Pronouncing the letter R at the end of words is a dying feature of England’s regional accents, researchers at Lancaster University found – part of a broader trend for accents to become more homogenized.
Speakers in Blackburn, a town near Manchester, traditionally pronounce the R at the end of words, so that ‘stella’ and ‘stellar’ sound different – but young people there are losing the habit.
In England, dropping the last R is linked to cultural prestige – in America, it’s the other way around
Most English speakers in England don’t pronounce the last ‘r’ in words – a linguistic feature known as rhoticity that is deeply intertwined with class. Historic prejudice against working class and regional accents is still rife in the U.K., with teachers with Northern accents coming under pressure to ‘posh up’ to be seen as more professional in the classroom, The Conversation reported. Up until the eighteenth century all English accents were ‘rhotic’ – but then dropping the last ‘r’ to say “caaa” instead of ‘carrr’, for example, began to be associated with cultural prestige. In the U.S., the advent of mass radio and television in the 1900s preserved the ‘r’, and rhotic speech – most prevalent in northern and western states, less so in the South – became viewed as the more prestigious variety.
Linguistic changes that used to take years can now happen in weeks
The explosive growth of social media has contributed to the disappearance of traditional accents and a move towards linguistic homogenization, as internet trends rush into the mainstream. A recent example is “rizz”, slang for “charisma” – and which also means “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner”. Propelled by memes and social media, it rapidly entered the Gen Z lexicon, becoming Oxford University Press’s Word of the Year in 2023. “Stories of linguistic evolution and expansion that used to take years can now take weeks or months," said the OUP’s Casper Grathwohl.
The merging of accents is a widespread phenomenon
Accents in England are so diverse that towns located ten miles apart can sound distinct – but an emerging ‘general northern English’, driven by urbanization, is blurring these together into speech that sounds softer and more similar, linguists told The Guardian. In the U.S., Southern accents are disappearing, researchers from the University of Georgia told NPR, with Gen Z in those states dropping the famous drawl for a pan-regional accent common across the rest of the country. Meanwhile, uptalk – a distinctive vocal rise at the end of sentences – was once associated with California’s Valley girls but is now spreading across genders, ethnicities and the socio-economic spectrum in the U.S., reported Esquire.