Professor Ulrike Altendorf, Leibniz Universität Hannover
'It reminds you, I suppose, of countless village tragedies?' said Sir Henry.
'Not tragedies,' said Miss Marple. 'And certainly nothing criminal. But it does remind me a little of the trouble we are having with the district nurse.
(Agatha Christie, The Blue Geranium)
Thirty years after the term was coined by David Rosewarne (1984), linguists have not come anywhere near to agreeing on a linguistically sound definition of the concept of 'Estuary English'. One could therefore argue that it was time to lay it to rest, together with other buzz words from 1980s, such as 'Essex men' or 'street cred'. However, there are at least two reasons for not doing so. For one, 'Estuary English' seems to have come to stay (see e.g. Deterding 2005, Eitel 2006, Hickey 2007, Kristiansen 2008). The second reason for not giving up on the concept yet is its rather "annoying" habit of raising theoretical and methodological questions which I consider more important than the concept itself. The most important of these questions is of epistemological nature and concerns the categorization of linguistic experience.
In this paper, I will argue that Estuary English is a perceptual prototype category that defies linguistic analysis in terms of Aristotelian categories (for the role of prototypes in social dialectology, see Kristiansen 2008, Pustka 2009). As a perceptual prototype Estuary English is similar to a "village parallel", as used by the famous amateur detective Jane Marple. Estuary English was after all also conceived and popularized by linguistic laypeople who reacted to what they perceived as a recurring pattern. David Rosewarne with his background in applied linguistics was able to identify attributes with high frequency of occurrence in all members of the category, such as T Glottalling and L Vocalization, but still low cue validity. As a result, he did not establish a truly Aristotelian category. This is what linguists set out to do in his wake but found quite impossible.
In support of the perceptual prototype hypothesis, I will present data from an on-going project in perceptual dialectology with about 200 participants from all over England. Asked to rate the recordings of three young middle-class speakers from three south-eastern towns with regard to how typical they thought they were of 'Estuary English', these speaker-listeners were remarkably consistent in their responses. Almost everybody considered the speaker from Canterbury to be least typical of Estuary English. As to the speakers from London and Colchester, the data analysed so far shows an interesting north-south divide with speakers from the north favouring Colchester and speakers from the south London. Should this impression persist, we may be looking at an in-group vs. out-group prototype effect.
Deterding, David (2005). "Listening to Estuary English". TESOL Quarterly 39: 3, 425-440.
Eitler, Tamás (2006). "Identity construction, speaker agency and Estuary English." In: László Varga and Péter Szigetvári (eds.). The Even Yearbook 7: Working Papers in Linguistics. Department of English Linguistics. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University, 1-14. <http://seas3.elte.hu/delg/publications/even
> (30th November 2014).
Hickey, Raymond (2007). "Dartspeak and Estuary English: advanced metropolitan speech in Ireland and England." In: Ute Smit, Stefan Dollinger, Julia Hüttner, Ursula Lutzky and Gunther Kaltenböck (eds). Tracing English Through Time: Explorations in Language Variation. Vienna: Braumüller, 2007, 179-190.
Kristiansen, Gitte (2008). Style-shifting and shifting styles: a socio-cognitive approach to lectal variation." In: Gitte Kristiansen and René Dirven (eds.)." Cognitive Sociolinguistics: Language Variation, Cultural Models, Social Systems. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 45-88.
Pustka, Elissa (2009). "A prototype-theoretic model of Southern French." In: Kate Beeching, Nigel Armstrong and FranCoise Gadet (eds.)." Sociolinguistic Variation in Contemporary French. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins, 77-94.
Rosewarne, David (1984). "Estuary English: David Rosewarne describes a newly observed variety of
English pronunciation." Times Educational Supplement, 19 October 1984, 29-30.