15.3423, Review: Sociolinguistics: Trudgill (2004)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-15-3423. Tue Dec 07 2004. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 15.3423, Review: Sociolinguistics: Trudgill (2004)                                                                                                                                                                       

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Date: 07-Dec-2004
From: Philip Shaw < Philip.Shaw at English.su.seu >
Subject: New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Tue, 07 Dec 2004 14:20:56
From: Philip Shaw < Philip.Shaw at English.su.seu >
Subject: New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes 

AUTHOR: Trudgill, Peter 
TITLE: New-Dialect Formation 
SUBTITLE: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes 
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press 
YEAR: 2004 
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1775.html

Philip Shaw, University of Stockholm, Sweden


This monograph argues that under certain circumstances the formation of a 
new variety of a language (a 'new dialect') is deterministic, that is, it 
depends only on the dialect characteristics of the initiators and not on 
extraneous factors like status and identity. Support for this thesis is 
largely from a corpus now known as ONZE -- Origins of New Zealand English 
(hereafter NZE) -- which derives from the spoken reminiscences of some 325 
first- generation Anglo New Zealanders (born in New Zealand between 1850 
and 1900) recorded between 1946 and 1948. Trudgill argues that the corpus 
represents an almost unique record of the moment before a new variety is 
born. Some support for Trudgill's thesis also comes from other varieties 
of English, particularly other Southern Hemisphere ones with nineteenth-
century roots. The findings of the ONZE project are described thoroughly 
in another publication of which Trudgill is an author -- Gordon et al 
2004 -- and this book aims to use those findings to make a general point.

The first chapter establishes that most colonial varieties of European 
languages (and of Hindi) derive their distinctive features in part from 
dialect mixture among the founding settlers. The similarities among the 
Southern Hemisphere varieties are due to similarities in the dialect mix 
among the original settlers, who came from (Southern) England, Scotland 
and Ireland in that order of frequency. To these observations Trudgill 
adds the evidence that new dialects are formed by quite young children who 
are relatively impervious to considerations of status or prestige. Hence, 
Trudgill can argue that under tabula-rasa conditions (i.e. where there is 
no local variety of the incomers' language) new-dialect formation is 
deterministic, affected only by the initial linguistic mix.

The second chapter aims to establish relevant features of nineteenth-
century British English, to see how it differed from early NZE, which 
seems to have become focused around 1900. The first generation 
of 'colonial' children has no peer-group variety to adopt, and thus 
follows its parents' variety more closely than elsewhere, so that sound 
changes in progress are held up for a generation. As a result the ONZE 
sample includes features which would have died out in the speech of the 
sample's contemporaries in Britain and Ireland. Thus the ONZE sample can 
be used, along with written sources on nineteenth-century English, to 
define the English of the first settlers, and the chapter proceeds to 
reconstruct the accents spoken by those settlers. The argument can be 
exemplified by considering h-dropping, the 'English' English feature by 
which word-initial /h/ in stressed content words is lost, so that 'ill' 
and 'hill' are homophonous. In the Southern Hemisphere the phenomenon is 
nowadays absent or rare. In the ONZE recordings about 25% of speakers 
exhibit h-dropping, which suggests that it was less common in nineteenth-
century English varieties than it is today. This is corroborated by 
dialect studies over the last hundred years, suggesting that only a 
minority of the first settlers exhibited h-dropping, which meant, 
deterministically, that the feature did not survive into modern New 
Zealand speech.

The remaining five chapters develop the proposed model of new-dialect 
formation, referring to Trudgill 1986. This involves six key processes, 
which Trudgill illustrates in chapter 3 from New World Spanish and French 
and Fiji Hindi: mixing of people with different dialects; levelling, in 
which demographically minor variants are lost; unmarking -- linguistically 
unmarked forms survive in preference to marked ones; interdialect 
development -- new forms arise from the interaction of dialects; 
reallocation, where each of two surviving forms becomes specialised to a 
different allophonic or social niche; and focussing, in which the new 
variety becomes stable, with its own norms.

These processes operate over three stages. Chapter 3 describes Stage I of 
the process, rudimentary levelling in the speech of the first settlers. 
The speech of the ONZE informants does not include instances of many 
localised phenomena (such as the merger of /v/ and /w/) which must have 
been in the speech of their parents -- the first settlers. Trudgill infers 
that these features were levelled out early because of their extreme 
minority status, perhaps especially if they had a low status, since among 
these adults status would presumably be an operative factor. At this stage 
interdialect development also occurred, the ONZE tapes including for 
example "a high level" of hypercorrect initial /h/ and even /hw/ in words 
with no historical /h(w)/ like 'apple' and 'witch'.

Chapter 4 describes the speech of Stage II, represented by the ONZE corpus 
speakers themselves, who do not sound like each other or like modern New 
Zealanders. Because there was "no common peer-group dialect for them to 
accommodate to", parental varieties had an unusual influence on first-
generation children's speech, but even so they were not followed 
precisely. The ONZE speakers, in fact, combine features from various input 
varieties in very unusual ways. They also vary very much in their own 
speech, with vowel realisations varying apparently at random between 
values typical of different British varieties. The third way in which they 
vary is that individuals born and brought up in the same place speak in 
very different ways. It seems that the accommodation which caused 
rudimentary levelling at Stage I did not operate at Stage II. However 
there was 'apparent levelling' in which some fairly widespread features of 
nineteenth-century British English (such as Scottish centralised KIT, and 
Northern English retention of the same vowel in FOOT and STRUT) failed to 
make it into the ONZE varieties. Trudgill argues that this is not because 
the features had been diluted by accommodation among adults, as in Stage 
I, but because a feature had to have a given threshold frequency in the 
input data (of the whole community, not just the parents) to be adopted by 

Chapter 5 describes Stage III in which koinéisation (levelling, unmarking, 
reallocation) and focusing deterministically formed NZE from something 
like the variable and varied speech of the ONZE interviewees. The second 
generation of New Zealand-born English speakers were faced with fewer 
variants and simply selected those that were most common, which, 
coincidentally, were often, but not always, typical of the South East of 
England. Where non-southeastern forms were in the majority in the ONZE-
type varieties, they were chosen for NZE. Examples are h-retention and 
retention of front realisations of START/PALM. Sometimes the majority for 
the Southeastern- type form that survived was very small: for example, 
modern NZE consistently has a rounded vowel (like RP) in LOT words even 
though only 53% of ONZE informants used such a vowel. A small majority 
this size did not always guarantee focussing. In ONZE 57% of speakers used 
a short vowel in CLOTH words but in modern NZE both long and short vowels 
can be heard in this set, according to Trudgill. Moreover, other factors 
than majority status also operated. About two-thirds of ONZE informants 
had the shwa/I distinction in unstressed syllables('Lenin' = 'Lennon'). 
Nevertheless NZE does not, showing that "unmarkedness may sway the balance 
in favour of [large] minority variants" (120).

The Southern Hemisphere Englishes are similar to one another because a 
similar mix of actual dialect features was available in the feature 
supermarket (Trudgill's equivalent of Mufwene's feature pool), but also 
because of drift -- potential for change inherent in the starting system. 
In Chapter 6 Trudgill gives a number of examples of parallel developments 
taking place after the varieties had split, such as HAPPY tensing (tense 
[i] rather than lax [I] in unstressed open final syllables) and Glide 
Weakening (centering of the endpoint of rising diphthongs).

Chapter 7 makes explicit the point that the previous chapters have made 
implicitly: social factors can be dispensed with. Like Labov and Croft, 
Trudgill argues that adaptation and the speech of the individuals in 
contact are all that is needed to explain language change. The drift 
phenomena cannot be the result of the prestige of British varieties 
because some have not affected Britain, and the developments have 
generally gone further in the Southern Hemisphere than in Britain. 
Proponents of an explanation based on prestige would also have to explain 
why other prestige innovations in Britain have not been adopted in NZE. 
Similarly stigma cannot have been strong in the relatively egalitarian 
conditions of New Zealand, even less so before compulsory schooling in 
1877, so it cannot be invoked as the cause of the failure of h-dropping to 
survive. Nor should we consider identity or ideology as possible causative 
factors in this situation. Why should New Zealanders talking to other New 
Zealanders need to signal their identity? Trudgill accounts for the unity 
of NZE by the mobility of its speakers.


The book's argument is convincing and Trudgill's style is very clear and 
unpretentious. Nevertheless the reader can have a feeling that Trudgill's 
agenda is not completely overt. The reasons may be his strategy of not 
foregrounding the context of his argument and some unclarity about the 
strength of his claim.

The first means that he appears to presuppose readers who need the short-
vowel phonology of varieties of English explained in detail, but are so 
familiar with current developments away from purpose-oriented explanation 
in sociolinguistics that they can piece together where Trudgill's ideas 
fit in from passing references to Labov and others. This reader at least 
was frustrated not to have a broader view of such trends presented here, 
particularly as it would have helped to differentiate this book from 
Gordon et al 2004.

The strength of the term 'deterministic' is not clear. It is not formally 
defined, and sometimes it seems to mean only that social factors -- 
speaker intentions of some sort -- do not apply, while at other times it 
seems to mean that the outcome is wholly determined by the initial 
condition. The case for the second meaning is not made, as there seems to 
be some chance involved as well as in the cases of unmarking and 
variability in CLOTH words, contrasted with deterministic elimination of 
variability in cases like LOT.

Trudgill uses a methodological criterion that one should not invoke 
speaker intentions, status, identity, etc. unless one has to. But he is 
not necessarily consistent in eliminating unnecessary entities. He gives 
both rudimentary levelling at Stage I and the threshold effect at Stage II 
as explanations of the absence of features in the ONZE data, even though 
the evidence for both entities is the same, and seems to justify this by 
saying the processes are plausible (as of course they are), without 
showing that they are necessary.

Once one admits a process just because it is plausible one is laid open to 
arguments that social factors are plausible too. Trudgill does not explain 
why drift failed to carry h-dropping forward, as it did Diphthong Shift, 
or why the unmarking involved in h-loss did not overcome statistical 
tendencies, as it did for the unstressed /I/- shwa merger. In fact the 
frequency of hypercorrect /h/ insertion among the ONZE speakers and the 
coincidence of loss of h-dropping with the rise of schooling in the last 
third of the nineteenth century would provide evidence for an argument 
that h-dropping was stigmatised. This argument might seem as plausible as 
the deterministic one for this feature, and if one is to reject it on 
methodological grounds the rigour has to be consistent

Nonetheless the case that prestige and identity can be largely dispensed 
with in this context is made. On that basis the book is very successful. 
It is written with Trudgill's habitual lucidity, handles masses of data 
clearly, reveals very wide reading, and, as I hope my summary shows, makes 
a generally very impressive case. Certainly one finishes it convinced that 
the story presented here of the development of NZE is more convincing than 
any of its rivals. Trudgill's abilities applied to such wonderful data as 
the ONZE material have resulted in a fascinating book which enlarges our 
understanding of the processes which created colonial Englishes.


Gordon, Elizabeth, Lyle Campbell, Jennifer B Hay, Margaret Maclagan, 
Andrea Sudbury, and Peter Trudgill. 2004. New Zealand English: Its Origins 
and Evolution Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Trudgill, Peter. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell. 


Philip Shaw has degrees in English and linguistics from the universities 
of Oxford, Reading, and Newcastle upon Tyne. He has taught at universities 
in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Silpakorn), Germany (Bonn), England (Newcastle), 
and Denmark (Aarhus School of Business), and is currently working in the 
Department of English at Stockholm University. He is co-author (with 
Gunnel Melchers) of 'World Englishes: an Introduction' (Arnold 2003) and 
has published widely in journals. He is interested in the structure and 
uses of English worldwide, particularly in business and academic settings 
and across cultures.

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