A Case Study

This is going to be a case study on this particular recording of a man who lived his whole life in the West Country. This is going to be a study on a wider dialect (West Country).

In the text the marked the parts of the words are affected by rhoticity or r-colouring that might contain at least a slight deviation from RP.

Other features are highlighted with a colourful font and explained below the text:


Well, here’s a story for you: Sarah Perry was a veterinary nurse who had been working daily at an old zoo in a deserted district of the territory, so she was very happy to start a new job at a superb private (1) practice in North Square near the Duke Street Tower. That area was much nearer for her and more to her liking (2). Even so, on her first morning (3), she felt stressed. She ate a bowl of porridge, checked herself in the mirror and washed her face in a hurry. Then she put on a plain yellow dress and a fleece jacket (4), picked up her kit and headed for work.

When she got there, there was a woman with a goose waiting for her. The woman gave Sarah an official letter from the vet. The letter implied that the animal could be suffering from a rare form of foot (5)  and mouth disease, which was surprising, because normally you would only expect to see it in a dog or a goat. Sarah was sentimental, so this made her feel sorry for the beautiful bird.

Before long, that itchy goose began to strut around the office like a lunatic, which made an unsanitary mess. The goose’s owner, Mary Harrison, kept calling, “Comma, Comma,” which Sarah thought (6) was an odd choice for a name. Comma was strong and huge, so it would take some force to trap her, but Sarah had a different idea. First she tried gently stroking the goose’s lower back with her palm, then singing (7) a tune to her. Finally, she administered ether. Her efforts were not futile. In no time, the goose began to tire, so Sarah was able to hold onto Comma and give her a relaxing bath.

Once Sarah had managed to bathe the goose, she wiped her off with a cloth and laid her on her right side. Then Sarah confirmed the vet’s diagnosis. Almost immediately, she remembered an effective treatment that required her to measure out a lot of medicine. Sarah warned that this course of treatment might be expensive-either five or six times the cost of penicillin. I can’t imagine paying so much, but Mrs. Harrison-a millionaire lawyer-thought it was a fair price for a cure.

There again I was then, I was born in Cardiff in Wales and then moved down to Somerset, uh, at a very young age. Uh, I was only born in Cardiff because parents were down there (8) and father’s family were a Devonshire family anyway. So I moved down here, and there I lived until I joined the navy at 16, 16 and a half. Um, I came out of the navy at 21, and during the war years, of course, and, uh, then after tha(9) it’s just going to work, and I’ve done mechanical work most of the time until I retired maybe ten years ago. Um, I worked in Wellington in Somerset, I worked in Taunton in Somerset, I worked in Bristol, Avon, which is the city and county of Bristol, then, but it’s Avon now, of course. Uh, then I moved from here down to North Devon. Been here (10) nearly thirty-five years. And then so you got Littleham, just outside Bideford; this is a nice little village. Um, there’s Parracombe, which is another nice little village; there’s Horns Cross, there’s Buck’s Mills, um, and going the other way you’ve got Eastleigh, you’ve got Goodleigh, that’s above East-the-Water. Um, you’ve got Fremington; that’s a little seaside place on the way to Barnstaple. There’s, uh, Westward Ho!; `course you know about. Um, beyond the other side of the river there, you’re looking towards over the sand (11) dunes, you’re looking towards Braunton; that’s the other side of Barnstaple. And of course, to get to Braunton all the way into Barnstaple around, unless of course you have a boat across the river. So around there over to Braunton, and Braunton goes on to Croyde and then Croyde Bay. And Woolacombe, Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, then you’re heading back into Somerset again. Um Exmoor; from there you’re over to Exmoor, then you proceed to then (12) right into Taunton, Somerset. That’s the sort of round-about route that way. Um, going the other direction, going this way down the coast road from here, um, go down to Buck’s Cross, Buck’s Mills, at Clovelly. Then (13) of course you’re heading into Cornwall. Then you go then (14) to Wadebridge, then the Coast takes you right down to going to Wadebridge. Then (15) you, um, there’s uh St Mawgan, which is the Air Force base, American Air Force base, and, uh, that’s the end of Coast Road. Um, going the other way of course you’d head towards, heading east then (16), you go to Torrington and you’re heading towards Exeterthen (17) Crediton and then through Exeter, and then of course you’re on the south coast and then you’ve got Exmouth, Sidmouth, Lyme Regis. There all the seaside places on the other coast there.


1. Glottal stop (ʔ) represents [t] – [praıvǝɁ]

2. [ɪn] – [laıkın] 

3. [ɪn] – [mɔ:rnın]

4. Glottal stop (ʔ) represents [t] – [dƷækıɁ]

5. Glottal stop (ʔ) represents [t] – [fʊɁ]

6. Voicing of fricatives, [θ] becomes [ð] – [ðɔ:t]

7. [ɪn] – [sıŋgıŋ]

8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 – [ð] becomes [d] – [deǝr], [den]

9. Glottal stop (ʔ) represents [t] – [ðæɁ]

10. H-dropping – [ıǝr]

11. Elision of final /d/ – sand [sa:n]



International Dialects of English Archive. 2017. Dialects and Accents of England. www.dialectsarchive.com/england-52 (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

Bristolian Syntax

There’s not much to the Bristolian syntax in terms of complexity, so there are only a few things to know about:

  • Bristolians like to add a word or a phrase at the end of their sentence for various reasons (Carlisle 2016):

mind – ‘mind’ is used at the end of sentences to emphasize a certain point (Bennet 2015): We wasn’t doing anything wrong, mind.

innit – also ‘innum’, as in ‘isn’t it?’ used most often in a  rhetorical form: Proper cold, innit?

like – also ‘proper like’ used with a rising intonation: I was walking down to Cribbs, like.

Also used at the end of sentences: see and then (Carlisle 2016).

  • As mentioned before, there is also a tendency to add the word ‘to’ at the end of phrases to denote direction: Where’s the park to? (Carlisle 2016)




http://www.thedialectdictionary.com/view/letter/Bristol/ (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

Bennet, L. 2015. 18 expressions you’ll hear a born and bred Bristolian babble. (Accessed on 16.01.2017)

Carlisle, M. 2016. What’s ee Chatbout? Some thoughts on Bristolian English. (Accessed on 16.01.2017)


Bristolian Grammar

Many unique Bristolian grammatical features stem from the historical usage of the English language.

  • The form ‘bist‘ is used in the place of ‘are’ in the second person. This feature stems from Germanic roots of the English language. In addition, the form ‘bis‘ is used in first person:

I bis making a proper mess – I am making a great mess.

  • The occasional use of ‘be’ in present forms:

Where ee be hiding? – Where is he hiding?

  • The historical form ‘thee’ is contracted to ‘ee’ to denote third person (Carlisle 2016):

Ark at ee! – Listen to him!

  • The use of ‘to’ at the end of a phrase to denote location (Carlisle 2016):

Where’s that to? – Where is that?

  • The use of ‘me’ instead of ‘my’ to denote possession:

I love me family – I love my family.

There’s also some occasional systematic deviation from the standard subject-verb agreement in the plural forms (British Library – Grammatical Variation):

They was coming down the road.

We was looking at the telly.

You was talking to that boy.



Carlisle, M. 2016. What’s ee Chatbout? Some thoughts on Bristolian English. (Accessed on 16.01.2017)


On Bristolian Lexis

The Bristolian vocabulary might be one of the most colourful in the whole of UK. From thanking your bus driver, to greeting a friend, Bristol has the most original way to express oneself.

Here are some of the main phrases that a true Bristolian should know:

‘Alright, my luvver?’  –  Hello, how are you? (although it might be intended as a rhetorical question as well)

‘Yer!’  –  Excuse me, please.

‘Litlun’  –  Little one, child.

‘Benny’  –  Lose one’s temper.

‘Ark at ee!’  –  Listen to you/him/her.

‘Keener’  –  A clever or enthusiastic person.

‘Gert lush’  –  Rather nice.

‘Cheers, drive!’  –  Thank you kindly, bus driver!

‘That’s proper’  –  That’s good.

‘In a bit’  –  Goodbye.


There are also some phrases that are culturally relevant exclusively in Bristol:


‘Triangle’  –  An area at the top of Park Street, made up almost entirely of bars.

‘Jason Donervan’  –  An infamous kebab van in Bristol. It is located in the Triangle.

‘Cribbs’  –  The mall and surrounding shops at Cribbs causeway.

‘Gashead’  –  Bristol Rovers football fan.

‘Sadly broke’  –  A rhyme for Bradley Stoke, a residential area in north Bristol that suffered in the property price crash in the late 80’s to early 90’s.

‘Scrumpy / glider’  –  Cider (which Bristol is famous for).


Some Bristolians even put a twist on already existing phrases to make them more unique to their culture that may also in respect reflect certain phonetic aspects relevant to the study:


‘Jeerme?’ – [dƷi:rmi:] –  Did you hear me?

‘Mazen’ –  [meızın] –  Amazing (ending -ing becomes pronounced as [ın], dropping of unstressed initial ‘ǝ’).

‘Oh Ah!’  –  Oh really?

‘Peepaw’ – [pi:pɔ:]  –  People (may be explained by the terminal L shifting the end of a word to -awl).

‘Scaw’ – [skɔ:]  –  School (terminal L shifting the end of a word to -awl).

‘Ungray’ – [ʌŋgri]  –  Hungry (h-dropping).

‘Yewman’ – [ju:mǝn]  –  Human (h-dropping).

‘Zider’ – [zaıdǝʳ]  –  Cider (Bristolian voicing of initial fricatives).

‘Fotawl’ – [foʊtɔ:l]  –  Photograph (explained by the terminal L).



http://www.thedialectdictionary.com/view/letter/Bristol/page1/?view=standard (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/23-phrases-bristol-understand/story-26058369-detail/story.html (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

Bennet, L. 2015. 18 expressions you’ll hear a born and bred Bristolian babble (Accessed on 16.01.2017)

Carlisle, M. 2016. What’s ee Chatbout? Some thoughts on Bristolian English (Accessed on 16.01.2017)

Woodward, E. 2014. 18 Words that have a Completely Different Meaning in Bristol (Accessed on 17.01.2017)


Phonetic Features

There are some phonetic features that apply to the city of Bristol as well as to a more wide West Country dialect, and there are those that are unique to the city.

Among the wider features are:

  • Rhoticity ( /r/ is pronounced in words like car, mark and shower, much like in modern American English). The vowels coming before r become r-coloured ([kɑ:ʳ], [mɑ:rk], [ʃaʊǝʳ]).
  • Variable H-dropping (Had you eaten? becomes ‘Ad you eaten?). Some words are pronounced without the initial H (happy – [æpi]).
  • Initial fricative voicing (seven becomes pronounced as [zevǝn]). In the flow of speech West Country speakers might sporadically pronounce normally voiceless fricatives (f, θ, s, ʃ) as voiced (v, ð, z, Ʒ).
  • Optional elision of final /t, d/ (sand – [sæ:n]) – final consonants are lost in the flow of speech.

Features unique to Bristol:

  • Terminal L, also called the Bristol L. A final L appears in words otherwise ending in /ǝ/, shifting it to end in -awl (area becomes areal and idea becomes ideal).
  • Loss of contrast between /θ/ and /f/ (mouth is pronounced as [maʊf], thanks – [fæŋks]).
  • Ending -ing becomes pronounced as [ın] (thinking – [θınkın]).
  • Words anything, something, nothing have an ending [ıŋk].
  • The glottal stop [ʔ] may represent [t] before a pause (Bu’er – butter, fu’bol – football).

There are not very prominent vowel changes as the Bristol vowel system tends to be very close to RP than one would find in a West Country accent.



http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/research/gsound/Eng/Database/Phonetics/Englishes/Home/HomeMainFrameHolder.htm (Accessed on 18.01.2017)

Wells, J. C. 1981. Accents of English. Vol. 2: The British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pirate Accent?

There has been some speculation over where the archetypal modern pirate accent came from. There is a solid theory that the accent is actually Bristolian in origin (The Guardian 2010).

Looking into it, many English pirates actually came from the West Country region. It is not that surprising knowing the history of this region, as especially Bristol was heavily involved in trading with the West Indies at the time. Famous pirates like Long John Silver and Robert Teach (aka Blackbeard) were supposedly born in Bristol, so when Disney set out to produce movies “Treasure Island” (1950) and “Blackbeard the Pirate” (1952) they appointed one and the same actor for both of the roles – Robert Newton (Trawick-Smith 2011). Newton was born in Dorset, England, which is very close to Bristol. So it’s safe to say he knew the West Country accent really well and he consequently used it in those two films.

Allegedly, this was how the pirate accent was born, as Newton continued to portray the two famous pirates in subsequent pirate movies.

It may be possible that if Disney had perhaps not cast Robert Newton, the pirate accent would have never become the way it’s perceived today. If it is, in fact, an accurate theory, it’s fascinating that just one actor could have such an influence on popular perceptions of a certain kind of character.

There is even an international Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is proclaimed September 19. If you would like to talk like a pirate, visit this site, or learn to speak it yourself:




https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2010/mar/10/pirates-notes-and-queries (Accessed on 15.01.2017)

http://postlikeapirate.com (Accessed on 15.01.2017)

Trawick-Smith, B. 2011. The Origins of the Pirate Accent. (Accessed on 15.01.2017)


Is Bristol Losing Its Regional Accents?

It is said that every neighbourhood in Bristol has its own regional variations of the dialect. A true Bristolian supposedly can decide where in Bristol a person is from just by hearing them speak.

However, Academics at the University of Bristol have decided on a five-year study to determine if such variations really exist (Ashcroft 2016). If they do, they are going to be mapped out according to specific neighbourhoods of the city as well as some surrounding towns.

The problem that Bristol might be facing is the inner-city migration, where people move around according to job opportunities, causing the regional dialects to merge. But can it eventually turn into just “one generic sound” (Ashcroft 2016)?

The study is going to be carried out by a PhD student Katiuska Ferrer. Her supervisor Dr James Hawkey claims that research already shows the disappearance of “the famous Bristolian (terminal) L” (Emanuel 2016). However, he also confidently states that the characteristic rhoticity of the West Country accent isn’t going anywhere.

While the research on the topic of Bristolian regional accents has just begun for Katiuska, she reveals that the pilot study has already reaped some results. She says it suggests that the difference between the north and the south of Bristol lies in the degree of rhoticity, that is, this feature seems to be more prominent in the south (Pennok 2017). Some other differences appear in slang and tone as well.


Ashcroft, E. 2016. Is Bristol losing its regional accents? (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

Emanuel, L. 2016. Is Bristol losing its accent? (Accessed on 10.02.2017)

Pennok, L. 2017. True Bristolians needed for study into difference between accents of north and south Bristol. (Accessed on 10.02.2017)

Bristolian Celebrities and Characters

Now let’s look into some of the famous Bristolian or West Country celebrities and characters.

First up, a Bristol born controversial TV personality and comedian Justin Lee Collins:

Another personality responsible of popularizing the Bristolian slang and accent is Stephen Merchant:

Former Blackpool FC manager Ian Holloway is also famous for his Bristolian soundbites and amusing interviews:

There were also a lot of attempts at stereotypical Bristolian characters in television and cinema. As mentioned in the previous post, the dialect was used to create often rural stereotypes of lovable characters. Such is the case with Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies:

And finally, the character of Vicky Pollard in the TV series Little Britain has brought back loads of Bristolian phrases back on television:

Perception of Bristolian

As a general rule, people tend to be ashamed of their more rural dialects. Such was the case with the West Country dialect until something strange happened. Bristol has become a “melting pot” of various cultures as the people moved in from all over Britain and the rest of the world. The dialect has become more fashionable, with Bristol or West Country specific phrases like “gert lush” or “cheers drive” becoming more prominent among younger crowds (Kasprzak 2012). In fact, while in past the dialect has been used to portray uneducated or more rural folks (for example Hagrid from Harry Potter), it has become common to be proud of one’s Bristolian heritage, bearing t-shirts with the phrases and sayings as a way to identify in a crowd of people.

The new found popularity of the dialect has come with some notable Bristolians not being ashamed to speak their accent. Among these are comedian Stephen Merchant, Blackpool FC manager Ian Holloway, and TV personality Justin Lee Collins. But we’ll talk about the celebrities of Bristol soon enough.

Furthermore, Bristolian was deemed the fifth sexiest accent in the UK by a recent poll (Ashcroft 2015):

As the most popular West Country dialect, Bristolian has indeed redeemed itself as new interest spiked in the uniqueness of its vocabulary as well as other features.

However, in a blind dating test held against Received Pronunciation, Bristolian didn’t stand a chance – the fellow using this sort of accent was usually guessed to be a member of the working class (BBC Inside Out – Battle of the Brogues).



http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/west/series7/accents.shtml (Accessed on 17.01.2017)

Ashcroft, E. 2015. West Country is fifth sexiest accent in the UK (Accessed on 23.01.2015)

Kasprzak, E. 2012. Yeah but no but: Is the Bristol Accent Gert Lush? (Accessed on 17.01.2017)



History of the Dialect and its Geographical Distribution

West Country actually refers to several accents of South England spanning from the Northern Wales almost up to London. This includes the Bristolian accent as well (Trawick-Smith 2011).

It is speculated that the name of the city of Bristol stems from the most famous linguistic feature of the accent, called “the Bristol L”. While in the old Saxon language “Brigg stow” stood for “meeting place at the bridge” (Lambert – Local Histories), the unique shift changed unstressed vowel endings of words to -awl, in turn changing the city’s name to “Bristol” (Ashcroft 2016).

Many people don’t realise that a lot of the great travelers came from Bristol even before Columbus or James Cook were even born. In fact, in Middle Ages Bristol thrived on exporting various items, such as wool, rope, lead, sailcloth and many more (Lambert – Local Histories).

In 1497 John Cabot, originally an Italian explorer living in Bristol (Biography.com), went to Newfoundland and established new fishing grounds there. After he declared the land for King Henry VII, Britain attained  the aim of becoming a colonial power in 16th and 17th centuries (Biography.com).

In the 17th century Bristol became very successful in trading with the West Indies. A lot of it had to do with the great position that Bristol was in as it was off the west coast of England (Lambert – Local Histories).

The history of trading and the mixing and mingling of different nationalities in Bristol may as well brought upon many changes to the original dialect. But the most interesting result of it is the development of the public perception of the modern-day pirate accent. But more on that later on…




Lambert, T. – localhistories.org/bristol.html (Accessed on 14.01.2017)

http://www.biography.com/people/john-cabot-9234057 (Accessed on 09.02.2017)

Trawick-Smith, B. 2011. British Accents (Accessed on 16.01.2017)

Ashcroft, E. 2016. Is Bristol losing its regional accents?  (Accessed on 17.01.2017)