Dot writes (under a shamelessly eye-catching title): here are some idle speculations on the topic of accent. Funnily enough, Ken and I don’t have local accents. He’s from New Zealand and I’m from England and the most we manage in the way of Dublin patois is remembering to say orr instead of ah for the letter r and asking in shoe-shops for runners not trainers. Perhaps more surprisingly, our children don’t have Dublin accents either. They sound a bit Irish to their English relatives, but definitely English to the Irish. Here are some comforting words from Peter Trudgill on the subject of accommodation to local speech:
The conventional sociolinguistic wisdom is that young children speak like their peers rather than, for example, like their parents or teachers (Trudgill 1986, 220)….No one expresses any surprise, though they may express regret, if a Welsh-accented family moving to East Anglia quite quickly comes to consist of adults who still sound Welsh and young children who sound as if they have lived in Suffolk all their lives. It is true that occasionally individuals may be found of whom this is not so, but they are usually socially maladjusted, nonintegrated people whose lack of linguistic accommodation to their peers is a sign of social pathology (Newbrook 1982).
(Peter Trudgill, ‘A Window on the Past: “Colonial Lag” and New Zealand Evidence for the Phonology of Nineteenth-Century English’, American Speech, 74 (1999), 227-239, at 227-8)
Ouch. I never had a Norfolk accent in Norfolk, either. I guess I was too busy polishing my collection of thumb-screws in the cellar to get one.
Thumb-screws apart, it’s true my family were not particularly well-integrated with the village people in Norfolk; our accent is, despite our not having any money, a middle-class accent rather than a rural Norfolk accent, and this is not actually particularly uncommon. Most of my friends at secondary school had fairly similar accents. But what about Hugh and Frank? Well, they are still young enough that we remain their primary influences. I confidently expect that the Dublin sound will get stronger in their speech as they progress through their school years. However, there are other factors that may impede their becoming fully assimilated.
One is rhoticity. Irish English is rhotic and neither New Zealand nor English English are, so there’s a whole set of sounds that they’re not just hearing differently from Ken and me, but not hearing from us at all. For those internal /r/ sounds, they can’t just learn a regular correspondence, but they have to learn the Irish pronunciation word by word, which is a bigger deal.*
For another complication I can go back to Trudgill. The ‘colonial lag’ of his title is an effect by which, in a colonial society with a mix of settlers from different places, language change takes about a generation to get going again. This is ‘an automatic consequence of the fact that there is often no common peer-group dialect for children to acquire in first-generation colonial situations’ (227). Now, the peer-group dialect Hugh and Frank will hear has two strata, the more fiercely local, but to some extent stigmatized, working-class Dublin accent, and an RTE kind of accent (though not, in Raheny, the infamous ‘D4’ variety) that has less local colour and is a degree or three posher. I don’t imagine that will be too confusing for them, though it’s worth noticing that there is no single overpowering standard to conform to (and, historically, Ireland hasn’t developed a ‘received’ or ‘standard’ accent of English to the same degree as England). But I do wonder if it complicates matters that Ken and I don’t just speak differently from our children’s peers, but also differently from each other. How many different accents does a child need to hear before he or she gives up on accommodation and goes his or her own sweet way?
*Actually, assuming they are motivated to accommodate, they may hypercorrect and introduce postvocalic r where it has no business to be. What an interesting few years we are going to have.