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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Peter Trudgill, Norwich


Norwich speech was studied by Peter Trudgill in the 1970s to find out how and why people's ways of speaking varied.
One of the variables Trudgill studied was the final consonant in words like walking, running. In standard British English, the sound spelled -ng is a velar nasal. In Norwich, however, the pronunciation waikin', talkin' is frequently heard, as if there was simply 'n' on the end.

Trudgill notes that this feature is not unique to Norwich:

"Nearly everywhere in the Eng-speaking world we find this alternation between higher-class/formal ng and lower class/informal n. It goes back to the fact that in Old English (and later) there were two forms, a gerund ending in -ing (walking is good for you) and a present participle ending in -end (he was walking). The -end form was the ancestor of -n' and -ing (obviously) of -ing. "

The two merged - though the sorting out of the two forms in terms of prestige and "correctness" is something which occurred in the last 300 years. The famous “huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ of upper class Edwardians shows just how recent this sorting out has been.

Trudgill's study discovered the following:
1. In all social classes, the more careful the speech, the more likely people were to say walking rather than walkin'.
2. The proportion of walkin' type forms was higher in lower social classes.
3. The nonstandard -in' forms occurred much more often in men's speech than in women's, and this was true for all social classes.
4. When women were questioned about what they thought they were saying, they tended to say they used the standard -ing forms more often than they really did.
5. When men were questioned about what they thought they were saying, they tended to say they used the nonstandard -in' forms more often than they really did.

Trudgill's figures for social class and sex differences in the use of the standard, prestige -ing form in Norwich when people used a formal style of speaking are as follows:

(-ng) in Norwich by social class and sex for Formal Style (Trudgill. 1974a)

   Male Female
 middle middle class  96 100
 lower middle class  73 97
 upper working class  19 32
 middle working class  9 19
 lower working class  0  3

What conclusions can you draw from this data?

Look at the conclusions from Milroy's Belfast study in particular and other linguistic studies in general.