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24 September 2014

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Paul Kerswill
Paul Kerswill

The sound of Reddin

We spoke to Professor Paul Kerswill of Lancaster University. Paul has conducted research into the accent of Reading, having lived in the town for 18 years. He made some interesting discoveries about the changes in the way people are speaking.

Tell us about your work.
"We looked at Reading as a contrast to Milton Keynes (a new town). Reading is an older town which is about the same distance from London, so we compared pronunciations. We found that Reading is gradually changing its accent and becoming a bit more like London. Older people have the Berkshire accent, which to many people sounds West Country, but young people sound more like London, but not like cockneys."

Is this change due to the expansion of London?
"Yes. As people are getting more mobile, they move out of London, they commute and travel more for leisure. It's these people who are acquiring a more levelled-out accent. But the local accent is still there quite strongly in Reading. If you listen to older families, with two or three generations living within a few streets, they maintain a much more local accent."

Do you think our voices are becoming homogenised?
"It would be a pity if it were no longer possible to hear where people come from. The people I met in Reading were certainly very proud to be from Reading even though from the outside it's perceived as a satellite of London."

There are plenty of other influences in Reading, though, like the immigrant communities.
"Especially among teenagers. Young people are most interested in their peer groups, and that quite often cuts across ethnic divides, so sometimes you find kids of English origin taking on pronunciations and words from Asian or Caribbean kids. All the ethnic groups share those features."

Did you find any words particular to Reading?
The only local word anybody mentioned was 'cheeselog' (meaning 'woodlouse' - Ed). I think it comes from an American cake that's long and thin, and has segments.

Did you find anything particularly unusual in your research?
"One thing we looked at was whether Reading teenagers could pick out a Reading accent. They placed the Reading accents on the tape firmly in the West Country - an elderly person's accent in Reading sounds to the teenagers like Somerset. Middle-aged people were thought to have come from Wiltshire or somewhere like that. But they picked out the cockney voices straight away."

So, it must be an interesting place for linguists to study, then.
"It was interesting to see the clash between something West Country and something London."

last updated: 26/01/05
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I am a Reading bloke in my 60s, though I moved away in the late 1970s. I remember the term "cheeselog" well, and always wondered about it.As well as slang, there were urban myths associated with the town, many of them rather rude. One popular myth related to Simmonds carthorses, and others centred on the public toilets at the Cemetery Junction; I heard Ricky Gervais repeat one on TV recently as if it was a real and recent event.My Dad had a broad Reading accent. I have retained some of this, but is is mixed with a home counties sound. I heard Mike Walker, the football manager, speaking a while back....that is how I sound, I think.

David Martin -retired Spain
I grew up in Henley-on- Thames just 8 miles from Reading and on the borders of Berks.Bucks and Oxon.Outside of Henley no one I ever met had heard the term "cheeselog"that is until I moved to the High Wycombe area in Bucks where local-born people were familiar with the word. Strange though was that my grandmother,who was from central London,also always called the little critters "cheeselogs!"

I was born and brought up in Reading, and definitely say cheeselog! The only other word which I know of which I think is local to Reading, is that when children in the playground cross their fingers to temporarily be out of a game, they say "cribs". (or they used to!?) I agree that an old Berkshire accent can sound West Country. I think the most distinctive part of the accent is pronouncing "ow" sounds as "ai" as in "traisers" instead of "trousers."

Reading all the way!

it always makes me chuckle when i hear other people say these things!! i never realised i had an accent either but my student friends from other towns laugh when i say 'fri-dee' instead of fri-day and 'roight' instead of right. i too also say cheeselog, and am interested in the theory of cockney to cornish!! it sounds true to me!!

im 18 and from reading like all of my family an i still have the reading accent most people not from reading think i come from bristol and people ave commented my accent is different to my girlfriends who is also from reading so it shows some teens grow up with a true reading accent

I'm born and bred in Reading as are all my family. Imust say though that the main accent in reading is african and asian. True readingers are a fast dying breed

Dave Isham
I am from Tilehurst born & bred, I was on holiday in Floida a few years back, whilst in a restaurant an American Lady came over to me and said she was sorry to bother me but she just loved my Berkshire Accent, I had no idea that i even had an accent but it is nice to know that I have. I also use the word cheeselog a lot, now lots of people I know in the Brighton area now call them Cheeselogs too!

Owen Lowery
I lived in Reading until I was eighteen, left twenty years for the north-west, and still have relatives in Newbury. My friends tell me that my accent is still strong, but only people from Reading seem able to distinguish the Reading accent from the various London ones. I remember using the word cheeselog and it's a word that I still use. I had no idea tbat it was virtually unique to Reading. Are there are any other words that are specific to Reading?

David Cunard
Prof. Kerswill demostrates his total ignorance of Berkshire speech. My grandparents, who married in 1906 lived in Reading in the same house until they died in 1968 sounded nothing like those originating in the West Country. I was educated in Newbury and have not a trace of anything approaching the dialects heard in Devon or Cornwall. I once met a lady who sounded American but in fact came from Plymouth, and the story goes that since the first Britons to arrive in America were largely from the West Country, their speech pattern maintained and became the generalised accent associated with the United States today. Incidentally, it is "Bark" shire in Britain but "Burk" shire in the US.

I have just goggled cheeselog and was delighted to find your site. I am born and breed in Reading and married to a Lancastrian. He had never heard of cheeselogs and so I have done my own research into this word, by asking people I meet over the town, county and country. It is true it is a word used mainly by people from Reading, but some from Wallingford were also aware of its meaning.

Niall Walsh
I comfrom Wokingham 5 miles southeast of Reading.Hisorically Wokingham was firmly part of county Wiltshire, so even some local teenagers speak with the traditionhal wetcountry accent. However a more easternn prononciation of words is becoming ever more prominant in the area.

I grew up in Reading in the 80s, but my family weren't from there originally. I always thought I didn't have an accent (came from the Posh side of town, and went to a private school). But when I moved up to London for university, Londoners immediately asked if I was from the west country. Been living away from the town for 15 years now, but I've still got that touch of the west country - one place it really shows is that with some words beginning with n, I tend towards a hard n rather than the scoopy sound. In new I tend to say noo, rather than nyu if you see what I mean.

kate kirk
i want a cheeselog----can i have a recipe please?cheers then xxxxxx

Hi! I'm not from England, I'm actually a Canadian, but I think this little article is pretty cool. I'd love to visit England someday and make a pit stop in Reading. I don't know if any of you are aware, but Kate Winslet, my role model and absolutely fave actress, was born and raised in Reading! I've always listened to her accent and thought "Alright, so that's what a Reading accent sounds like then!" lol and I think it's really awesome. One word in particular always stands out when I hear her say it and that's the word "because". I seem to hear her pronounce it like "be-CAUH-se", if that makes any sense! Anyway, pardon my incessant babbling, but would any of you Reading folks happen to have ever met the Winslet family?

Paul Kerswill
Glad to read so many comments, and glad that people are PROUD of having a Berkshire or Reading accent. I'm living in Lancaster now, and can report just as many glottal stops as in Reading. Do you say 'Royal Burks' or 'Royal Barks'? 10/9/05

I am twyford born and breed and live abroad and europeans do have trouble with the reading dialect. as mr Mcgill said words like wall (wawall) is easier explained to them as that brick thing over there! but i am proud proud to say i have a reading accent.

I am a student of the master degree program of nursing at Thailand.I would like to used yr theory in my thesis but I can't understand yr theory more.could u send me yr theory in PDF file?

Felix Thomson
i spent my early childhood in reading and can always pick out the accent in others i meet.Having lived in cornwall aswell ive held the theory that from london to penzance there is a perfect graduation from cockney to cornish following the M4,i cant acount for the strange peak in Bristol.Ive been a proud user of the word cheeselog and get odd looks when i use it,long may that continue.

Di Rayburn
I'm Reading born and bred and most of my ancestors for generations back were Reading or Berkshire born. Many people have difficulty deciding where I come from. I tell them to have a good listen, I have a true accent that is disappearing fast.

Helen Hamilton
I have lived in Berks for forty years, but was brought up in the north. Here, I can never get used to the missing 'g' at the end of words like 'waitin', or the missing 't's in better - 'be'er', likewise butter, letter, matter, etc. This seems a sloppy habit, as northerners always pronounce these letters. The kids whom I used to teach laughed at some of my words, particularly when they heard my 'g's in 'singing'! I did think that the Berks accent sounded very rural when I started work in Thatcham many years ago. I get the impression that 'estuary English' has taken over with the young, as Professor Kerswill has mentioned, but imagine that this is due to greater mobility and the influence of London on TV and radio.

Martin McGill
I always though I had a completely featureless accent and spoke purely received pronunciation until I went to university and my pronunciation of words like wall fall and tall came under scrutiny. These came out as wawal, fawal and tawal. The tongue never reaches the pallate, as it should and just lounges in the bottom of the mouth. Is this a characteristic of a Reading accent or a more general feature of speech. Also, is it Burkshire or Barkshire ? Ltely I've been taken up for saying burkshire, which one is right ?

Georgette Ellison
I agree with much of the above and the accent has changed. I always think you can tell a local by getting them to say Twyford!

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