Victorian Language Essay

1142 words - 5 pages

Victorian Language

The fact of the matter: “Nobody speaks at all like the characters in any novel, play or film. Life would be intolerable if they did; and novels, plays or films would be intolerable if the characters spoke as people do in life” (Abercrombie 1965).

So what was the real way of speech?
Fiction was generally thought to be an accurate portrayal of reality; “true life” (Chapman 1). It was unfavorable if it stressed credulity too far. Therefore, fiction is our main source of information; it is our main source to the reality of speech for the Victorians. Greater mobility and expansion of communication of the Victorian era brought together regional groups, thus increasing the complexity of the variations in the English language. Consequently, pronunciation evolved as an indicator of social prestige (Chapman 6-8). Two categories of speech developed: Standard and Non-Standard speech.

Formation of Standard Speech vs. Non-Standard Speech
The Education Act of 1870 established the school as a ‘melting pot’ for upper and middle class children and the speech boundary had to be resolved. Thus a uniform accent (Standard speech) was created and pupils who refused to accept this new accent or who could not adapt to this new way of speech were severely punished. Peer pressure was also an issue because the new boy would have to adapt to the new form of speech in order for his peers to accept him or to merely avoid bullies (Chapman 12).

Non-Standard Speech
This type of speech was also synonymous with lower class slang, “cockney” or the way in which the ‘uneducated’ communicated, specific to the East End (Chapman 19). The infamous “cockney” was native to the East End, as remains today. Cockney dialect allowed spelling and pronunciation deviances; it was often referred to as a “corruption” (Chapman 19) of a much more defined language and was used in humor, pathos or regional situations.

Cockney deviated from Standard Speech mainly through pronunciation. As observed in numerous novels by Charles Dickens, the lower classes adapted to the cockney style. This includes,

* Dropping the “h’s” before words such as “head” to sound “ ‘ead.”
* Swallowing vowels such as “e” in “fowld” as opposed to “fowled.”
* Slurring vowels to produce “I believe yer” as opposed to “I believe you.” This later became native to Manchester and Liverpool, areas north of London.
* Most prominently “t’s” were replaced by “uh” to transform “butter” to “bu’er.”
* The “v’s” were replaced with “w’s” such as in “werry” as opposed to “very.”

However, although cockney was consistently referred to as the more “uneducated” form of speech, one could decipher between a person who was educated and compelled by pronunciation to adapt cockney, and one who had not been educated in the verb formation of the English language.

Applications of Non-Standard Speech:
For example, in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, Mr. Boffin consistently uses “don’t” where he...

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