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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1274  Tuesday, 24 June 2003

[1]     From:   William Davis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Jun 2003 00:50:26 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1210 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[2]     From:   Carol Morley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Jun 2003 11:17:29 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1254 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Davis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Jun 2003 00:50:26 EDT
Subject: 14.1210 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1210 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

My apologies to Sam Small for not responding sooner to his question (my
job - the proverbial actor's "day job" - has kept me away from the
computer lately).  Here's the question, and my partial answer, followed
with some suggestions for those curious to know how Shakespeare might
have pronounced some of his words:

>With Hardy's forbearance I would like to ask William about the reason
>Cockneys drop their Hs. ('ead for head, etc.)  The prejudice is that they
>are lazy and ignorant and are too idle to sound the "H".  Whereas similar
>working class people from East Anglia - not 100 miles away - sound the "H"
>with their own distinctive dialect.  Again, similar working class
>communities in America sound the "H" too.  My theory is that the Cockney
>dialect was Norman/French influenced - via the docks - which accounts for
>the lack of leading "H" and trailing "T".

Unfortunately, historical linguistics of the English language is not my
forte (translation and Polynesian dialects are more familiar), and I can
only speculate on this point.  The reason why Cockneys drop their Hs
could likely be the result of natural language change (the H and the
glottal stop frequently switch positions, and not just in English but
many other languages), or it could also result from a concentration of
Norman/French settlers who maintained a specific set of pronunciation
habits by living in a community that reinforced and allowed the
sounds/transformations to perpetuate.  To complicate matters, different
aspects of the same dialect could be attributed to different causes.
For example, the H/glottal switch could be a result of natural language
change (regardless of human migrating populations) while the "trailing
T" could be an archaic leftover from early Norman immigrants.  It's hard
to say how this dialect developed, but if the accent were derived from a
set of immigrants who maintained their own way of pronouncing words,
then I would suspect a certain sub-strata of their native French
(whichever French dialect they used) would also be present, along with
the possible evidence of creolization (i.e., where a certain level of
French was used, while incorporating the English, to form a specific
dialect).  I'm not familiar enough with Cockney to know if it has a
higher number of "French-isms" than standard English, so it's hard to
judge, but I personally suspect that the "H / glottal stop" switch was
an indigenous shift that happened in England, where an earlier dialect
of Cockney English evolved into the current one.  As far as the other
sounds, however, I can't say.  Looking into the settlement patterns of
early Norman settlers could provide some interesting insights, and
certainly would have influenced the local way of speaking.  Finally,
language variations are never due to laziness by the speakers, but are
simply markers of language change and differentiation.  Cockney
pronunciation is not lazy, despite what opinions may differ, but is
simply a natural variation of speech patterns particular to a legitimate
dialect.

Throughout the thread of discussions on pronunciations in Shakespeare's
plays, I thought I'd add a couple of quick ideas for anyone interested
in researching possible ways Shakespeare might have pronounced certain
words.  Some older publications have interesting insights, and a couple
come to mind that could be beneficial.  The first, which I mentioned in
my earlier posting, is "The Art of Reading and Writing English" by Isaac
Watts.  He lived from 1674 to 1748 (he was born near the time Judith
Shakespeare died), and his book contains a few lists of words,
abbreviations and pronunciation tables (He pronounces Leicester as
"Lester" and Worchester as "Wuster").  The other one that comes to mind
is a book by John Hart, written sometime in the 1550s or 1560s (my
memory fails me) entitled "Orthographie," which also has pronunciation
tables.  The great vowel shift was still in progress, and the difference
between the lists in both books could reveal some interesting aspects of
language change (the great vowel shift covered a number of centuries,
and didn't happen all at once, so these books might reveal what changes
were happening during Shakespeare's lifetime).  These books, however,
generally record the pronunciations deemed acceptable at the time by the
upper classes, and dialects of the working classes were often considered
too vulgar to include in the lists.  So, even though we have these
pronunciation tables, the reader should remember that they do not record
all the spoken variations in the colloquial English of the day.

I hope this helps,
William Davis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Morley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Jun 2003 11:17:29 +0000
Subject: 14.1254 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1254 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

>Ref: Pontefract
>
>Town is indeed now Pontefract as writ, BUT the Castle is STILL called
>'Pomfrit Castle.

And Pontefract Cakes (liquorice sweeties) are still pronounced
'Pumfret'- at least in the West Riding. Not that it's at all easy to
pronounce anything with a gob full of spice.

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