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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Paul Kerswill's Milton Keynes Study

In the Milton Keynes project, Kerswill investigated ten speech sounds that had different pronunciations in the Milton Keynes area. Two of these variab!es were:

(ou) the diphthong vowel in coat, moan, etc. The second part of this diphthong can be 'fronted' (pronounced further forward in the mouth), to give the impression of received pronunciation 'kite' or 'mine'. Fronting may lead to 'Coke' resembling 'cake' in RP.

(u:) the long vowel in move, shoe, etc, which can be fronted to a vowel close to that of French tu or German grun.

The study focused on 48 children: 16 four-year-olds, 16 eight-years-olds and 16 twelve-year-olds, and on one caregiver (usually the mother) for each child. The children were either born in Milton Keynes or had arrived there by the age of two. Each group of 16 children were equally divided between the sexes.

The recordings were divided into two main sections:
(i) elicitation tasks, using quizzes, 'spot-the-difference' pictures and mapreading tasks, and
(ii) spontaneous speech, obtained by interviewing the children about their school, friends and homes and by making recordings in the playground using radio microphones.
The children's caregivers were also interviewed. Kerswill's team noted down all the occurrences of different pronunciations for each variable when children (and their caregivers) used words like "Coke" and "home" for (ou), and "move" and "shoe" for (u:). The results were then quantified and analysed statistically.

The vowel variable (ou) the second part of this vowel can be 'fronted', so that the word 'Coke' might be pronounced like 'cake'. The researchers quantified the fronting of (ou) on a four- point scale running from 0-3.

The children on average 'front' their vowels considerably more than the adults, suggesting that the fronted vowel is likely to be a characteristic of the new Milton Keynes dialect.

The vowel variable (u:) (u:) is the vowel in 'move', 'spoon', etc. This vowel is also being fronted by many younger speakers in Milton Keynes.

The percentage use among women and girls of 'fronted' pronunciations of both vowels in the words 'home' and 'move' showed that he patterns are not identical for each vowel, but the oldest girls have the greatest degree of fronting, with the younger ones having scores similar to those of the caregivers.

The speech of older children (around the age of 12) quite closely represents the characteristics of the new 'speech community' which is developing in Milton Keynes, and it is reasonable to conclude that this group does most of the sociolinguistic work in new dialect formation.