Reversing 'drift' : innovation and diffusion in the London diphthong system
This article contributes to innovation and diffusion models by examining phonetic changes in London English. It evaluates Sapir’s notion of ‘drift’, which involves ‘natural’, unconscious change, in relation to these changes. Investigating parallel developments in two related varieties of English enables drift to be tested in terms of the effect of extralinguistic factors. The diphthongs of PRICE, MOUTH, FACE and GOAT in both London and New Zealand English are characterised by ‘Diphthong Shift’, a process which continued unabated in New Zealand. A new, large dataset of London speech shows Diphthong Shift reversal, providing counterevidence for drift. We discuss Diphthong Shift and its ‘reversal’ in relation to innovation, diffusion, levelling and supralocalisation, arguing that sociolinguistic factors and dialect contact override ‘natural’ Diphthong Shift. Studying dialect change in a metropolis, with its large and linguistically innovative minority ethnic population, is of the utmost importance in understanding the dynamics of change.
URL Description
Paul Kerswill
Eivind Torgersen
Susan Fox

sound change; London English; drift; youth language; Cockney; minority ethnic language; dialectology; diffusion; dialect levelling; innovation; ethnic minorities

The paper has been accepted for publication and will appear in a revised form, subsequent to peer review and/or editorial input by Cambridge University Press, in Language variation and change published by Cambridge University Press, copyright holder Cambridge University Press.
Date of publication
01 January 2008
Kerswill, Paul et al. Reversing 'drift' : innovation and diffusion in the London diphthong system.
Kerswill Paul et al. Reversing 'drift' : innovation and diffusion in the London diphthong system.