Northern Englishes in a global context: unity or diversity?
April McMahon, Warren Maguire, Paul Heggarty
University of Edinburgh
This presentation reports progress in applying innovative quantitative methods to the
comparison of varieties of English, through a technique for matching phonetic
transcriptions against each other and quantifying their similarity. The results of these
quantifications are represented in networks, using the phylogenetic network
construction program NeighborNet (Bryant and Moulton 2004), which shows
connections between varieties regardless of whether these reflect common origin,
parallel innovation, or contact.
In a preliminary analysis of a limited range of varieties of English, a grouping of
northern Englishes consistently emerged, in sharp contrast with varieties of English
from other parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, and of the northern Englishes,
Liverpool English was the most divergent. In order to determine how robust these
patterns are, a wide range of other varieties have been added to the comparison,
1) Other northern Englishes, particularly from the northeast of England;
2) Varieties of English from other parts of England and Wales;
3) Varieties of Scottish English and Traditional Lowland Scots, including a
number of varieties from close to the English border;
4) Varieties of English from other parts of the English speaking world, including
North America and the southern Hemisphere.
The consequences of the inclusion of these other English varieties for the perceived
unity of northern Englishes is examined in this presentation. Although subsets of
northern Englishes still group together, the introduction of other varieties, particularly
from Scotland, England and Wales, results in a more diffuse pattern of relations,
which suggests that the northern Englishes group is not as robust as previously
suspected. Furthermore, the inclusion of varieties of English from around the world
allows us to examine the wider relationships of northern Englishes, and gives us a
more complex view of the place of northern Englishes in a global context.
Bryant, D. and Moulton, V. (2004) ‘NeighborNet: An agglomerative method for the
construction of phylogenetic networks.’ Molecular Biology and Evolution, 21,