An interesting question was put to me this week. The original reference was to the miners from Wales moving to the Midlands in order to find work in the coal fields of Staffordshire. As they would tend to congregate with others of their own culture, how many generations would it take for their Welsh accent to be replaced by the local Black Country tones?
Such is not really my area of expertise but I was reminded of two occasions when the voices did not match what was expected before the speakers opened their mouths. The first was at school when a couple of brothers joined our numbers having recently moved when the family needed to find work. Both brothers were of Indian parentage, each excellent scholars, and spoke with a very broad accent which made them difficult to understand – it was pure Glaswegian. The second instance came much later, when I visited an old friend and his family. They had moved to Leeds from Birmingham and while both parents were clearly Midlanders, their two sons sounded as if they had been raised by Amos Brearley from Emmerdale.
Another involved in the aforementioned conversation had had some experience of this. A young lady who had spent some time in Italy told how it was clearly our children who picked up the accents from their peers and not their parents.
This does show why successive generations speak virtually in a code and language all of their own. For example the baddie was obvious The Wizard of Oz when it was first seen on the big screen, but would today’s generation see the Wicked Witch of the West as the trendiest character in the story?
It did indicate how quickly accents and even use of words can change and shows how old written records, in my case particularly those of place names, can be influenced in the phonetic spelling by something which can never be a gradual change.