Students Staff

27 June 2012

Essex dialect disappearing, researcher finds

Colchester Campus

Mersea Island

Dialect speakers on Mersea Island, off the Essex coast, are gradually drifting towards Southern Standard English, new research has revealed.

Working with the Mersea Museum, which has an archive of talking newspapers and other news items recorded by the local Lions charity and going back to the 1970s, Dr Jenny Amos has been able to compare the accents of former residents with those of the island’s current population.

The oldest person whose voice was recorded by the museum’s archive was born before 1900 – so Dr Amos has been able to trace the vowel sounds of people living on the island back to Victorian times, giving her research a unique linguistic, social and historical perspective.

She has found that the speech of the island’s residents has changed significantly. While older inhabitants of the island talk about ‘hoi toides,’ a young Mersea Islander is more likely to talk about ‘high tides.’ Meanwhile, ‘Bootiful’ is gradually becoming ‘Beautiful.’

In the past 50 years, young people growing up on the island have tended to leave, either to get an education or because they cannot afford to buy houses there, while older, professional people have moved in. The study suggests this population change has contributed to the change in the area’s dialect.

Dr Amos’ research formed the basis for her PhD thesis, and she is now a lecturer at both the University’s Department of Language and Linguistics and at Queen Mary, University of London. She is also a native Mersea islander.

When communities are isolated, as Mersea used to be, that isolation tends to lead gradually to more complex ways of speaking. However, when these communities come into contact with a wider population, the original accent and dialect begin to change

Fascinatingly, Dr Amos has compared her findings with similar studies from around the region as well as The Falkland Islands, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha – and has found that these accents have developed in strikingly similar ways. She believes this supports the view that there is a ‘natural’ way for language to develop. Therefore, it’s not simply that the traditional Mersea accent features are ‘being lost’ in favour of Standard English features. If this is the case, it has wider implications for linguistic research and its practical applications in areas such as speech therapy and rehabilitation.

Further information

For more details please contact Fran Abrams, Communication Officer for the University of Essex Faculty of Social Sciences, on 07939 262001 or via email:

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