Regional pronunciation could be wiped out in 45 years, according to new study

Regional pronunciations of words are likely to be wiped out in England and overtaken by the south eastern variant within 45 years, according to a new study.

Researchers from the universities of Portsmouth and Cambridge found that differing pronunciations of words such as strut and farm will soon merge into the south-eastern version.

Traditionally northerners would pronounce “strut” to rhyme with “foot” but this is likely to be lost and those in the south west will stop pronouncing the pirate-like “arrr” in farm, according to the study published in The Journal of Physics: Complexity.

But some words like “bath” are so strongly entrenched in their regional variants that they are likely to survive.

As well as changes in pronunciation, the researchers predict that some words will fall out of use altogether.

The study predicts that the word “backend” – used to describe autumn in the north – will completely disappear within 20 years.

And another word for autumn, “fall”, has already largely disappeared from its traditional region in the south west, though it still dominates in North America.

This follows the decline of words to describe snail, such as “dod-man”, “hodmedod”, “hoddy-dod”, “hoddy-doddy”, which faded from English language during the past century.

Dr James Burridge, from the University of Portsmouth, said that the changes had been driven by migration as well as other factors such as teaching in schools, television or because people naturally adopt an easier way of pronouncing a word.

He explained: “We built a physics model, which accounted for people moving around their home location and sometimes going further afield – for instance for jobs or marriage – and we also accounted for how people learn language.

“We ran the model with correct population distributions and migration patterns in the 1900s and then rolled it forward to 2000.

“We then compared the model maps to the dialect maps and found that our modelling could predict how English language will evolve over the next 40 years or so.”

Dr Burridge said that some areas had remained resistant to change for some words.

He said: “In about 1900, almost everybody said ‘thawing’ pronounced ‘thaw-wing’, but the majority of people now pronounce the word ‘thawing’ with an intrusive ‘r’, which means it sounds like ‘thaw-ring’. Our model predicts this change happened over about 25 years.

Map showing the prevalence of the use of thawing with the intrusive r in 2020. (University of Portsmouth/PA)
Map showing the prevalence of the use of thawing with the intrusive r in 2020. (University of Portsmouth/PA)
Map showing the predicted prevalence of the use of thawing with the intrusive r in 2032. (University of Portsmouth/PA)
Map showing the predicted prevalence of the use of thawing with the intrusive r in 2032. (University of Portsmouth/PA)

“We found that the word has changed because it was tricky to pronounce and children are more likely to pick up the easier pronunciation. This then becomes the norm.

“However, it hasn’t changed everywhere yet because some major cities like Leeds and Manchester have rejected the change.”

The study used physics modelling to predict the future of the English language in England by comparing data from two existing surveys to model dialect maps: The Survey of English dialects (SED) and the English dialect app (EDA).

The SED interviewed older people from rural locations in the 1950s to get a picture of older English dialects.

The EDA asked more than 50,000 English speakers to answer questions about their language usage through a smartphone app in 2016 and all but one of the questions duplicated the 1950s survey to measure changes in language use.