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The sociolinguistic stratification of a connected speech process – The case of the T to R rule in the black country


By: Esther Asprey

This paper examines the connected speech process described by Wells (1982b) as the T to R rule in the West Midlands speech variety associated with the Black Country. The T to R rule is well known as a linguistic marker of local varieties of the middle and far north of England. Less well understood is its position in the phonological systems of Midlands varieties.

Varieties of the Midlands of England are underresearched in comparison with varieties of the north, and what is known about the application of the T to R rule in this transitional dialect area is correspondingly nebulous. This paper focuses on the Black Country area, and examines the possible outputs in the contexts which give rise to /t/ becoming [ɹ] in local varieties of the north. I examine the written and spoken evidence which suggests that the T to R rule does indeed operate in the Black Country variety. My analysis focuses on possible phonetic outcomes of the T to R rule across time. In my conclusion, I discuss briefly the possibility that, lying on a bundle of isoglosses separating north from south, the variety of the Black Country reflects this in that a T to [ɾ] rule, rather than a T to R rule, is the dominant output of this connected speech process in the Black Country.

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