogloss which separates the use of [u] (in the north of England) from [ʌ] (in the south of England) in a word like but. Such a line is normally taken to refer to pronunciation but can also apply to morphological or lexical items. (Hickey, England)


jargon A term for specialised or technical language which is generally unintelligible to those outside the field it refers to. In variety studies the term refers to a possible stage – the jargon phase – before the rise of a pidgin.

Johnson, Samuel (1709-84) English writer and lexicographer. Johnson was a major critic and scholar who was known both for his brilliant conversation and the quality of his writing. As a man of letters his influence on the literature of his day and of later periods was considerable. His significance for linguistics lies in the fact that he compiled the first major monolingual dictionary of English Dictionary of the English language (1755) which was a model for all future lexicographers.

Jones, Daniel (1881-1967) English phonetician. He was born in London and studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1905/6 he studied phonetics in Paris under Paul Passy and on his return took up an appointment at University College London and remained there, from 1921 to 1949 he was professor of phonetics. Jones was the first to describe rigorously the (standard) sociolect of British English which he termed Received Pronunciation. His two main books in this connection are An outline of English phonetics (1918 with later revisions) and An English pronouncing dictionary (1917 with later revisions).


Kentish The dialect of the county of Kent in the south-east corner of England. Its distinctiveness is already obvious in the Old English period and probably has to do with the original Germanic settlers there who came from Jutland in present-day Denmark. Kentish features can be seen in Modern English, for instance the vowel /i:/ in evil (which would have /ai/ if the form was not Kentish) or the /e/ in bury (note the spelling which is of West Midland origin). Also of Kentish origin is the initial voiced fricative in words like vat (cf. German Fass ‘vessel’ with /f/) and vane (cf. German Fahne ‘flag’ with /f/).

Kiswahili. See Swahili.

kitchen English Another nonlinguistic term to refer to basilectal English, e.g. in India, which is typically found, or was found, among domestic servants whose employers spoke a more acrolectal form of the language. The term ‘butler English’ is used in a similar sense.

koiné [kɔɪˡneɪ] A term deriving from ancient Greek which refers to a situation where the language variety of a specific area (usually that of greatest political prestige) is used as a general means of communication, almost as a standard, in the surrounding areas, i.e. in an entire country.

koinéisation A situation in which various varieties of a country or region tend to gravitate towards a single dominant one. Historically, this happened in the Old English period when the West Saxon dialect was used as a general means of communication (at least in writing) beyond its geographical boundaries because of the dominance of the West Saxon kingdom in England towards the end of the period.

Krapp, George Philip (1872-1934) An American linguist who initially trained as an Old English scholar but later researched his native American English producing the two books for which he is still best known The pronunciation of standard English in America (1919) and The English language in America (2 vols. 1925).

Kurath [ˡku:ra:t], Hans (1891-1992) American dialectologist and lexicographer of Austrian extraction. He worked at different universities at the beginning of his career and in 1930 was appointed director of The linguistic atlas of the United States and Canada producing various books on the dialects of the eastern coast of America. In 1946 he became editor of the Middle English dictionary and worked on it until his retirement in 1961.


l-vocalisation A phonetic process whereby a velarised /l/ ( = [ɫ]) is realised as [ʊ], e.g. milk as [mɪʊk] in Cockney. This has obviously happened historically in English and accounts for the lack of /l/ in words like walk, talk and in names like Holmes.

Labov [ləˡbɒv], William (1927- ) American linguist and founder of the modern discipline of sociolinguistics. Labov started his career with an investigation of the English used on a small island (Martha’s Vineyard) off the coast of New England and of the English of New York city. In both instances he demonstrated conclusively that the use of language, above all systematic variation, was determined by social factors such as upward mobility or group solidarity. These findings triggered much further research into language and society which has led to many insightful studies, particularly in the English-speaking world.

language change A process by which developments in a language are introduced and established. Language change is continual in every language and it is largely regular. However, the rate of language change is different among different languages. It depends on a number of factors, not least on the amount of contact and informational exchange with other linguistic communities on the one hand (this tends to further change) and the degree of standardisation and universal education in the speech community on the other hand (this tends to hamper change). There are also language internal forces which trigger change. Analogy is such a force which has a major effect on the long term development of a language. Furthermore, children can reanalyse the structures they find in the performance of their parents which forms the basis of their competence.

language choice The deliberate decision in a certain social situation to use one language as opposed to another.

language contact A situation in which speakers of two languages intermingle. The causes of this range from invasion and deportation to voluntary emigration to a new country. The results of this intermingling depend on external factors such as the relative status of the two linguistic groups and on internal factors such as the typological similarity of the languages involved, i.e. whether their grammatical structures are comparable or not.

language death The process by which a language ceases to exist. It is usually characterised by the switch over to some other language which surrounds the dying language and which is a superstratum to it, e.g. English vis à vis Manx on the Isle of Man in the middle of the 20th century. In a few cases, as with the well-known case of the Caucasian language Ubykh, language death can result from all the speakers of a language dying out. Some linguists use the terms language murder for the scenario where speakers are forced to abandon their native language and language suicide for the situation in which they readily give up their native language

language loyalty The extent to which individuals feel attached to a particular language, usually their native language, and the extent to which they support its use.

language maintenance The extent to which immigrant speakers retain their native language in the country they move to, for instance the relative use of Italian, Yiddish or Irish vis-à-vis English by European immigrants to the United States. (Hickey, Ireland)

language planning The efforts of official bodies, usually government agencies or sometimes academies, to increase, reduce or control the use of a certain language or languages.

language shift The movement from one language to another by a whole community, e.g. the switch-over from Irish to English in Ireland between the 17th and early 20th centuries.

language variation and change An approach within sociolinguistics in which the mechanisms of language change are investigated minutely by observing the variation in speech which exists in communities and the factors which might be responsible for this.

lateral A term referring to a sound which is produced by allowing air to pass along the sides of the mouth while keeping closure at a point in the middle. Such sounds are also called l-sounds.

learned words A reference to a section of a language’s vocabulary which is not normally known by ordinary speakers because of its scholarly nature. See hard words.

level A reference to a set of recognisable divisions in the structure of natural languages. These divisions are largely independent of each other and are characterised by rules and regularities of organisation. Traditionally five levels are recognised: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics. Pragmatics may also be considered as a separate level from semantics while phonetics and phonology are often grouped together as they are both concerned with sounds. Furthermore, levels may have subdivisions as is the case with morphology which falls into inflectional and derivational morphology (the former is concerned with grammatical endings and the latter with processes of word-formation). The term ‘level’ may also be taken to refer to divisions within syntax in generative grammar.

levelling Any process in which features are dropped and a general reduction of variation occurs. Dialect levelling is a specific instance of this in which a dialect loses (salient) features, very often in a situation in which a single dominant variety is emerging.

lexical diffusion A type of language change in which a certain feature spreads slowly through the vocabulary of a language rather than establishing itself at once. Cases of lexical diffusion are characterised by incompleteness, otherwise it is not recognisable afterwards and is a case of normal change which affects the entire vocabulary. The lexical diffusion type of change usually ceases before it can cover all theoretical instances in a language, e.g. the lowering of short /ʊ/ to /ʌ/ – as in but /bʊt/ > /bʌt/ – in the Early Modern English period which does not apply to instances before [ʃ] and after a labial stop: bush, push.

lexical gap A reference to a missing word or to a missing form of a word in a language. For instance, English has no one word for emotional memory and must describe the process through paraphrase. Equally it did not have any adjective for sea up until the early modern period during which the form marine was created from Latin mare to fill this gap, hence compounds like marine biology, marine life, etc. There are many other such adjectives which were formed, e.g. equestrian (from Latin equus), consider compounds like equestrian centre, equestrian event. In some cases, such as that just given, there was an adjective, here: horsey, but it was not appropriate in a neutral context. The same is true of aquatic which is a neutral adjective for water; watery has quite different connotations.

lexical sets According to the convention introduced in Wells (1982), a lexical set is any group of words which show the same pronunciation for a key sound, irrespective of whether this is that used in standard English or not. For instance, the MOUTH lexical set refers to all words which have Middle English /u:/, later diphthongised to /au/, as historical input irrespective of whether this is the actual pronunciation used today, e.g. in reality one might have [u:], [æu], [əu] or whatever. The key word of a lexical set is written in small capitals.

lexicalisation A process whereby an alternation of a word or a particular form is no longer derivable by application of a productive process, e.g. umlaut plurals in English such as goose : geese are lexicalised as there is no transparent and understandable process of umlaut in English any more. This lack of derivability can lead to semantic change, e.g. business [ˡbɪznəs] is no longer viewed as a noun derived from busy, instead a regular formation is used, i.e. busyness [ˡbɪzinəs]. See lexicalised.

lexicography The technique of writing dictionaries. Among the best know of British lexicographers is probably James Murray, the compiler of the first version of the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 20th century. Murray’s most illustrious predecessor is certainly Samuel Johnson who produced his famous dictionary in 1755.

lexicology The study of the vocabulary of a language in both its diachronic and synchronic aspects. Seelexicography.

lexifier language With reference to pidgins and creoles this is the language, usually of European origin, which was the superstrate in the original contact situation and which supplied most of the lexicon of the resulting pidgin/creole.

lingua franca A term deriving ultimately from a pidgin used in the Mediterranean area in the late Middle Ages and referring to any language which serves as a means of communication among speakers who do not know each other’s languages, e.g. Latin in the past or English today.

linguistic area A part of the world in which several genetically unrelated languages are spoken but which nonetheless show structural similarities. Such areas usually form an approximate geographical unit, e.g. the Balkans, the Caucasus, perhaps the eastern Baltic See region. The term is a translation of German Sprachbund, lit. ‘language federation’.

linguistic atlas A collection of maps which show the geographical distribution of various key items for a set of dialects, usually the entire group for a particular language. Such an atlas was produced in England in connection with the Survey of English Dialects co-ordinated at Leeds under the directorship of Harold Orton.

linguistic engineering A reference to deliberate changes in language use – frequently initiated by official agencies, departments of government or by interest groups – which are intended to neutralise or (supposedly) improve language in a specific sense. For instance, the many attempts to ‘desexify’ English are examples of this phenomenon. The use of Ms. [mʌz] or [mɪz] (with the final voiced fricative) for either Mrs. (married woman) or Miss (unmarried woman) is a prominent example. Included here are the many attempts to arrive at generic usage in English, e.g. by writing he/she or (s)he when referring to someone, such as a reader, who could be of either gender, or by using the expression chair to supplant both the male-oriented chairman and the too specific chairperson. The ultimate fate of such forms depends on their acceptance by the speech community into which they are introduced. Also termed linguistic manipulation.

linguistic minority A small social group within a larger one which uses a different language. Such a group may be a remnant of a historically larger group, e.g. Frisian in Germany, or may be due to more recent migration patterns, e.g. Turkish in Germany, Urdu or Jamaican English in Britain, Greek in Australia, etc.

linguistic prestige Refers to the value ascribed to a variety by the whole community. In modern societies, the standard form of a language enjoys the greatest prestige.

linguistic stigma The condemnation of certain forms in a language by the majority of a social group. Stigma is generally attached to dialect forms and structures, e.g. seen as the simple past or them as a demonstrative. There is no justification for such stigma, it usually arises because standard speakers have a negative and dismissive attitude towards those who speak dialect.

linguistic subordination A reference to the fact that the speech of a socially subordinate group is interpreted as inadequate by comparison with that of socially dominant groups. (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes)

linguistic variable Any item which can be used to quantitatively assess a variety. Speakers may or may not be aware of these variables. The term refers to a specific feature of a language which shows particular variation in a community and which is used as a tag for classifying a speaker’s speech. For example, in New York the realisation of /r/ is just such a variable. In northern England the presence of a distinction between the vowels in but and bush would be another example. A linguistic variable need not be phonological. Examples of grammatical variables are double negation, the use of ain’t and the lack of marking with verbs in the 3rd person singular among African Americans. A common nonlinguistic designation for a linguistic variable, which derives from the Bible, is shibboleth where the first sound could have been pronounced [ʃ] or [s].

link language A term used to describe a language employed in interethnic communication where the participants do not speak each other’s language. Another term for what is conventionally called a lingua franca. (Hickey, Asian Englishes)

linking r The use of /r/ to create a transition between two vowels in those varieties in which syllable-final /r/ does not normally occur (nonrhotic). This can be heard in Received Pronunciation, e.g. far away [fɑ:-r-əweɪ]. Such a linking consonant can be found in other contexts, for instance with vowel-initial nouns in English which take an as the indefinite article thus creating a consonantal transition between two vowels, e.g. an egg [ə-n-ɛg].

liquid A cover term for /l/ and /r/ sounds. These are both sound types of high sonority and both exhibit a tendency to vocalise, compare RP pear /pɛə/ with /ə/ from /r/ and Cockney till /tɪʊ/ with /ʊ/ from /l/ (= [ɫ]). Seesonority.

L-language A label used for that language in a diglossic situation which is used in domestic and informal occasions, e.g. local variants of Arabic in Arab countries or Schwyzerdütsch in German-speaking Switzerland. The L-language need not be related to the H-language, e.g. in Paraguay where this is Guaraní (a native American language belonging to the Tupian group of Andean-Equatorial languages) but the H-language is Spanish. SeeH-language.

loanword Any word which can be shown to have been imported from one language into another, that is which does not represent an historical continuation of an earlier form (although loan-words may be related at a greater time depth). The word mental is a Latin loan showing the stem mens, ment- in the latter language. However, it is ultimately related to English mind as both this word and Latin mens ‘mind’ stem from the same root in Indo-European. Seenative word.

Lowth, Bishop Robert [1710-1787] Author of a normative, prescriptive grammar – Short introduction to English grammar (1762) – which achieved great popularity for the manner in which it lay down the law with regard to grammatical usage. Lowth was professor of poetry in Oxford and later bishop of Oxford and of London (as of 1777).

Loyalists In the context of the American Revolution, loyalists were those American settlers who remained loyal to Britain and were not in favour of American independence. Many of them, about a fifth, sought refuge in Canada (then part of British North America) in the early 1780s and are known as United Empire Loyalists. Some travelled across land to Ontario while others used the sea passage arriving in Nova Scotia (later divided into Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). To accommodate the loyalists who settled on the northern shores of the Great Lakes (present-day southern Ontario) Upper Canada was created as an administrative region by the British with Lower Canada the region north of the St Lawrence estuary and north-eastwards to present-day Labrador. The linguistic input of the loyalists was significance is maintaining the general linguistic similarity of English in the later USA and Canada.


malapropism The use of a word which is not the one which is intended. Such uses occur because of the phonetic similarity between the intended word and the one actually used, e.g. saying ulster for ulcer in Irish English. The term is derived from the character of Mrs Malaprop in the play The Rivals (1775) by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

mainland varieties A cover term for English in England. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are not included here. The term may be found in the context of English in the British Isles but not in discussions of English overseas.

Malay A western Austronesian language spoken chiefly in Malaysia and Indonesia (hence the terms ‘Indonesian’ and ‘Malaysian’) by about 20m speakers. The earliest inscriptions date from the 7c written in a Pallava script from India. With Islamisation of the region an Arabic script was used for what is labelled Classical Malay. During the British Empire Malay was used widely and a pidgin, Bazaar Malay, arose during this time. As a consequence of colonialism and war the two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, were created in both of which literary Malay continues to be used. Since the segregation an increasing number of lexical differences have become apparent.

Maltese A Semitic language spoken by over 300,000 people on the island of Malta. It is quite far removed from Arabic as it has been heavily influenced by European languages, notably Italian, and has many loanwords from these. Classical Arabic, the language of the Koran, is not used on Malta as the majority of the population is Christian. Maltese is written with the Roman alphabet.

Mandarin Chinese A Sinitic language of the Sino-Tibetan family spoken by nearly 1 billion people in China, mainly in the northern, western and central regions. It the official language of the People’s Republic of China and of Taiwan. The language also provides the basis for written Chinese which is used for other Sinitic languages in China such as Cantonese spoken in the south and in Hong Kong. Chinese is attested from around 2,000 BC. It is analytic in type and has phonemic tone, with four or more distinctions, depending on language. The ethnic term for Mandarin Chinese is Putonghua (stressed on the second syllable).

Maori [ˡmaʊri] An eastern Austronesian (Polynesian) language spoken by about 100,000 people in New Zealand who are, however, bilingual with English. Its existence in New Zealand is due to early migrations there, several centuries before the arrival of the first British (late 18c). In the 19c century the language was repressed by the anglophone population but its status has improved during the 20c.

marked forms This very general label is used loosely to refer to unexpected or salient features of language. A feature can be marked by being somehow unusual, e.g. it occurs seldomly in the languages of the world (statistical markedness). Derived from this (and not without circularity) is the notion of naturalness which is said to apply to unmarked forms, i.e. those which are unlikely to arise in languages and hence statistically rare. Defining naturalness in objective terms has proved a notoriously intractable task, but phonetic difficulty (in articulation or perception) and mental processing of syntactic structures (such as multiple embedding) have been suggested as playing a central role. (Clarke)

matched-guise technique A common method in present-day sociolinguistic research for evaluating informants reactions to dialects and sociolects. The technique involves a speaker reading a passage of text in two or more different accents. The informants are unaware that in each case it is the same person reading and they are requested to rate the tape-recorded playback of each reading. The result is taken to reflect attitudes to linguistic stereotypes, since all other variables – bar accent – are constant across different readings.

McDavid, Raven (1911-1984) American dialectologist who was actively engaged in the Linguistic atlas of the United States and Canada under the directorship of Hans Kurath.

Mencken, Henry Louis (1880-1956) American journalist and author. Born in Baltimore where he later worked as a journalist and as an essayist attacking bourgeoisie complacency (see his collection Prejudices 6 vols. 1919-1927). In linguistics he is principally remembered for his large-scale book The American language (1919 with later editions and supplements) which was responsible for the study of this variety of English becoming academically respectable.

merger The fusion of two sounds such that only one results, for instance after Middle English the /e:/ and the /ɛ:/ vowels merged to one and were later raised to /i:/ in standard forms of English, leading to the homophony of words like meat and meet (see Great Vowel Shift). A merger is generally taken to be irreversible but different varieties of a language may not show the same historic mergers.

mesolect The variety in a creole continuum which is in the middle between the most creole-like form (basilect) and the more standard-like form (acrolect).

metathesis [məˡtæθɪsɪs] The reversal of the linear sequence of sounds in a word. A common form of metathesis is the reversal of /r/ and a short vowel in the history of English, e.g. three ~ third; bird < me. brid(d). Metathesis is most frequent with vowels but is also found with consonants, e.g. aks, waps for ask, wasp respectively, both historically and regionally in English.

Mid-Ulster English A linguistic term referring to that section of the population of Ulster which is derived from English settlers of the 17th century and is one of the two major linguistic groupings in Northern Ireland, the other being Ulster Scots. Also referred to as Ulster Anglo-Irish.

Middle English A collective term for the forms of English spoken in the period from about 1100 to 1500. More precisely the beginning is set by the Norman invasion of 1066 and the end is often seen as 1476 when William Caxton introduced printing to England and so heralded a period in which the spelling of English was increasingly standardised.

Milroy, James and Lesley British sociolinguists who in pioneering work in Belfast in the 1970s propounded the idea that social network ties (strong and weak) are essential factors determining language use and systematic variation. Change emanates in their view from those speakers with loose ties as they move readily in society and are not bound by strict linguistic norms to a specific class or sub-class. Seeinterlopers.

minority language A language which is spoken by a section of the whole population of a country. Although modern nation states usually have one official language, it is more the rule than the exception for there to be one or more minority languages spoken within such a state. For example, while Germany is officially German-speaking there is a Frisian, Danish and Sorbian minority within the countries borders who speak these languages. The issue of rights for speakers of minority languages is a matter which has been increasingly addressed in recent years, for instance by providing schooling, time allocated in the media, provision for use in official contexts, etc.

modal verb A verb with a defective set of forms which is used to express obligation, necessity, possibility, hypotheticality in present-day English, e.g. can, may, must, might, should, would. Modals share certain structural characteristics, e.g. they do not have an infinitive form and do not require do support in questions or negations, using inversion for the former instead: May I have some coffee? You musn’t be late.

monogenesis The view that all pidgins and creoles are derived from a single original pidgin in the Mediterranean area in the late Middle Ages. This was called lingua franca and via a 16th century Portuguese pidgin, sabir, led to the first pidgins on the west coast of Africa in the early days of trade. Through the process of relexification and substrate influence different creoles are supposed to have arisen in the following centuries.

monoglot An individual who speaks only one language.

monolingual A reference to an individual or community which uses only one language.

monophthong A vowel which is articulated with the tongue in a constant position, e.g. /o:/ in French peau ‘skin’ or /ɔ:/ in English thought. In English most long vowels are diphthongs while in other languages, such as French or German, such vowels are monophthongs.

Morningside and Kelvinside References to a type of pronunciation, supposedly characteristic of two up-market areas in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively, which is an affected imitation of Received Pronunciation in reaction to strongly local accents in these two cities.

multilingualism A situation in a society in which more than one language is used. This is not typically found in northern Europe, where the development of nation states in the past few centuries has meant that countries concentrated on one official language. However, outside of Europe the use of several languages in a single society is quite common, indeed across the world multilingualism is more the rule than the exception.

Murray, James A.H. (1837-1915) Scottish lexicographer and teacher. He is remembered as the scholar who began work on what was later to become the Oxford English dictionary, originally entitled A new dictionary of English on historical principles for which he collected most material. The work was not completed until 1928 but many sections of it had been printed during Murray’s lifetime.


national language Usually a particular dialect of a language which, because of the political development of the dialect area in question, has attained a special status in the country and has become accepted as the standard. It is frequently the language of the capital as in the case of France and Russia. In England the concern is primarily with pronunciation and the standard — Received Pronunciation — is derived historically from the speech of London, but became separated from this and developed into a sociolect which was furthered by its use in the private school system.

National Period A division in the history of English in America which spans the time from the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the annexation of Hawaii and the Spanish-American War, which led to the occupation of the Philippines, in 1898. See Colonial Period, International Period.

Native American languages A term referring to all the languages spoken in the Americas by people who were there before the arrival of the Europeans at the beginning of the colonial period. In the North American context these are sometimes referred to as Amerindian languages. These languages can be classified into anything up to 50 different language families. In North America there were originally many hundred languages but today only a fraction survive. Only a few of these languages have more than 10,000 speakers. The total number of speakers of North American native languages probably amounts to not much more than 500,000. The classification of these languages goes back to the work of the American ethnologist John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) who was followed in the early 20c by scholars such as Franz Boas and Edward Sapir. Later scholars offered different proposals which have been debated by linguists in the field. Recent classifications are those of Campbell (1998) and Mithun (1999), both of which offer significant revisions of earlier disputed typologies by Joseph Greenberg and later by his student Merrit Ruhlen (see also Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International, at (1) North and Central America (main language families): Algic, Aztec-Tanoan, Eskimo-Aleut, Hokan-Siouan, Mosan, Na-Dene (large group containing the Haida and Tlingit languages of the Pacific north-west along with the large and widespread group Athabaskan), Penutian, Mayan, Oto-Manguean, Totomac. (2) South America (main language families): Araucanian (central Chile), Chibchan (north Colombia), Macro-Ge (east, north-east Brazil), Paezan (Colombia), Quechuan (Ecuador, Peru, north Chile across through Bolivia into Paraguay, Argentina), Tucanoan (north-west Brazil), Carib (Venezuela), Witotoan (west Brazil), Arawakan (Colombia, Peru), Jivaroan (Ecuador), Nambiquaran (central Brazil), Panoan (west Brazil), Yanomaman (north Brazil), Tacanan (west Brazil), Tupian (Paraguay), Zaparoan (north Peru).

native speaker An individual who speaks a particular language as first language, i.e. with full competence. To be a native speaker it is essential to have acquired the language before puberty.

native word Any word which shows a continuous historical development in a language, that is which has not been borrowed, e.g. see and begin are native words in English but perceive and commence are loanwords (from medieval French). Loanwords stand in a certain relationship to native words with similar meanings. They may represent a partial or slightly shifted meaning only, e.g. demand ‘to insist on something’ in English comes from the word demander ‘to ask’ in French. A loanword may signify the meaning on a different stylistic level, often on a more formal plane as is the case in English labour versus work or liberty versus freedom.

nautical jargon A term used to refer to a supposed variety of English which was used by sailors for communication among speakers of different nationalities and passed on to the native populations of Africa, Asia, etc. which they came in contact with. Common words among pidgins, such as galley for ‘kitchen’, cargo for ‘anything carried’ or hoist for ‘to lift’ are regarded as stemming from nautical jargon.

near-native variety A neutral reference to a variety of English which has not arisen due to historical continuity from settler English in the early period of anglophone occupation of a country. Nonetheless such forms of English, through exposure of speakers to English during the critical period of language acquisition in early childhood in both their school and domestic surroundings, can approach, indeed achieve, native-like quality, as in contemporary Singapore. (Hickey, South-East Asian English)

negative concord A feature both of older English and many dialects of present-day English, including African American English. It refers to the use of two (or more) negative particles to intensify a negation, e.g. He don’t know nothing. The term ‘negative concord’ refers to the fact that in varieties which have this feature, all elements in a clause which can show negation must, i.e. He don’t know anything is not possible because anything can be rendered in the negative as nothing, hence the sentence He don’t know nothing. Sometimes referred to as ‘double negation’.

Neogrammarian hypothesis A view of language change which assumes that it proceeds gradually on a phonetic level but affects all words with the sounds undergoing the change simultaneously. This view was propounded in the 19th century by German linguists starting from Leipzig. It contrasts with the different view that change can proceed word by word through the lexicon. Seelexical diffusion.

neologism A new word in the vocabulary of a language. Inventions are usually tradenames, e.g. Kodak, Nivea, Sony and as such are proper names. There are a few nontradenames, e.g. dongle ‘software protection device’ or googol ‘number with a hundred zeros’. It is more common for words to be created from lexical material already present in a language, e.g. paraglider, cyberspace. Neologisms are distinguished from borrowings as the latter already exist in the donor language. Seeneo-classical compound.

network A series of connections which individuals have with those they interact with socially. Networks, as the notion was developed for linguistics in the research of James and Lesley Milroy, can be simplex or multiplex and can show weak or strong ties. Vernacular speakers, being typically members of nonprestigious social groups with less access to higher education, are liable to have strong ties in multiplex networks. Middle-class speakers on the other hand tend to partake in weak-tie networks.

Network English. See General American.

new dialect formation An historical process whereby a new focussed variety arises from a series of dialect inputs, e.g. in New Zealand in the late 19th century. Various stages in this process are recognised from a situation of rudimentary levelling to one with a fully focussed variety.

New Englishes A cover term which refers to varieties of English spoken in countries which have a colonial past but no significant numbers of settlers who would have transmitted native-speaker English to future generations. In such countries, typically found in South-East Asia, the standard of English is usually very high, due to promotion of the language in primary schooling. Indeed in cases like Singapore, near-native, or indeed native, competence can be reached by broad sections of the population. SeeAsian Englishes.

New World varieties A cover term for English spoken in the Caribbean, United States and Canada.

nonlocal A label used to refer to speakers of a variety which is nearer to the standard than the vernacular of their locality. The advantage of the term is that it encompasses speakers who are not necessarily well-educated or conventionally middle-class. (Hickey, Ireland)

nonrhotic [nɒnˡrɒtɪk] A reference to a variety of a language in which a syllable-final /r/ is not pronounced, for instance Received Pronunciation, most forms of African American English, or standard German.

nonverbal communication A collective term for all aspects of communication which do not involve speech, e.g. facial expression, stance, gestures, etc. Sometimes included in the term body language.

normative A reference to the externally applied rules for language use. Normative behaviour in language derives from notions of putative correctness which pay little or no attention to language structure and which are oblivious to the universality of language change.

NORM An acronym for ‘nonmobile, older, rural male’ which refers to the kind of informants preferred in traditional dialectology. The aims of the latter were generally to determine the oldest surviving form of a language by examining the most conservative dialect speakers. In modern sociolinguistics this type of orientation is rejected as the aim is to uncover language usage in contemporary society and hence stress is generally placed on urban dialects as spoken by people of all ages and both genders.

Norn A variety of Norse which was formerly quite widespread over the north of Scotland as a consequence of the original Scandinavian invasions in the Old English period. It receded ever further to the north and was finally confined to the Orkney and Shetland islands, dying out there in the 18th century.

Northumbrian The area which is north of the Humber river and south of the border with Scotland. This region can be identified dialectally for the Old English period. During Middle English it is generally termed Northern and this broad dialect area continues to this day. It is remarkable for a number of features such as the lack of the Great Vowel Shift in many cases, the retention of early modern short /u/ (which shifted to /ʌ/ in most instances in the south), the lack of lengthening of low vowels before voiceless fricatives in words like bath, staff, etc.

Northern Cities Shift A change in the pronunciation of English in the major cities of the north and north-east of the United States which is currently in progress. The term stems from William Labov who has examined the shift in detail pointing out the raised character of short vowels in words like bad, bed, bid.

Northern Ireland Since 1921 a state within the United Kingdom. It consists of six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster and was created as an option for the Protestant majority in the north-east of Ireland, descended from original Scottish and English settlers, to remain within the British union.

notation A system of transcription in phonetics, e.g. the IPA or the American system (see appendix for details). Notations of various kinds are used for other levels of language as well, e.g. for syntactic categories. It is important in linguistic analysis to ensure that apparent differences in interpretation do not simply result from differences in notation, i.e. from the manner of representing language structures and not from the nature of these.


observer’s paradox A phenomenon to be seen in sociolinguistic investigations and first described explicitly by William Labov. It maintains that the object of an investigation changes under observation, e.g. speakers change their linguistic behaviour when they know they are being observed.

obsolescent A reference to any usage or word which is no longer current in a given language.

Ocracoke A name given to a relic dialect area on a group of islands, the Outer Banks, off the coast of North Carolina in the United States. It has been intensively investigated in recent years by the American dialectologist Walt Wolfram.

Old English The initial period in the history of English which lasted from the mid 5th to the mid 11th century. It begins with the traditional date for the arrival of the Germanic tribes in Britain, 449, and end with the Norman invasion of 1066. Written documents begin in the late 6th century and continue through to the late 11th century. Old English is a term for the original settlers of Ireland from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

onomastics The linguistic study of names, both personal and place names. This field is particularly concerned with etymology because names do not usually change their form and thus tend to offer evidence of older stages of the language. Place names are particularly useful in tracing settlement patterns in a region as successive waves of settlers tend to keep the original names, hence the many Celtic names in Britain, such as Kent and Avon (from the Celtic word for ‘river’), and names which were later Latinised by the Romans such as York (from Eboracum) and London (from Londinium).

optional A term which refers to allophonic processes which do not necessarily have to be carried out, cf. the shortening of high vowels before nasals as in Received Pronunciation room /ru:m/ > /rʊm/ or been /bi:n/ > /bɪn/. In general terms ‘optional’ denotes any process which is not obligatory.

orthoepy A term referring to the determination of correct pronunciation, in particular with reference to those writers in 16th, 17th and 18th century England who were concerned with this issue. These authors wrote treatises on aspects of English at the time which offer some insights into the language in the early colonial period, such as the probable pronunciation of vowels or the demise of syllable-final /-r/ in the south.

Orton, Harold (1898-1975) English dialectologist. Born in Durham the son of a village schoolmaster, Orton studied at Oxford after World War I and developed a strong interest in dialects. He also studied under Joseph Wright and Henry Wyld and later worked at Newcastle and Sheffield before he was appointed professor at Leeds after World War II. In this capacity he initiated the Survey of English dialects which was to become his life’s work and led to the publication of The linguistic atlas of England in 1978. Much of the material collected has been used by other researchers in their work on English dialects.

overseas varieties A cover term for any variety of English outside of the British Isles, i.e. this does not include Irish English.


Pacific area Languages spoken on the islands of the Pacific belong to one of two phyla, the second of which is confined to the island of Papua-New Guinea: (1) The Austronesian language family. Mainland South-East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia remnants in the original area before dissemination over the Pacific) Major west Pacific islands: Taiwan (Formosan), Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar (outlier with the language Malagasy), Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia (islands east of Melanesia, south-east, south-central Pacific), Easter Island (outlier off the coast of Chile), (2) Papua-New Guinea linguistic area. . See Papuan..

Pale A term for the area of Dublin, its immediate hinterland and a stretch of the east coast down to the south-east corner which was fairly successful in resisting increasing Gaelicisation up to the 16th century. The varieties of English in this area still show features which stem from late medieval Irish English whereas those further west in the country show greater evidence of influence from Irish, the native language before the switch-over to English.

parallel independent development Any set of two or more developments in separated languages or dialects which are assumed to have arisen independently of each other, for instance umlaut in West and North Germanic languages. Seeshared innovation.

parataxis Two or more clauses which are linked by using conjunctions, i.e. the clauses have equal status, e.g. [Fiona came home] and [went to bed immediately]. Seehypotaxis.

Partridge, Eric (1894-1979) A prominent lexicographer of English, born in New Zealand and educated in Australia and England. Partridge did not follow up the beginnings of his academic career but took to publishing. His linguistic reputation rests on A dictionary of slang and unconventional English (1937) and Usage and abusage: A guide to good English (1942).

Passy [pasi], Paul Édouard (1859-1940) One of the earliest professional phoneticians, Passy was a founding father of the International Phonetic Association and helped develop the system of transcription which that organisation propagated. He also founded a journal Le Maître Phonétique which is the forerunner of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Passy was also a dedicated pacifist and the first to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

patois An unwritten dialect.

peer group Any group of people of approximately the same age.

perfect The simple past tense which does not refer to great time depth (see pluperfect) and which may in English express the relevance of the action to the present, e.g. Fiona has spoken to Fergal (present perfect).

perfective A type of aspect which expresses that an action is complete. This contrasts explicitly with the imperfective which leaves the question of completion open. The perfective may be expressed by using a special verb form, in which case the category is said to be lexicalised, e.g. German aufessen ‘to eat up, finish’ as in Die Kekse sind alle aufgegessen ‘All the biscuits have been eaten up’, or a language may use a verbal phrase in which case the perfective is said to be periphrastic, e.g. He has the work done ‘He has finished the work’ (Irish English). Still other languages may have a productive means for creating a perfective and an imperfective form of the verb, as in Russian where whole series of verb pairs, distinguished by aspect, are to be found, e.g. ja pisal pisjmo ‘I wrote a letter’ and ja napisal pisjmo ‘I wrote (and finished) a letter’.

periphrasis [pəˡrɪfrəsɪs] An alternative rendering of a phrase or sentence which is usually longer than the original but which retains the meaning, e.g. to give due and proper attention to a matter for to consider something. Seecircumlocation.

periphrastic [perɪˡfræstɪk] ‘do’ An unstressed form of the verb do which was used in simple declarative sentences up to about the beginning of the 17th century, e.g. I do pronounce you guilty. This is not to be confused with the use of do in questions and negatives and for emphasis in modern English, e.g. Fiona ˡˡdoes like linguistics.

person A grammatical distinction which applies to the speaker, addressee or person talked about in verbal systems. Normally there is a distinction between singular and plural as well. There are more distinctions available than just those found in European languages, for instance languages may distinguish between a personal form for ‘we’ which includes the addressee and one which does not. Seeexclusive.

personal pronoun A grammatical form which refers to the speaker, addressee or person talked about and which occupies a position immediately next to the verb. In discourse it is used to avoid repetition of a name which has already been mentioned and thus has an anaphoric function in discourse. The choice of pronoun when talking to someone may vary in languages which have pronominal distinctions in their address system.

phonological space A spatial projection for the articulatory options in a certain language. It specifies boundaries and describes the framework in which changes can take place. For instance, the English Great Vowel Shift took place in a phonological space which was defined by the peripheral vowels /i/ (front, high), /u/ (back, high) and /a/ (low).

phrasal verb A verb which always takes one or more prepositions and where the meaning of the combination of elements is different from the individual parts the construction may consist of, e.g. to put up with something does not derive from combining the meaning of put with that of up. American English!

pidgin A language which arises from the need to communicate between two communities. Historically, and indeed in almost all cases, one of the communities is socially superior to the other. The language of the former provides the base on which the latter then creates the pidgin. A pidgin which has become the mother language of a later generation is termed a creole. Pidgins are of special interest to the linguist as they are languages which have been created from scratch and because they are not subject to the normalising influence of a standard. Classically pidgins arose during trade between European countries and those outside of Europe. The lexicon of a pidgin is usually taken from the lexifier language (the European one in question) and its grammar may derive from native input (such as the languages of West Africa during the slave trade with the Caribbean and America).The further development of a pidgin is a creole, although this stage does not have to be reached if there is no necessity to develop a native language. If a creole does develop its speakers may ‘invent’ their own grammatical structures going on an innate blueprint which many linguists assume speakers have from birth.

pidgins and creoles There is much implicit or explicit comparison with varieties of English which are deemed to be pidgins or creoles in the current volume. A pidgin is understood here as a reduced language which arises in a specific contact situation, prototypically that of trade in the colonies, and which has features from the language of the traders, the lexifier language, and from the language(s) of those with whom the trade was carried out (substrate or native languages). Pidgins are makeshift and mostly temporary. If, for external reasons, they are transmitted to a following generation, and if, and only if, this next generation has access to no other linguistic background than this pidgin can one then speak of a creole developing. This means that a creole arises only where there is a break in continuity of the mother tongue. Because of this there is restructuring and considerable expansion of the pidgin which is its immediate predecessor.

Polari [ˡpəʊlərɪ] An argot which used to be quite widespread among certain social groups in Britain, such as itinerants (‘gypsies’) or people working for the theatre or circus. It has survived in the form of a small lexicon of in-group words such as manky ‘dirty, worthless’ perhaps influenced by the Romance stem seen in French manqué ‘lacking’ or Italian mancare ‘to lack’.

politeness An aspect of social behaviour which shows deference towards the wishes and concerns of the addressee. There are linguistic strategies for maximising politeness in exchanges, e.g. by employing indirect speech acts and using formal address terms in order to save the face of the addressee.

polyglot A reference to several languages, either to an individual who can speak many or to a text which contains several languages frequently in parallel form, e.g. a polyglot edition of the Bible.

polylectal A term used to denote the ability of speakers to understand, and possible use, different varieties of their language. For instance, most speakers of English would understand that them cars means ‘those cars’ even if they do not use the form themselves. The same would apply to I done it or I seen it for I did it and I saw it respectively.

postcreole continuum The set of varieties which are left over when a language has ceased to be a creole and has begun to move towards the standard language of the region it is spoken in, e.g. Black English in the early modern period in the southern United States.

postvocalic r A reference to the pronunciation of /r/ in the coda of a syllable as in many dialects of English, e.g. in American, Irish, Scottish English in words like word, card, far, etc. In order to account for the presence of /r/ in words like merry, very authors sometimes define the /r/ in question negatively as ‘nonprevocalic /r/’. However, the /r/ in these latter words is ambisyllabic, that is it straddles two syllables, and so it is different from the syllable-final /-r/ as in dark.

power-solidarity Two aspects of social position which find expression in the use of forms of address. In general in situations where power is the dominant factor the formal V-form of address will be used and in situations where a speaker wishes to show solidarity with the addressee the less formal T-form is more likely to occur. Seeaddress system, T-form and V-form.

predicative A reference to an adjective which occurs after a form of the copula be instead of before the noun it qualifies. Some adjectives can only occur in this position, e.g. The girl is awake but *The awake girl is ungrammatical.

prescriptivism A tradition which arose in the early modern period in England (after the establishment of a de facto standard in the south-east around London) which sought to prescribe language usage, especially in the form of grammars, the most well-known of which is that by Bishop Lowth (1710-87), first published in 1762. SeeElocution.

present tense A form of verbs which indicates that an action is occurring at the current point in time or with current reference. Some languages, including German, and to a more limited sense English, use the present tense to refer to future time as in Ich gehe bald ins Bett ‘I’m going to bed soon’, lit. ‘I go to bed soon’.

prespecification A typological principle in which a modifier precedes its head. This can be an adjective before a noun, a genitive before a nominative, and significantly in creoles, it can be a plural marker before a noun or an aspectual marker before a nonfinite verb form.

prestige An important factor in the judgement of language varieties. Usually a standard variety enjoys highest prestige in a community and the other varieties correspondingly less. If a particular variety has a long tradition and high awareness then it may have increased prestige compared with other nonstandard varieties. This is the case with Cockney in English and Bavarian in German, different though they are.

principal parts A small number of verb forms – such as sing : sang : sung – which are enough for all other forms to be derived.

principle of least effort A putative principle in linguistic behaviour whereby speakers choose to articulate segments which require least muscular effort. There are at least two major difficulties with such assumptions: (i) defining what is really meant by ‘least effort’ and (ii) proving its operation across a representative cross-section of languages.

pronoun problem, the A reference to the difficulty of using pronouns in English and nonetheless not engaging in gender-biased language, especially in generic statements, e.g. The linguist must consider carefully what he/she says. Avoidance strategies can be adopted, e.g. using plurals where possible.

proscribe To denounce some structure in language as unacceptable, as bad usage, etc. This is a feature of prescriptive grammars which attempt to state the manner in which language should be used rather than how it occurs. For instance, such grammars would proscribe the use of like as a pragmatic highlighter, e.g. Fiona’s, like, keen on linguistics.

prosody A term which refers to all the suprasegmental properties of language such as pitch, loudness, tempo and rhythm. Originally it meant the study of the metrical structure of poetry.

proxemics [prɒkˡsi:mɪks] The study of how speakers use distance to their partners in conversation. This varies between cultures, for instance it has been noticed that Arabs maintain a smaller distance to their interlocutors than do northern Europeans, for example.

purism An attitude to language which demands the preservation of conservative forms which are somehow viewed as ‘correct’. A noticeable characteristic of purism is its rejection of foreign influences on a language. In England there is no institution which guards the ‘purity’ of the language but other countries do have such bodies, notably France with the Académie Française which has attempted to stem the flow of English loanwords into French.

push-pull chain A view of language change which sees a causal connection between the shifting of single elements in a language such that one element ‘pushes’ or ‘pulls’ another into a new position. A case in point is the Great Vowel Shift which is seen by many linguists as a group of changes effecting the long vowels of late Middle English whereby the high vowels /i:/ and /u:/ started to diphthongise and hence pulled the mid vowels /e:/ and /o:/ upwards (a pull chain) or where these mid vowels started to shift and caused the diphthongisation of the high vowels (a push chain). The combined term ‘push-pull chain’ basically avoids the decision, which is probably not possible, concerning which of the two situations was actually the case.


r-colouring A quality of vowels which is achieved by retroflexion (bending back of the tip of the tongue) and which acoustically is reminiscent of an /r/ sound. The vowels of rhotic varieties of English show r-colouring, e.g. American English /bɚ:d/ for British English /bɜ:d/ bird. Seerhotacisation.

r-less speech Any variety, usually of English, in which /r/ in syllable codas is not pronounced. See nonrhotic.

raising (1) An alteration in the pronunciation of vowels towards a higher starting point. This is a general characteristic of long vowels in the history of English (Great Vowel Shift). (2) An assumed process in syntactic derivation whereby a noun in the clausal complement of a small set of verbs can appear at the subject of such verbs, e.g. It seems that Fiona is unwell > Fiona seems to be unwell (the ‘raising’ refers to the movement out of a complement clause to the higher subject position in the sentence). Not all raising verbs have non-raised equivalents, for instance tend in Fiona tends to be impatient cannot appear with a clausal complement (without raising), i.e. *It tends that Fiona is impatient is not well-formed.

rapid anonymous observation A technique developed by William Labov in the 1960s in which a brief interview takes place and where the informants are not aware that they are being interviewed.

real time A reference to linguistic investigations which are carried out during an actual period of time, e.g. an examination of English from 1980 to 2000 would be a real time investigation of late 20c English. Seeapparent time.

reallocation A situation in which a feature of an input variety gains special status — social or stylistic — at a new location which is not evident at its source.

reanalysis A process whereby first language learners, in their attempts to recognise the principle behind apparently random variation in their linguistic surroundings, postulate a new principle which is not that of the input. This is characteristic of systems which are on the decline, for instance, the demise of those inflectional endings which triggered umlaut in West and North Germanic led to the umlauted vowels being reanalysed as exponents of plurality for those nouns using them.

Received Pronunciation A socially prestigious accent of English in Britain. Its roots lie in the speech of London in the early modern period but it became a sociolect, and hence nonregional, in the course of the 19th century and was nurtured and furthered by private schools, traditional universities, the higher military and clergy and came to be used generally in public life in England. It is spoken by only a small percentage of the British population but has high status and is used as a reference accent, in the descriptions of English pronunciation, e.g. by Daniel Jones and A. C. Gimson, and is often the variety of British English taught to foreigners.

reduction A stage in new-dialect formation in which the variation in the emerging dialect is reduced by salient features being dropped. In general it can refer to any situation in which a variety abandons features, see supraregionalisation.

reflex A form in a present-day language which descends directly from an earlier one in the history of the language. For instance, the reflex of Old English a /ɑ:/ is normally /əʊ/ in Modern English, cf. Old English ham /hɑ:m/, ac /ɑ:k/ and Modern English home /həʊm/, oak /əʊk/. Where ham occurred in a compound the vowel was short and was not shifted and so a form close to the original is retained in many place names, cf. Wrexham, Oldham, Nottingham, etc.

reflexive A type of structure where both subject and object have the same referent, e.g. He injured himself. English has an anomaly in that the possessive pronoun + self/selves forms the reflexive pronoun in the first and second person, i.e. myself, yourself, ourselves, but it is the objective form of the personal pronoun + self/selves which is used in the third person, i.e. himself, herself, itself, themselves. Many dialects of English have regularised this paradigm and use hisself and theirselves as reflexive forms.

regional standard A type of standard which is used in one region of a country. The term is used to distinguish these varieties from dialects on the one hand and from a national standard on the other. Regional standards can be seen as intermediary between strong local dialects and a standard. They furthermore serve an identity function for a region. For instance, across large parts of the north of England, English is spoken with certain typically northern features, not found in RP, by many nonlocal speakers. These features would include the lack of contrast between the vowels in put and pun and the use of a short /a/ in the BATH lexical set. However, this pronunciation would not include an unshifted /u:/ (i.e. not /au/) in the MOUTH lexical set nor would it have a low and unrounded vowel in the GOAT lexical set. Seesupraregionalisation.

register A style level in language, either written or spoken. In the latter case, register can depend on who one is speaking to or a particular effect which one intends. The mixing of registers is a characteristic of nonnative varieties of English because users of these varieties lack the experience of style and word connotations acquired by native speakers in the formative period of their lives, i.e. during first language acquisition in childhood.

relative chronology A chronological order of more than one event which does not give absolute dates but does say which event occurred first, that is it puts the events into a sequence. For instance, it is not possible to say exactly when the long /u:/ in words like blood, flood shortened to /ʊ/ but this must have occurred before the unrounding and lowering of early modern English /ʊ/ to /ʌ/ as these words show the latter vowel in present-day English. However, words like took, look must have shortened /u:/ after the shift from /ʊ/ to /ʌ/ had ceased to be active as these words show /ʊ/ and not /ʌ/, that is their stem vowel has not been unrounded and lowered.

relative clause A type of clause which offers further information in a sentence without this being expressed in a relation of subordination, contrast Fergal said (that) he was ready with Fergal turned off the computer because it was time to go. Relative clauses can be part of complex nominals in which case they can introduced by which or that (with inaminate nouns) and who (with animate nouns) e.g. Proposals [which/that are particularly expensive] have been put forward. The students [who were apparently Greek] joined the group.

relative pronoun A linguistic item which is used to introduce a relative clause, e.g. that in English, che in Italian, dass in German, etc., e.g. Fiona promised that she would not cheat in the exam.

relexification The process whereby the vocabulary of a pidgin or creole is replaced almost entirely by that of another language with which the creole-speaking community comes into contact. This reputedly happened with early Dutch pidgins in the south-east Caribbean.

relic area A geographical region where particularly conservative features of a language are still to be found, e.g. the Outer Banks islands off the coast of North Carolina where Ocracoke English is spoken.

remnant speech community A community which lives in a location of geographical remoteness and which is characterised by historical isolation from surrounding dominant populations. In the American context the best known example is Ocracoke on the Outer Bank islands off the coast of North Carolina.

restricted language Any variety of language which does not show the full complement of expressive means possible. This may be because speakers have not been exposed to the variety sufficiently (as with dialect speakers vis à vis the standard of a language) or it may be simply that a certain context only requires limited means of expression. If used at all, this term should be a statement of fact and never judgmental in its overtones.

restrictive A reference to a modifying element (a clause, an adjective) which is closely bound to what is modified, e.g. so-called defining relative clauses in English The man who spoke yesterday has already left.

restructuring A label for processes in creole formation in which elements of the input pidgin are coopted to form new structures indicating grammatical categories not necessarily present in the input. An example would be the use of bin (< been) with a past participle, e.g. She bin married to my brother ‘She was married to my brother long ago’, to indicate the remote past in African American English (this type of restructuring indeed offers evidence of the creole origin of this variety). Such restructuring is the ‘creative’ element of creole formation and illustrates the way in which children structurally expand the language of their surroundings if this does not supply categories which are typical of a fully-fledged native language.

resumptive pronoun A use of a personal pronoun to take up a reference to a noun already mentioned, frequently when the latter has been fronted in order to be highlighted, e.g. My brother Brian, he’s working as a doctor now. Some languages have such structures regularly, e.g. Italian as in La nuova casa la vedo adesso, lit. ‘The new house, her see-I now’ or French as in Mon frère, il prefère l’anglais, lit. ‘My brother, he prefers English’.

retention A reference to the belief that key features in a dialect are derived from historical input and are not due to language contact and are not necessarily independent developments. For instance, some scholars believe that features of Irish English, such as the use of the present for the present perfect of English as in I know Fiona for five years now result from the varieties of English taken to Ireland and not from the transfer of syntactic patterns from Irish during the language shift period. This feature may be a case of convergence where both sources have played a role. Seecontact.

retraction The shift of an articulation further back in the mouth, e.g. in the shift of /aɪ/ to /ɑɪ/ found in Cockney English, e.g five [fɑɪv].

retroflex A reference to a sound spoken with the tip of the tongue curled backwards. Retroflexion is a characteristic feature of apical stops and fricatives in the languages of South Asia and is often transferred to the English spoken by people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

rhotic [ˡrəʊk] A reference to a variety of a language in which a syllable-final /r/ is pronounced, for instance (generally) in American English as opposed to RP in England.

rhoticisation The use of /r/ colouring with vowels. This is achieved by curling back the tip of the tongue during articulation. Seer-colouring.

rhyming slang A feature of Cockney in which two words are used one of which rhymes with yet another word which is that which is really referred to, e.g. trouble and strife for wife.

rhythm All the patterns of strong and weak syllables in a language. The rhythm of English (and German) is characterised by the foot which consists of a stressed syllable and all unstressed syllables up to the next stressed one.

rising diphthong Any diphthong whose second element is articulated at a higher position than the first e.g. [eɪ] as in came [keɪm], [əʊ] as in coat [kəʊt] or [ɔɪ] as in coil [kɔɪl]. Also called a closing diphthong.

Roget [rože], Peter Mark (1779-1869) English physician and lexicographer. Born in London, the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and was active in this sphere in Manchester and London. His Thesaurus of English words and phrases (1852), later edited by his son and by his grandson, is a standard reference work to this day and represents his claim to linguistic fame.

Romani [ˡrəʊmænɪ] The term ‘Romani’ refers to dialects of an Indo-Iranian language spoken by the Roma (from rom ‘man’), a people who probably originated in north-west India and who began a period of migration, maybe as early as 100 AD towards the west. This took them first to Iran, later into Asia Minor and via Armenia to southern Russia. Some moved through present-day Turkey into the Balkans where they established a foothold and are represented in significant numbers to this day. Part of the Balkan group continued further into central and western Europe so that Roma are to be found in virtually every country of the continent today. The dissemination throughout Europe was probably complete by the 16c. The Roma have always had a peripheral position in the countries they moved to and the degree of assimilation to the local population varied from a complete form in which they adopted the culture and language of the host country completely to a more partial form in which they maintained their marginal status. In all cases there has been heavy influence of the indigenous language or languages of the host countries on the forms of Romani spoken there. Anglo-Romani is reputedly spoken by several thousand people in England, Wales (it is difficult to be accurate as the community is scattered and not accessible to non-Romani). Some words have been adopted into English, notably pal ‘friend’. Romani dialects are not generally available in written form, this being in keeping with their frequent status as a secret language in the host country, e.g. the jargon Shelta formerly spoken by non-settled Romani in Ireland. The term ‘gypsies’ (French gitanes, German Zigeuner) does not stem from the Roma themselves but given to them by west Europeans in the false belief that they stemmed from Egypt.

rule A formulation of a regular process in a language. For instance, the rule for forming an adverb from an adjective consists of adding -ly to the latter as in quick > quickly. But as this simple example shows, rules have exceptions, e.g. friendly is an adjective although it ends in -ly. It would be more in tune with the intuitions of native speakers to say that most processes in languages are regular with a small number of exceptions. This may be the residue of an historical process which was not carried through to completion or may be due to the fact that a form does match the input necessary for a rule, cf. friendly above. Because native speakers do not experience difficulty in mastering exceptions there is rarely a ‘cleanup’ operation in a language to remove these. Indeed, exceptions can attain sociolinguistic significance if they become indicative of a certain variety, e.g. the irregular distribution of long /ɑ:/ in RP, contrast bland /blænd/ and blast /blɑ:st/. This type of situation can in fact lead to hypercorrection, e.g. saying /plɑ:stɪk/ for plastic /plæstɪk/. See exception.


Sabir [səˡbɪə] Refers to the original Portuguese pidgin (sabir ‘to know’) which is assumed by some linguists to be the input to all later pidgins through dissemination from its original location on the west and north-west coast of Africa (= monogenesis theory). Sabir itself is taken to be related to, if not derived from, the medieval lingua franca used in the (eastern) Mediterranean area from at least the time of the crusades.

sandhi Any phonetic change which occurs across word boundaries, e.g. going to > gonna. It takes its name from Sanskrit where the phenomenon was common. Seemutation.

Schuchardt [ˡʃu:xart], Hugo (1842-1927) German linguist who was opposed to Neogrammarians’ views on language change and their ignorance of languages without a long cultural history (see his Über die Lautgesetze. Gegen die Junggrammatiker ‘On sound laws. Against the Neogrammarians’). He advocated a line of study which is now known as geographical linguistics. In later dialect studies (for example in the Survey of English dialects) the type of word geography instituted by Schuchardt was implemented. He was also associated with the school named Wörter und Sachen ‘Words and things’ after a journal which was concerned with semantic issues.

Scotch-Irish A reference found in the United States to the settlers of Scottish origin from the north of Ireland who moved to North America in large numbers in the 18th century. The term ‘Scots-Irish’ is also found with the same meaning.

Scots In the opinion of some authors an independent language, Scots developed out of northern Old English dialects (Anglian) which were carried to Lowland Scotland in the late Old English period. Scots flourished throughout the Middle Ages and most of the early modern period. It has survived since in Scotland alongside Scottish Gaelic and Standard Scottish English as one of the chief language groupings in the country. Scots was transported to Ulster at the beginning of the 17th century with intensive plantation in the north of Ireland. It was also carried to America by Scottish and Ulster emigrants, a large number of whom (approx. a quarter of a million) went to the United States during the 18th century.

Scottish Gaelic (Gallick) A Q-Celtic language deriving from northern Irish in the early Christian period. Scottish Gaelic had developed into a separate language by the late Middle Ages and became standardised in the early modern period, above all with the bible translation of 1801. Speaker numbers have declined steadily throughout the 20c. The number of native speakers is difficult to ascertain but the frequently quoted figure of 80,000 is definitely an exaggeration.

Scottish Vowel Length Rule A change in Scots, and by extension in Ulster Scots, whereby the length of a vowel is derived from the nature of the following consonant. The rule specifies that in stressed syllables all vowels before /r, v, ð, z, ž/, before another vowel and before a morpheme boundary are long. In other environments the vowels are generally short. Diphthongs also vary in their quality according to the rule, e.g. sight has a raised onset while size has a lowered one. It is sometimes called Aitken’s Law in honour of the Scottish linguist J. A. Aitken who was the first to describe the rule systematically.

Scouse The city dialect of Liverpool. This has many characteristics which reflect the large numbers of Irish immigrants who came to the city in the 19th century, for instance the fricativisation of /p, t, k/ which is a type of lenition which occurs in Irish and to some extent in Irish English as well.

S-curve A graph drawn in the form of an elogated S which illustrates the course of language change. Typical of changes in the form of S-curves is a slow beginning, a quick middle phase and a slow final phase. S-curves may also show that a change is not carried to completion, that is the slowing down of the end phase leads to a situation where not all possible inputs for a change are in fact affected. For instance, the shift of /ʊ/ to /ʌ/ in early modern English did not go to completion as words like pull, bush, butcher show. The words which are missed out by a change may show some common characteristic, in this case a ‘rounded’ phonotactic environment which probably inhibited the shift to the unrounded /ʌ/ vowel.

seasonal migration A practice whereby people went to an overseas location for a certain time of the year, returning for the rest to their base in the British Isles. Such migration is attested in Newfoundland where fishermen from the South-West of England and the South-East of Ireland went for the summer months, returning home for the winter. Permanent settlement occurred later, leading to the population of Newfoundland.

second language Any language learned after one’s native language. This is usually learned imperfectly, especially if one begins after puberty. Seebilingualism.

Second Language English A reference to English used by speakers who have a native language other than English but who nonetheless — because of the structure of the societies they live in — acquire English well and use it in many situations of their public and private lives. In such instances, knowledge of English stems almost exclusively from exposure to the language in schooling and in exchanges with others who have a better knowledge of English.

semantic change A reference to shifts in word usage. This is a natural process in all languages and results in the application of a word in contexts in which it was not previously found. For instance, it is now common in English to use joy in the sense of ‘success’, e.g. Fergal got no joy out of the insurance company, or to use pupils less and less, replacing it by students which is fast becoming the default term for learners at school and not just university. The latter example illustrates the tendency for the expansion of one word to mean the contraction of another as its ‘semantic space’ is taken over by the first term.

sexism in language The discrimination of one gender, to all intents and purposes of women, in the use of language. Sexism can be inherent in a language, for instance by preferring masculine forms as default (see generic usage) as in pronominal reference The linguist must gather data and be careful that he organises it properly. There have been many attempts to remedy this situation, such as using he/she, s/he or simply using she (though this just inverts the bias), see desexification of language. One means of avoiding the pronominal issue in present-day English is the use of the plural they, even with a singular antecedent, e.g. Someone got the top job as expected, didn’t they? Does that French student need help with their English? Sexism can also be individual, e.g. when someone makes a deliberate choice to use offensive language of a sexist nature.

Shakespearean English This term is used in at least three senses: (1) to refer to the language of the writer William Shakespeare as manifested in his plays and poems and (2) to refer in a loose sense to English as spoken in southern England in the late 16th century. The latter usage is problematical because Shakespeare was from the west of England and his highly individual use of English grammar and vocabulary means that the language of his plays is probably not representative of what spoken English in the London of his time must have been like. (3) The third sense of this term is found in parts of the anglophone world, as far apart as Ireland and Appalachia, where conservative varieties of English are spoken and where the value of these is supposedly improved by referring to them as ‘(pure) Shakespearean English’.

shared innovation Any feature or group of features in at least two languages or varieties which are regarded as having been triggered from the initial historical input, although the features in questions are not evident in the latter, e.g. umlaut in the West and North Germanic languages (in one interpretation). See independent parallel development.

Shelta An argot used by itinerants in Ireland (and to some extent in Britain). It is largely derived from Irish and English with much systematic alteration of words from both languages to ensure its incomprehensibility to outsiders, e.g. by employing metathesis as in gop from Irish póg ‘kiss’. At least one well-known word has been transferred to English: bloke ‘fellow’.

Sheridan, Thomas (1719-1788) Irish writer, born in Dublin and educated in London and Dublin. He was first an actor and later a travelling expert on elocution. Sheridan is best known for his efforts in the field of elocution, producing a Rhetorical grammar of the English language (1788) and General dictionary of the English language (1780) in which he gives guidelines for the correct use of English. Thomas Sheridan was the father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

shibboleth A linguistic item which serves the function of identifying a speaker as belonging to one community and not another. The term stems from the Book of Judges (12: 5-6) in the Old Testament which recounts how Jephthah and the Gileadites defeated the Ephraimites at the banks of the Jordan. The Gileadites managed to cross the river before the Ephraimites. To check whether those behind them were actually from their group they asked each to pronounce the word shibboleth (which meant either ‘stream in flood’ or ‘ear of corn’). Those who pronounced it as sibboleth, i.e. with [s] and not [ʃ], were not Gileadites and regarded as enemies. Seelinguistic variable.

shift An historical process whereby speakers of language A increasingly move over to language B. The ultimate fate of A can be that there are no more speakers left in which case one may find the rather dramatic label ‘language death’. Language shift normally implies a fairly long period of bilingualism in which knowledge of language B increases from generation to generation (as historically in Ireland with English vis-à-vis Irish or in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) with English vis-à-vis Bhojpuri, the major language of the late 19th century Indian immigrants). In such a situation syntactic transfer due to imperfect adult acquisition of the target language is at a premium. (Hickey, Ireland)

shift-induced change Any set of changes in a language/variety which can be traced to a shift from one language to another by a certain population. The aspectual distinctions of Irish English are often regarded as due to the historical shift from Irish to English in the early modern period. The same is true of the characteristic features of South African Indian English, a variety of English which arose when the Indian immigrants shifted from the native language of their predecessors.

shwa / schwa [ʃwa] A term referring to a vowel which is articulated as a short neutral central vowel without any definite quality. The name stems from Hebrew grammar and is transcribed in the IPA as [ə]. In English it occurs for unstressed short vowels at the beginning or end of a word, e.g. about [əˡbaʊt], butter [ˡbʌtə].

sibilant A sound pronounced with clear, hissing friction which is reminiscent of either /s, z/ or /ʃ,ž/.

slang A more or less vulgar form of colloquial speech (depending on point of view). Although it is widely used, this is not a linguistic term.

‘slit’ t A reference to the pronunciation of /t/ as an apico-alveolar fricative in weak positions (intervocalically or word-finally after a vowel and before a pause). This articulation shares all features with the stop /t/ but is a continuant. The symbol for the sound is [ṱ] where the subscript caret iconically indicates the lack of closure by the tongue apex. This realisation of /t/ is ubiquitous in the south of Ireland and common in the north as well. It is also found, as a transferred feature, in the speech of the Irish-derived community in Newfoundland.

social stratification The organisation of a society in a ‘vertical’ sense, usually by considering such factors as education, income, professional status, area of residence, the social network one participates in, that is by factors which can loosely be grouped under the heading ‘class’. This classification contrasts explicitly with a geographical one where the region one lives in (usually rural) is taken as defining.

socialisation The process by which individuals grow into the society they are surrounded by during their childhood. Socialisation has many aspects of which linguistic behaviour is only one. The process is largely unconscious and has far-reaching consequences for individuals in their later life.

sociolect The label social dialect or urban dialect (if the reference is to the speech of a city) can be used to distinguish between varieties in which the differences are determined socially. In discussions of sociolects, references are expected to models and views of sociolinguistic change as developed by William Labov, James and Lesley Milroy, Peter Trudgill and other prominent sociolinguists.

sociolinguistics The study of the use of language in society. Although some writers on language had recognised the importance of social factors in linguistic behaviour it was not until the 1960s with the seminal work of William Labov that the attention of large numbers of linguists was focussed on language use in a social context. In particular the successful explanation of many instances of language change helped to establish sociolinguistics as an independent subdiscipline in linguistics and led to a great impetus for research in this area.

sociology The study of society. This is a very diversified discipline which like many others has a linguistic component, known as the sociology of language. The latter is practised by sociologists. Sociolinguists on the other hand are linguists who are interested in the use of language in society.

solidarity The act of identification with another individual or group. It can be expressed linguistically in several ways. One of the most common expressions of solidarity is in social groups which use special forms of address to express group identity. Special forms of language may also be used as in the case of Yiddish among New York Jews.

sonorant Either a nasal or a liquid (r- or l-sounds). These represent a natural class which is closely linked to that of glides and vowels. Sonorants tend to be vocalised through lenition, as happened with the velarised [ɫ] and the syllable-final /r/ in the history of English, e.g. talk [tɔ:k] and pear [pɛə].

Sotho [ˡsuto] A Bantu language spoken by about 3m people in Lesotho, and in South Africa (where it is one of the 11 official languages as is Venda, a language closely related to Sotho). It further subdivides into northern Sotho (in Lesotho) and southern Sotho (in South Africa). Southern Sotho has been heavily influences by Zulu and has developed click sounds. Northern Sotho is mutually intelligible with Tswana (in Botswana).

sound change The continuous process of change which all languages are subject to. The rate of change differs from language to language and can be influenced by external factors, for instance by contact with other ethnic groups.

South Asia A geographical term which is preferred nowadays to former umbrella terms such as ‘the Indian subcontinent’. With reference to varieties of English, the term ‘South Asia’ is taken first and foremost to embrace India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but also includes Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.

South-East Asia A geographical term referring to a large part of mainland and island Asia, approximately between Malaysia in the west and southern China in the north and bounded on the south by Indonesia and in the east by the Philippines. In anglophone terms, it refers to forms of English spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong, although the latter region is quite far north and, in strict geographical terms, is more part of East Asia.

Southern Hemisphere varieties A cover term for English spoken in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It also encompasses the smaller anglophone locations of the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha as well as the southern Pacific.

speech community Any identifiable and delimitable group of speakers who use a more or less unified type of language.

spelling pronunciation A pronunciation which is derived from the spelling of a word when this is different from what one would expect etymologically, e.g. English fault is pronounced with an /l/ (ultimately to show that it is related to Latin fallitus) but there was no lateral in the form of the word borrowed from French in the Middle English period.

split infinitive An instance of an infinitive in which some element – typically an adverb – occurs between ‘to’ and the verb, e.g. Fiona used to readily help the others. Regarded by purists as poor English style despite its common occurrence.

spontaneous change Any instance of language change which cannot be traced back to a definite motivating trigger, internal or external. Nowadays sociolinguists tend to believe that this kind of change does not exist. It was postulated previously because not all the social factors involved in language change were appreciated.

Stage Irish A stereotype Irishman who began to make an appearance in English drama at the beginning of the 17th century and who remained well into the 19th century. The term does not have any precise linguistic reference but is used popularly to denote any individual who is assumed to display supposedly Irish characteristics, such as flattering, flowery language and melodramatic behaviour to an exaggerated extent.

standard A variety of a language which, by virtue of historical circumstances, became the leading form of language — in a social sense — in a certain country. As a result of this, the standard may be expanded (especially in vocabulary) due to the increase in function which it experiences and due to its position in society.

standard English A reference to a supranational form of written English which is normally used in printing, in various documents of an official nature and which is taught to foreigners. Spoken standard English is not a single form of the language but is represented by the supraregional varieties in different anglophone countries.

stative [ˡsteɪtɪv] A reference to a type of verb, such as know, which expresses a state rather than an action. Such verbs have certain behavioural characteristics, e.g. they do not occur in the progressive in standard English, though there is some variation on this point among varieties of the language, e.g. South African English as in He’s not knowing much Afrikaans.

stereotypes A simplified representation of some features which are taken to be characteristic of a group of speakers, a region or country.

stress-timing A reference to languages in which the intervals between stressed syllables tend to be of approximately equal length. English, Swedish, German, Russian are examples of stressed-timed languages. This contrasts directly with syllable-timing.

Strine An informal term for colloquial Australian English devised by Alistair Morrison in the 1960s by syncope of Australian.

structural transfer A process in a language contact situation in which features of the grammar of one language are transferred to another language usually by partially bilingual speakers, for instance the use of the progressive in the imperative in Irish English as in Don’t be complaining all the time is probably due to transfer from Irish.

subject concord The matching of subject with verb in present tense paradigms in varieties of English. There is great variation across forms of English here, the presence or absence of suffixal -s on verb forms being the decisive factor, e.g. They buys lots of beer at the weekend in Irish English.

subjective reaction tests A type of test in which the informants are examined (consciously or unconsciously) with regard to their attitude to certain linguistic forms.

substrate A language which is socially less prestigious than another spoken in the same area but which can nonetheless be the source for grammatical or phonological features in the more prestigious language, e.g. Scottish Gaelic in a substrate in those areas of north-west Scotland where it is still spoken. Substratum influence is often quoted as being instrumental in the formation of pidgins and creoles and as being responsible for many instances of historical change.

superstrate A variety of a language which enjoys a position of power and/or prestige compared to another. It may be a standard form of a language or a different language from that found natively in a specific country or region. In all anglophone countries English is the superstrate irrespective of any other local languages which may be present.

supraregional variety Any variety used in different areas, frequently an entire country. It contrasts with ‘standard’ which refers to a codified variety with an recognised and explicit social function in the country where it is found. A supraregional variety normally contrasts with a series of vernaculars in various locations within the country in question and often arises through the process of supraregionalisation.

supraregionalisation An historical process whereby features characteristic of vernaculars are replaced by more mainstream forms in the speech of nonlocal speakers. The new forms frequently derive from an extranational norm, e.g. the use of /i:/ for Middle English /e:/ and /ɛ:/ in the late modern period in Irish English, leading to words like meat now being pronounced [mi:t], as in southern British English. Supraregionalisation can lead to a lexical split if the vernacular and the standard pronunciation continue to coexist as has happened in Irish English with old [o:ld] and owl’ [aul] ‘old, but suggesting attachment and affection’.

suprasegmental A reference to phenomena which do not belong to the sound segments of language but which are typically spread over several segments, e.g. intonation, stress, tempo, etc.

Swahili [swəˡhi:lɪ] (Kiswahili) A Bantu language spoken in large parts of East Africa (chiefly in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, southern Somalia and northern Mozambique) with approximately 40 million speakers for many of whom Swahili is a second language. It functions as a lingua franca for many speakers and thus allows communication across many linguistic boundaries. Swahili has been heavily influenced by other languages, especially by Arabic from which it borrowed many words. It first appeared in the 12c and was written until the 19c using Arabic orthography. The basis for a standard form of the language was laid in 1928 when the Unguja dialect of Zanzibar was recognised as such and is the object of study of the Institute of Kiswahili Research founded in 1964. Swahili is an official language in Tanzania (since 1964) and in Kenya (since 1970) and is also one of the four official languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire).

swamping A not uncontested notion in variety studies that the numbers of settlers, particularly in the formative period, determine the type of dialect which is dominant at the new location, so that any minority groups will be ‘swamped’ by the majority and hence their features will in general not survive. (Lass)

switch-over A situation in which speakers of language A change to language B, abandoning the former in the process. Historical examples are the change from Irish to English, Scottish Gaelic to English, etc. Language contact does not necessary lead to a switch-over as stable bilingualism may evolve or one of the languages in contact may be abandoned (French in late Middle English) or lost through assimilation of its speakers (Old Norse at the end of the Old English period) after possibly influencing the other language in various ways. Seelanguage contact.

syllable-timing A reference to the prosodic structure of many background languages in Asian English regions, and consequently to forms of English which have arisen in their vicinity. The key characteristic of syllable-timing is an approximately equal length of all syllables in a word and a resulting lack of stress on a particular syllable. Forms of English in South-East Asia (with Austronesian languages as the background languages) as well as many West African forms of English are syllable-timed as is Jamaican English. (Hickey, Asian Englishes)


T-form A generic reference to those forms in systems of address which are used to express familiarity or intimacy, cf. tu in French, ty in Russian, du in German. The term forms a pair with the complementary term V-form.

taboo Certain words in a language exist but should not be used (according to general opinion). There is a great deal of force attached to the use of such words as a consequence. In industrialised societies such words are nowadays restricted to areas of intimate behaviour but formerly, and today in many developing countries, certain other sections of a language were/are taboo, e.g. vocabulary associated with death or the supernatural. Words may become taboo in the course of time or, more frequently, taboo words may loose their special character and consequently their force as they no longer have a shock effect.

tag An element which is found at the end of a sentence and which frequently serves an interrogative function: She likes linguistics, doesn’t she?

Tagalog [taˡgalog] A western Austronesian spoken by about 15m people in Philippines, mostly on the northern island of Luzon. Tagalog became standardized after the independence of the Philippines in 1946 and was called Pilipino to reflect the name of the state. SeePhilippines.

tap A sound made by flicking the tip of the tongue once against the alveolar ridge. It is commonly found as a realisation of /t/ in American English, e.g. writer [raɪſɚ], water [wɑ:ſɚ].

tense (1) A reference to the point in time at which an action takes place from the stance of the speaker. Three common tenses, which are often formally marked on verbs, are past, future and present with the latter normally being the unmarked case. Languages may also have further divisions such as a remote past or a distant future and may use additional auxiliary verbs, to indicate these secondary tenses. (2) A reference to the relative tension of the tongue when articulating a sound. It is assumed by many phoneticians that long monophthongal vowels require more tongue tension than do corresponding short vowels.

TMA (tense/mood/aspect) The three main axes along which verbs can make distinctions. Not all of these are equally well represented in a given language. For instance, the tense system is well catered for in the Romance languages but Germanic languages only have a past and present tense with the future formed with the help of modals.

Tok Pisin An English-derived pidgin spoken by about 2m in Papua-New Guinea, particularly around the capital Port Moresby. Tok Pisin is an official language in that country along with English and Hiri Motu (another pidgin). It is also spoken by about 100,000 people for whom it is their first language and hence a creole. Its function as a lingua franca in this linguistically high complex country (see Papuan languages) ensures its continuing function. Historically it is derived from forms of pidgin English used in the south-west Pacific region during the 19c.

topicalisation The provision of additional highlighting to element(s) of a sentence, usually by mentioning it/them early on, i.e. by the process of fronting. In English a higher pitch can be used to emphasise words in a sentence.

transcription A system of representing sounds in writing unambiguously. For phonological purposes a broad transcription is sufficient as long as the systemic distinctions in the particular language can be recognised. A narrow transcription is more typical of phonetics and may also be necessary in phonology where a feature relies on a phonetic basis which has to be specified. In English it is sufficient to transcribe /r/ as [r], although a narrow transcription would demand [ɻ] as strictly speaking [r] refers to an apical trill as in Spanish perro [pero] ‘dog’.

transportation The historical process in which English, from various parts of the British Isles, was carried to various locations outside of Europe as part of the colonialisation process initiated by England, essentially between the early 17th and the late 19th centuries.

Trudgill, Peter A prominent English sociolinguist who is noted for his investigation of class-differentiated speech in Norwich in East Anglia. Trudgill successfully demonstrated that solidarity among the lower classes is a major motivating factor in maintaining nonstandard forms of language.

Tsonga [tsɔŋga]A Bantu language spoken by about 4m people mainly in southern Mozambique, eastern Gauteng (former Transvaal in South Africa) and neighbouring areas of Zimbabwe. It is an official language in South Africa and has been influenced lexically and phonologically by Zulu.

Tswana [tswana] A Bantu language spoken by about 6m people mainly in Botswana and South Africa. It is an official language in both these countries and exists in many different forms. Tswana is a tone language. Kgatla is the name of the dialect which serves as a standard in South Africa. SeeSotho.

Turner, George William (1921- ) Australian scholar and lexicographer, actually born in New Zealand and educated there and in London. He is the author of The English language in Australia and New Zealand (1966) and a revised edition of the Australian pocket Oxford dictionary (1987).

Turner, Lorenzo Dow (1895-1972) American linguist known for his seminal work on the African background to the Gullah dialect of African American English on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. This he traced successfully in his famous book Africanisms in the Gullah dialect (1949).

Tyneside A term referring to the conurbation centring around Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the kind of English spoken there. This could include the varieties of the two other major cities of the region, Sunderland and Durham (both south of Newcastle).


Ullans A term for Ulster Scots which has been formed on analogy with Lallans, the Lowland Scots term for itself. It is also the name of a journal.

Ulster Historically, one of the four provinces of Ireland. It is often used synonymously with the State of Northern Ireland which, however, only encompasses six of the nine counties of the province. It has distinctive linguistic features, such as retroflex /r/, a lack of phonemic vowel length, a high central vowel /ʉ/, much variation in the TRAP lexical set and a rising intonation in many cases where other varieties of English have a fall. These features are taken to stem from the speech of the original Lowland Scots who, along with some northern English, settled in the province in the 17th century.

universalist view A kind of ‘third way’ in Irish English studies which is seen as complementing both the substratist and retentionist views. In essence it assumes that there are universals of uncontrolled adult second language acquisition which are similar in many ways to creolisation, but not identical of course. These are assumed to be responsible for many of the specific structures, such as verbal aspect distinctions, which arose during the language switch-over from Irish to English.

unproductive Refers to a process which is bound to specific lexemes and hence cannot be used at will by speakers, e.g. umlaut is an unproductive process in German because it cannot be applied in plural formation with new words. Unproductive processes can nonetheless be statistically common, again umlaut is unproductive but occurs with words which have a high frequency in German because they belong to the core of the language – mainly names of beings, parts of the body, etc. In English certain word formations are unproductive because they are bounded to certain words and cannot be used randomly, e.g. -dom in wisdom, kingdom, martyrdom.

unreleased A reference to a stop after which there is no audible release of air. Unreleased stops (here indicated by a following supscript bar) are a significant feature of American English but not of British English, e.g. but [bʌtˉ] (many forms of American English) versus [bʌt] (forms of British English).

urban dialectology The investigation of the speech patterns of urban dwellers in deliberate contrast to the study of conservative rural speech which used to be common in dialectology until the mid 20th century. Most of the insights of present-day sociolinguistics derive from studying the speech habits of city dwellers.

usage A general reference to habits and patterns found in the speech of a community, spoken and written. Usage normally refers to the more common and usual forms and is appealed to by linguists when prescriptive attitudes are being rejected.

usurpation A postulated historical process whereby adult second language learners take structures from the target language and use them to render equivalents to categories from their own first language which are not present in the second. This process usually involves target structures which are afunctional. If this concept is linguistically valid, then it could account for why those Irish speakers involved in language shift at the beginning of the early modern period used do + be to realise the habitual aspect of Irish, given that unstressed declarative do at that time was still present but afunctional in the largely west country input to early modern Ireland.


V-form A generic reference to those forms in systems of address which are used to express formality cf. vous in French, vy in Russian, lei in Italian, Sie in German, etc. Forms a pair with the T-form (cf. tu in French).

variable rule Any rule which is not applied in all possible instances. For example, suffixal -s on third person plural present tense verb forms tends to occur variably in varieties of English, i.e. it is does not occur in every instance where it could in principle. An instance from phonetics would be the glottalisation of intervocalic /t/ in British English, as in butter [bʊʔə], is dependent on the degree of formality and tends to occur more in colloquial speech.

variety A very general term to refer to a recognisable and clearly delimited form of language. In many situations it is preferable to the term dialect which strictly speaking refers to a geographically defined variety.

vernacularisation In synchronic terms, a process of style-shifting away from a standard in which certain salient features of a vernacular are adopted by nonlocal speakers for popular effect, e.g. the use of youse by Irish English speakers who do not normally have this form. Diachronically, the term refers to the relegation of features to vernacular varieties on their being replaced by more mainstream forms by nonlocal speakers, e.g. the restriction of bowl’ [baul] and owl’ [aul] in Irish English to vernaculars on the adoption of bold and old in supraregional varieties of Irish English. As in the case just cited, vernacularisation is frequently accompanied by a lexical split, i.e. the vernacular and the supraregional forms come to be distinguished in meaning. See supraregionalisation. (Hickey, introduction)

vernaculars A cover term for popular, spoken varieties which are usually strongly localised and not influenced by a standard which might be present in the region where they are spoken. They are typically spoken by people who do not belong to the educated middle classes of a society and do not necessarily have a written form.

vernacularisation In synchronic terms, a process of style-shifting away from a standard in which certain salient features of a vernacular are adopted by nonlocal speakers for popular effect, e.g. the use of youse by Irish English speakers who do not normally have this form. Diachronically, the term refers to the relegation of features to vernacular varieties on their being replaced by more mainstream forms by nonlocal speakers, e.g. the restriction of bowl’ [baul] and owl’ [aul] in Irish English to vernaculars on the adoption of bold and old in supraregional varieties of Irish English. As in the case just cited, vernacularisation is frequently accompanied by a lexical split, i.e. the vernacular and the supraregional forms come to be distinguished in meaning. Seesupraregionalisation.


Walker, John (1732-1807) A Londoner working in Scotland and prescriptive author of the late 18th century, best known for his Critical pronouncing dictionary (1791) which enjoyed great popularity in its day.

Wang, William American-Chinese scholar who is known for his formulation of a type of language change known as lexical diffusion. The basic assumption here is that (phonetic) change spreads from item to item in the lexicon. If it encompasses the entire lexicon then the change looks with hindsight like the Neogrammarian type of phonetically gradual but lexically abrupt change.

wave theory A view of language change developed by Johannes Schmidt around 1870 and which sees instances of language change as spreading out from a centre like concentric waves in water when the surface is broken.

weak form A phonetically reduced form of a word which occurs when it is unstressed, e.g. and [ænd] > [ən], to [tu(:)] > [tə], of [ɒv] > [ə], for [fɔ:] > [fə] particularly in fast speech.

Webster, Noah (1758-1843) American lexicographer and linguist. Born in Connecticut, Webster studied at Yale. After fighting in the American Revolution he worked as a lawyer in Hartford. His Grammatical institute of the English language (1783-85) established his reputation as the foremost scholar of English in America. The first part of this work, The elementary spelling book, was instrumental in standardising American spelling even though not all of Webster’s suggestions were later adopted. His lexicographical work includes the Compendious dictionary (1806) which was followed by his major work, The American dictionary of the English language (1812) which contained 70,000 words, 12,000 of which had not been listed before. The work went through many revisions. The last which Webster saw through himself was that of 1840. It has been repeatedly revised and published and has retained its popularity in America.

well-formed A reference to the fact that a structure – e.g. a sentence or compound – complies to the rules assumed for the grammar of a language. The purpose of a generative grammar is to generate all and only the well-formed sentences of a given language. The term is preferred to ‘correct’ by linguists as the latter has evaluative connotations.

West Country A general reference to the west of England, close to the Welsh border and the Devon peninsula, though this is properly the south-west. The area corresponds to that of West Midland in the Middle English period and has linguistic features which delimit it from other regions of England such as retroflex /r/ (in the south-west), initial voiced fricatives (a general southern feature) and, in grammar, the use of baint for ‘am not’, thick(y) /ðɪk(i)/ for ‘this’ and periphrastic do in an habitual sense She do sing in church on Sunday.

West Germanic A sub-grouping within the Germanic branch of Indo-European (the others are North and East Germanic). It consists of the languages English, German, Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans (in South Africa), Frisian and Yiddish (among the Jewish diaspora, e.g. in New York).

West Indies A reference to the islands of the central and eastern Caribbean or to people from this area (West Indians). It is a misnomer which stems from the fact that the original explorers who discovered the Caribbean were looking for an easier sea passage to India and thought they had found it.

West Midland The western half of central England which had a recognisable form in Middle English which was distinct from that further east. Some features of this dialect can be detected in modern English written forms, for instance the spelling busy where the u indicated /y/, the West Midland equivalent of East Midland /i/. SeeEast Midland.

West Saxon The dialect of Old English spoken in the south-central part of the country. This is a continuation of the speech which the Saxons brought with them from the continent in the 5th century and became the quasi-standard of Old English after the 9th century, to be precise it was a koiné at this period, i.e. a dialect which was used as a standard by other dialect regions.

World English A general term referring to English as spoken throughout all five continents. The reference is usually to that core of language which is common to all varieties of English and which contains no specific features of any one variety. This amount of English is frequently that used by nonnatives as a lingua franca when they are communicating with each other.

World Englishes A term which has gained currency in recent years as an alternative to ‘New Englishes’ which is now regarded as dated and carrying undesireable implications of being continually compared to older forms of English, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Although not explicitly stated, the term seems to exclude historically continuous forms of English. (Hickey, Asian Englishes)

Wright, Joseph (1855-1930) An English scholar who set dialect study on a new footing at the beginning of the 20th century. Wright studied in Germany in Heidelberg and Leipzig and came into contact with leading linguists of the day at these centres. Later he returned to England to take up a professorship at Oxford. He is now known for two works, the English dialect dictionary (5 vols., 1898-1905) and the sixth volume of this work, his English dialect grammar, all of which are still consulted today for valuable information.


Xhosa [!osa, kosa] A member of the Nguni subbranch of Bantu with official status in South Africa. Xhosa speakers make up the second largest Bantu language community after Zulu (to which it is closely related) and is spoken by about 5m people. The language is known for its several clicks which are the result of earlier borrowings from Khoisan languages. Hlonipha is a variant of Xhosa and the women’s language of respect or avoidance. Consonant substitution and ellipsis are used as techniques of avoidance.


Yiddish (Judaeo-German) A west Germanic which developed in the early Middle Ages among Ashkenazy Jews in central and eastern Europe. The first attestations date from the 12c and are in western Yiddish (based on dialects of Germany and Holland). The modern literary language, which was established in the 19c, is based on eastern Yiddish as spoken in Slavic and Baltic areas. At the beginning of the 20c the language attained official status for Jews and is still used as a lingua franca by them. The language is written in the Hebrew alphabet and supported by the state of Israel. The number of speakers is difficult to determine. Before the Second World War an estimated 11-12m speakers existed, but now the number is only a fraction of this. Yiddish communities exist today, above all in the USA and Israel with scattered pockets in South America, Russia and the Ukraine.

yod [jɒd] A word referring to the sound /j/ as in English year /jɪə/ or German Jahr /ja:r/.

yod dropping A feature of some varieties of English, notably those in America, not to pronounce /j/ when before /u:/ and after an alveolar stop, e.g. stew /stu:/ rather than /stju:/. Such varieties, however, do maintain /j/ when this follows a labio-dental fricative or a bilabial nasal, e.g. few [fju:], mews [mju:z].

Yola The form of the word ‘old’ in the dialect of Forth and Bargy which came to be used as a reference to the dialect itself.


zero derivation The transfer of an element of one word class into another without any formal alteration. This is particularly common in English today, e.g. breakfast (noun) > to breakfast (verb), fax (noun) > to fax (verb), text (noun) > to text (verb). Another name for this phenomenon is conversion.

zero marking The absence of a morphological suffix which is normally present in the variety from which another is derived historically. The classical case is the lack of suffixal -s in the third person singular present tense, most notably in African American English and (unconnectedly) in East Anglian forms of British English. Seesubject concord.

Zulu A language of the Nguni subbranch of Bantu languages and closely related to Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi. Zulu speakers, found mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, form the largest Bantu language community in South Africa where the language has official status. Zulu is a tone language with click sounds. Fanakalo is a Zulu-based pidgin.