BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in August 2005We've left it here for reference.More information

10 July 2014
Accessibility help
Text only
kentkent

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Kent
Things to do
People & Places
Nature
History
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Kent

Essex
London
Surrey
Sussex

Related BBC Sites

England
 

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 

Voices


Jonathan Ross.
Kent speak!

Jonathan leads the way
Resident language expert Dr David has been searching for those little things we say in Kent which make us sound different from those around us.
The rise and rise of the labiodental approximant
By Dr David

In a famous study of Norwich English in the early 1970s, Britain's leading sociolinguist Peter Trudgill noticed something odd about the pronunciation of "r".

A surprisingly high proportion of children interviewed, right across the social spectrum, were using the form now famously associated with Jonathan Ross, rather than the more familiar apical variant of their parents.

If these findings were replicated elsewhere, he suggested, then this might mark the beginning of a change in progress. This pronunciation is technically known as a labiodental approximant.

TRY THIS AT HOME

Try putting your bottom lip (labio-) near to your top teeth (dental), but not quite touching (approximant), and attempt to produce a v, and you're making the sound many of us currently use in road, right etc.

While we can't be sure why this sound has caught on over the last 30 or so years, we do know (a) that it's spreading like wildfire (it's now said to be the majority pronunciation among the young in some English towns), and (b) that it was originally associated with the South East.

Once the preserve of a privileged élite, it is now the 'classless' pronunciation of Jonathan Ross, David Bellamy and even Derek Jameson.

People who pronounce their r's in this way are often thought to have a speech impediment. This assumption is quite wrong, and probably stems from the fact that young children often have difficulties with r and produce w (actually quite a different sound) in words like rabbit.

Labiodental approximant users generally have no problem pronouncing other consonants, nor do they necessarily use this r variant 100 per cent of the time.

There's not a shred of evidence to suggest that an epidemic of speech difficulties has gripped the country in the space of three decades, but quite a lot to suggest that labiodental approximant users make up an ever more significant proportion of the English population.

So, the next time you're tempted to mock the way Jonathan Ross pronounces his own surname, bear in mind that he and others like him seem to be leading an important change in English. It's not impossible that, in 100 years' time, we'll all be labiodental approximant users!

Find out more about Dr David Hornsby

SEE ALSO
home
HOME
email
EMAIL
print
PRINT
Go to the top of the page
TOP
SITE CONTENTS
SEE ALSO

Message Board - do you like your accent?




About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy