In defence (or celebration) of the dropped ‘t’


Gallimaufry. Did you wonder when you read my post the other day from whence came that peculiar word?  As an ex student of linguistics, which relates to the scientific study of language and its structure, I love all things word related and enjoy discovering their origins; it is nothing less than delightful to discover a new word.  There are, of course, a great many words in our language that are rarely used. Who, for example, ever describes someone as magniloquent? And yet we probably all know someone who perfectly fits the description. For your information it relates to someone who uses high-flown or bombastic language. Haha, I am probably leaving myself open to accusations of exactly that by writing this post!

To condense several centuries of linguistic history into a sentence – the spoken word in Britain as we know it today is derived from a combination of Celtic, Germanic (from the Anglo-Frisian dialects of the 5th century), Latin (thanks to the Romans), and French, (courtesy of the Normans). And, of course, each of these has its own, sometimes complex, origins. No wonder we have such a rich and varied language. I believe that we should celebrate this diversity rather than condemn those who use alternative turns of phrase or pronounce words differently to how we, as individuals, do.

What people refer to as the correct form of English is in fact a relatively modern version officially known as Standard English (grammar and vocabulary) and is closely intertwined with ‘Received Pronunciation’ which is an accent and considered by some to be the ‘correct’ way of pronouncing words.  It may surprise you to know that Standard English is in fact a minority version of English, spoken by less than 15% of the population. Even more astonishing is that only 3% use RP  and yet its demise is something most of us will have heard bemoaned by those who consider it superior. Why is it that a soft Dublin accent is thought attractive but a Brummie or cockney one just the opposite, when each is simply a variation of that standard?

Although there is a need for a prescriptive convention for the written word, the now defunct Queen’s English Society (which railed against what they considered to be a deteriorating standard and ceased to exist in 2012), incorrectly believed that there should also be a single way of pronouncing words but do we really want accents to disappear?  I don’t.  I enjoy the gradual softening of vowels as I travel from the centre of the Midlands closer and closer to the South West. And when I visit my family in Ireland I would hate to find that the accent I love had given way to the harsher, clipped consonants of RP.  The glottalisation (or dropping) of  the ‘t’ sound in ‘water’ is not lazy or wrong; it is simply a feature of a different accent, not an inferior one, and as such is no less valid. Indeed, it is a common feature of many other languages.

Language is a constantly changing entity; new words are absorbed, older ones fall out of fashion. With regard to accent, some object to the ‘Eastenders factor’ and television has, of course, had a marked effect on the way in which accents have spread. Both the unique vocabularies and accents of different regions are now less bound as we become an increasingly mobile and culturally diverse population. People travel to work in difefrent areas and students often do not return to their home town after university – these factors will continue to affect how we speak.

David Crystal, author of more than a hundred academic books on the English language has produced, in conjunction with his actor son, Ben, a wholly accessible, non-academic tome on this very subject. Described as ‘a celebration of the myriad ways in which the English language is spoken’, You say potato is a brilliantly entertaining book which, very much more eloquently than I, reinforces the delight of accents.

‘Gallimaufry’, by the way, derives from the archaic French word galimafrée, meaning an unappetising dish. You might have found this post defending accents exactly that, but as you may deduce from these pictures of one of my bookshelves, it is a subject about which I am passionate.