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Durational evidence of the Scottish vowel length rule in Berwick English


By: Dominic Watt and Catherine Ingham

Berwick upon Tweed is England’s northernmost town, lying in the extreme northeastern corner of Northumberland just 3 miles (5km) from the Scottish/English border. While Berwick English can be said to feature many of the typical characteristics of rural Northumbrian English, it also has much in common with dialects of Scotland, and in this sense can be regarded as a transitional dialect. The common perception that the accent of Berwick is rich in ‘Scottish’ phonological features leads us to hypothesise that one such feature is the series of vowel length distinctions usually termed the Scottish Vowel Length Rule, which (with one exception) has to date only been investigated auditorily in Northumbrian dialects.

In this paper, preliminary evidence based on instrumental measurements of vowel durations taken from word-list recordings of eight Berwick English (BwE) speakers is presented, demonstrating that a form of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (SVLR) much like that reported for Scottish English by Scobbie et al. (1999a) conditions vowel duration in the variety. There are indications, however, that SVLR-conditioned alternations are less marked and less consistent among the younger BwE speakers than among older ones. It is suggested that these age-related differences may be indicative of the weakening of the SVLR in this variety.

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