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Facebook helps Westcountry's weird words spread all around the world

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: September 18, 2010

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Age-old dialects are reaching beyond their geographical boundaries with the rise of social networking sites which are blurring the traditional borders of language.

Words and phrases, such as "dreckly" in Cornwall, and the Westcountry term "ansome", which help cement regional identity and give areas their own individual charm, are now blending into everyday language use across the UK.

Language specialists have found that Westcountry words and phrases are entering common usage across the country as dialects enjoy a resurgence thanks to social networking sites.

Dr Eric Schleef, lecturer in English Sociolinguistics at Manchester University, said: "Dialects were traditionally passed on relatively slowly through spoken language.

"But social changes such as the speed of modern communication mean they are spreading much faster than they would have.

"Twitter, Facebook and texting all encourage speed and immediacy of understanding, meaning users type as they speak, using slang, dialect respellings and colloquialisms.

"The result is we are all becoming exposed to words we may not have otherwise encountered, while absorbing them into everyday speech."

The discovery was revealed as language experts from around the world gathered at a university to discuss saving the world's endangered languages.

Cornish, which has an estimated 400 native speakers, has been included in the discussion.

About 6,000 different languages are spoken around the world.

However, the Foundation for Endangered Languages estimates that between 500 and 1,000 of those are spoken by only a handful of people. Each year, it is estimated that the world loses about 25 mother tongues.

The conference held this week in Carmarthen, west Wales, organised by the foundation, has been attended by about 100 academics who have been discussing whether or not "dying languages" should be saved, and how. Some academics argue that it is irrational to try to preserve all the world's languages because languages adapt and evolve over time according to shifts in culture and, for a language to survive, it has to be one in which enough people participate.

However, there is evidence to suggest that far from dying out, the part of language which forms regional dialect is actually growing stronger, due to the rapid rise of social media and instant messaging among other cultural phenomenon.

Professor Catherine Leyshon, from the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus, said: "The English language is one of the most mobile and adaptable languages in the world, forged by centuries of encounters with and modifications by other languages.

"The lexicon of regionally distinctive phrases is an exceptionally rich part of this history.

"Despite decades of globalisation, regional distinctiveness and local identities continue to remain strong, cherished by those who are born into them and those who adopt them.

"The development of Twitter and Facebook may be seen as an acceleration of existing processes of globalisation, but are unlikely to diminish people's sense of attachment to distinctive places, cultures and dialects.

"Meanwhile, the Cornish in particular have a long history of successfully exporting elements of Cornish dialect, traditions and industry to far flung places which are currently celebrated through the many Cornish societies worldwide."

"So the development of Facebook and Twitter may provide opportunities to promote regional dialects."

Linguists suggest the increased speed at which people communicate with each other on the internet appears to make them more likely to lapse into colloquialisms.

Then, because of the reach of the web and the vast social networks in which we now swap ideas and language, these terms are quickly picked by others and their use is copied across the country at an unprecedented rate.

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    Charles Henry 1945-(diuturnity), Somersetshire  |  September 19 2010, 9:30AM

    :) Well you certainly seem to know a lot about rubbish Spyke, but not much else apparently. You can be sure he learned all about the Scousers though can't you. I joined the army when I was 17 and a half. . My 'best mate' was a Scouser. . It was the first time that I really realised how differently we all all spoke and why everyone thinks of us all as yocals in the South West. . Some dialects are more infectious than others it's true, and once your accent has been set its unlikely to change much. Cockney Emmetts rarely lose their accent for instance have you noticed? . How old were you when you first came to live down 'ar way' then 'you'? . Time living in Wales in the early years will completely soften a Westcountry accent and can make it sound 'home counties'. Of course you do have to be taught to speak properly in the first place. I know that you believe you understood what you think I wrote Spyke, but I'm not sure you realize that how you interpreted it was really what I meant. But that's the problem with emails isn't it. . Best Charles

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    spyke, fullmouth  |  September 18 2010, 10:35PM

    Rubbish Charles Henry. I've lived in Cornwall for 30 years and still don't sound even remotely Cornish. My son went to Liverpool University and didn't come back sounding like a scouser. As to your believe what you hear thing, your right, what you say is not what you mean.

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    Charles Henry 1945-(diuturnity), Somersetshire  |  September 18 2010, 10:48AM

    :| A fanciful notion of Dr Eric Schleef's, but I question the reality. . Seeing the written words and hearing them spoken are completely different things. . Those who ever had young relatives spend time studying in places like Birmingham will know they can very quickly become 'native' and start sounding like Brummies . One of the problems with emailing is how very easily misunderstandings can and do occur. . . The old adage "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I¿m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." comes to mind.