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Definite Article Reduction (DAR) is the term used in recent linguistic work to refer to the use of vowel-less forms of the definite article the in Northern dialects of British English, for example in the Yorkshire dialect and accent. DAR is often represented by dialect spelling t’ or th’.

History

DAR has been recorded in textual form since 1673, and the orthographic representations t’ and th’ occur in literature (e.g. in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights), and are frequently encountered in the media. There is even a beer called "T' owd Tup" (The Old Ram). The historical origin is unclear. Links with Middle English te forms of the article remain unproven.

A similar usage of a vowel-less article "t'" can also be found in the Frisian language of the north Netherlands coast, a language thought to be most similar to the original language of the invading Anglo-Saxons.

The family name "Haus in't Feld" exists in Frisian, meaning "house in the field". Claims that this is phonetically similar to DAR remain to be verified experimentally. In Cumbria, a voiceless alveolar plosive (the English t sound) does occur which may have some superficial similarities to realisations in Frisian and Low German, but the glottal and glottalised DAR variants found elsewhere in the DAR area and across Yorkshire present a very different realisation. Jones (2002: 342) comments that no contact explanation with other varieties of Germanic is required (or could be supported on the basis of available evidence) to explain DAR as the development of DAR involves common cross-linguistic patterns of change (stopping of dental fricatives, plosive > glottal) which occur in unrelated languages and so have a purely phonetic origin.

Distribution

DAR is not as widespread as it once was. The British Library's 1999 dialect collection and the 2006 BBC Voices survey found that it is now focused on Yorkshire and its borders. It has declined in Cumbriamarker and the west coast of Lancashire, but it is still common around Blackburnmarker and Burnleymarker. Some of the northern fringes of Yorkshire have also lost DAR. In the midlands, it is now confined to north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire.

The mid 20th century Survey of English Dialects (Orton et al. 1962) allows DAR to be mapped across northern England from the Irish Seamarker coast in the present-day county of Cumbriamarker and further south in Lancashiremarker, to the North Seamarker coast of Yorkshiremarker. The north-south distribution is less easy to define, but runs well south of the Scottish border and well north of Birminghammarker. Some major urban areas within this area show DAR in the local vernacular (Leedsmarker-Bradfordmarker, Sheffieldmarker), in others usage is less apparent (e.g. Manchestermarker), and in some it is completely absent (Liverpoolmarker, Newcastlemarker).

DAR can be heard widely across the north of England. For those outside England who wish to get a flavour of it, DAR can be heard in dialogue in recent films set in the north of England, for example The Full Monty (set in Sheffield), and in recordings available from the British Library web portal.

Phonetics

The phonetic forms of DAR are very varied. The th’ form suggests a dental or interdental fricative realisation, usually voiceless (as in thin), and is restricted to the western parts of the DAR area (Lancashire and Cheshire). It also occurred widely across northern and central Staffordshire in earlier dialect surveys (Jones 2002) and sporadic forms similar to DAR were reported to occur in localities in Berkshire, Sussex, and Essex. The orthographic t’ form suggests a voiceless dental or alveolar plosive realisation , as in tin, but also serves to represent a 'glottal' form. The glottal form is most widely encountered. Some dialects may show more than one phonetic form, but the conditioning factors for such variation are unknown. It seems that unvarying glottal forms are most widely found now (2005). Variation with a full form the is also common.

Speakers of other forms of English often find it difficult to hear, especially the 'glottal' forms which affect the pitch and duration and voice quality of surrounding words and sounds in subtle ways. This often leads to claims that the article is absent, but this is not usually the case. True absence of the article may occur in the east of the DAR area around Hullmarker.

Recent instrumental acoustic work (2007) shows that DAR speakers use very subtle differences in the quality and timing of glottalisation to differentiate between a glottal stop occurring as an allophone of final /t/ in a word like "seat" and a glottal stop occurring as the form of the definite article in otherwise identical sentences, e.g. "seat sacks" vs. "see t' sacks". Speakers of DAR dialects therefore appear to have (put somewhat simplistically) two kinds of glottal stop - one for DAR and one for word-final /t/.

See also



External links



References

  • Orton, Harold, et al. (eds.) (1962 etc.) Survey of English Dialects. Leeds.
  • Jones, Mark J. (2002). "The origin of Definite Article Reduction in northern English dialects: evidence from dialect allomorphy." English Language and Linguistics 6: 325-345.
  • Verhoeff, J.S. and Rupp, L. to appear in 2005. "A grammatical investigation of Definite Article Reduction." To appear in English World-Wide.
  • Jones, Mark J. (2007). “Glottals and grammar: definite article reduction and morpheme boundaries.” Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics 12. Available at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/linguistics/WPL/WP2007/4.pdf



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