Scilly Voices: Language Variation and Distinctiveness on the Isles of Scilly

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sch of English Lit, Lang and Linguistics

Abstract

This project will investigate the variety of English spoken by the population of the Isles of Scilly (a group of islands 28 miles off Land's End, Cornwall). Census data shows considerable continuity in the original Scillonian population from the nineteenth century onwards, however, it also shows a steady flow of immigration, with incomers accounting for approximately one fifth of the local population. These population shifts have occurred alongside significant changes to the local economy: once sustained by fishing and farming industries, the islands' predominant industry is now tourism. These economic and demographic shifts make Scilly a fruitful environment in which to examine the processes involved in language variation. In particular, the islands' location permits us to examine the nature of insular communities and the influence of complex social structures. This will not only enhance our understanding of 'a lesser-known variety of English' (Trudgill 2002: 29), it will also help us to further understand the correlation between social networks, traditional practices, family ties, heritage and language change.

The historical trajectory of Scilly's variety of English will be documented by first seeking to establish the variety's genealogy. Recordings held in the Isles of Scilly Museum's Oral History Archive suggest that there are similarities between Scillonian English and Cornish English, but these connections were not observed in historical accounts of the dialect (including an academic account of Scillonian English written in 1979 by Charles Thomas). In order to examine this apparent language change, the interaction between language production and what individuals perceive about the variety and its historical associations will be considered. The demographic and diachronic distribution of language features will be considered, and the folklinguistic ways in which these features are perceived will be studied. The analysis will use recordings of elderly speakers held in the Oral History Archive, and compare these with present-day interviews recorded with speakers of different generations from the same Scillonian family. Attitudes to the dialect will be considered via on-line tests where locals, tourists and those who have never been to Scilly are asked to evaluate the localities and social attributes associated with the voice samples they hear. In taking these approaches, this project will demonstrate methods for combining production and perception-based studies of language variation.

This project builds upon previous collaborations between the principal investigator and the Isles of Scilly Museum, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Five Islands School and the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership. As such, it innovatively embeds the research in a history of knowledge exchange. This relationship will be key to fully understanding how language features correlate with the social life of speech communities. The AONB Management Plan (2010-2014: 28) highlights the importance of consultation and notes that 'Scilly has rich and varied cultural associations that span politics, religion, art, literature, folklore, local tradition and lifestyles.' By combining ethnographic insights into the community, engaging community members (via archive recordings and community collaboration) and gaining access to the historical documentation relating to Scilly held by on the islands, this project will achieve a comprehensive understanding of Scilly's sociolinguistic context and serve as an exemplar of publicly engaged sociolinguistic research.

Planned Impact

The direct beneficiary of this project will be the Scillonian community it studies. The Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit are responsible for protecting Scilly's environment whilst supporting an environmentally sustainable economy. This is no easy task, given the need to preserve heritage in an environment which is maintained by a resource-hungry, tourism-based economy. Their Management Plan (2010-2014: 28) notes that, 'The national significance of the Islands lies not only in their exceptional physical qualities but also in the cultural associations that have propelled Scilly to a prominent position on the national stage'. Ensuring Scilly's sustainability requires coherent datasets, which monitor cultural factors and measure actual or potential change. The language variation analysed in this project will serve as a measure of the stability of Scilly's population. In particular, in correlating language use and social factors such as migration, education and tourism, this project will provide a dataset useful for future planning on the islands. This is important, given the relationship between the AONB and Scilly's unitary authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly (statutory responsibility for care of the AONB designation resides with the Council).

The project will also help to promote social inclusion on the islands. There is sometimes a perception expressed by islanders that institutional bodies on the islands make decisions without fully consulting the local population (see, for instance, this debate reported in the national press: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-battle-of-hell-bay-690722.html). This leads to the perception that the normal citizen is excluded from the decisions which often govern how they live their lives on a day-to-day basis. By engaging a representative sample of the population as interviewees, and drawing upon the insights of locals, this project will effectively provide the opportunity for the people of Scilly to represent themselves in their own words. In this way, where policy is informed by this piece of research, it will be based upon the experience of individuals from the local population. Furthermore, copies of the recordings obtained as part of this project will be held at the Isles of Scilly Museum, thus ensuring that the primary data stays within the community as a historical and informative resource. As the fieldworker employed on the project is a local, this will also ensure that the skills s/he acquires in the course of the data collection also stay within the community. Finally, the website will remain as a resource after the completion of the project and will continue to generate interest and inform in line with the collaborative aims of the project.

Whilst the immediate beneficiaries of this research are the local population of Scilly, the methods employed in this study could be adapted for future sociolinguistic research in any community, as discussed further in the Pathways to Impact statement. Consequently, this project has the potential to impact far beyond the Scillonian community. In particular, the project illustrates the ways in which sociolinguistic research can directly inform aspects of public policy, particularly where policy decisions are based upon social, historical or cultural change within a community. The project also provides a template for activities which help to foster community cohesion via knowledge exchange. In particular, it will demonstrate how digital and electronic resources can be used to involve community members, and rapidly and accessibly disseminate research findings. Finally, the project will also demonstrate how by-products of the research process (in this case, interviews) can be usefully redeployed as community resources. This project will serve to model these activities which could be made integral
 
Description The project has investigated how the variety spoken on the Isles of Scilly has developed and changed over time. It has revealed that the variety has links to Cornish English (and other varieties in the South West of England) but that the islands' unique history and environment has caused its language to develop independently from mainland varieties. The research also showed how different groups of islanders use language in distinct ways to identify themselves as particular kinds of 'Scillonians'. That is to say, there are slightly different ways of using language on the Isles of Scilly, and these different ways can be used to mark individuals as particular kinds of people. Language use also links to education, gender and to different kinds of social activities and ways of behaving. We also investigated how language use on the Isles of Scilly has changed over time. We found that older islanders retain some 'old-fashioned' forms of language, but that these are reducing over time. This means that islanders may be sounding less distinct than in the past. Our study shows that there are strong links between the language people use and their relationship to the place associated with a local dialect. These processes operate even in small, seemingly homogeneous regions and locations. This has broader implications on our understanding of how language links to social factors. Our research also investigated how people perceive the Scillonian dialect. That is to say, we explored what people think of individuals who speak using the variety of English spoken on the Isles of Scilly. We found that the variety is quite favourably perceived (people like how it sounds, and attribute positive characteristics to its speakers). However, we also found that the topic a person is discussing has a strong effect on how the accent is perceived and which accent features are noticed when someone talks. Some topics (such as farming) make people hear South Western features in the Scillonian dialect. However, more neutral topics (such as the discussion of childhood or everyday activities) mean that South Western features are not recognised. Our findings on this topic help us to understand precisely how this variety of English is perceived, but they also help us to understand the processes involved in perceiving language variation more generally. This is because we developed a new method for evaluating listeners' reactions to speech. This new method allowed us to measure how listeners react to language at the moment that they hear it and to measure how this varies across a sample of talk. This method could be applied to learn more about speech processing.
Exploitation Route Our findings add to our understanding of how social meanings become attached to language use. They demonstrate that the social meanings attached to language can be varied and that some meanings are very specifically linked to the environment in which a particular accent is found. This means we can better understand how the way individuals speak might provoke strong reactions or even lead to social inequality. Our findings also help us to understand how and why languages might change over time. This is useful because it provides information which explains how social and cultural factors effect communities and provides a measure of these effects over time. Our methods for analysing speech perception can be utilised in further work to learn more about the way in which language variation is processed. This may help us to better develop sociolinguistic theories of cognition.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description So far, our project findings have been used to help a local community to engage with academic research processes, using participative methods to create innovative co-produced linguistic data. Our research has also better informed this community about the social significance of language in order to increase ownership of local language forms. We have also framed research differently through podcasts and community engagement, and produced a legacy archive of recordings which can be used as a social and historical record for the community studied.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description European Visiting Fellowship
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 02/2017
 
Title Capturing, visualising, and querying listeners' real-time reactions to voice samples 
Description The tool enables us to better capture how people evaluate variation in the language they hear. Via a web interface, respondents listen to voice samples. Listeners are instructed to listen to the samples and to click their mouse button when they hear salient linguistic information. After this mouse click test, listeners review their clicks using a transcript and an extract of the recording from the time of their click. They are then invited to say why they had clicked when they had. This allows the researchers to query the data. All the data is made available in an online web viewer. It comprises a scatter graph. Each dot on the graph represents a click by a listener and is able to be queried. Data can be filtered by a range of demographic criteria, allowing us to query (for example) whether people from one region or gender respond differently to others when reacting to the voice samples. Using the viewer enables researchers to examine the salience of specific features, the reaction times of different listeners, and the effect of topic on dialect perception. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The tool has received interest from international scholars, following the presentation of this tool at the AVML conference in Germany, and the end-of-project workshop. We are currently working on developing a collaborative project with academics from Europe to continue to develop this tool and make it more widely available. It has also been used by a PGR student at Sheffield to investigate perceptions of Cornish English. 
 
Title Scilly Voices archive 
Description This a collection of interviews with islanders living on the Isles of Scilly. Some of these are archive recordings which have been digitised, and there are new recordings that have been collected as part of this research project. In these interviews, people are asked to talk about their childhood, their schooling, and key island events in their lifetime. They are also asked their opinions on whether or not there is a Scillonian dialect. At the end of the interview, we ask them to read a list of words which helps us to identify the vowel sounds that islanders use. This is allowing us to record any differences in language varieties across groups of islanders. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This archive is linked to the Isles of Scilly Museum's holdings. 
URL https://www.dhi.ac.uk/scillyvoices/
 
Description Salient Language in Context (SLIC) 
Organisation Queen Mary University of London
Department Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project involves five researchers working in various communities across Europe and aims to investigate the way in which non-linguists respond to features of speech in real time. To do so, it will continue to develop a tool that allows us to capture listeners' reactions to speech in real time, building on the methods first developed in the AHRC project reported on here.
Collaborator Contribution All partners are providing an intellectual contribution to the project. The project brings together researchers with complementary expertise in speech perception (Evans, see Evans & Iverson, 2004, 2007; Adank, Evans et al., 2009; McCarthy et al., 2013, 2014), sociolinguistic cognition (Levon, see Levon 2014; Levon & Fox 2014; Levon & Buchstaller 2015), perceptual dialectology and language regard (Montgomery, see Montgomery 2012; 2014), language variation and social meaning (Moore, see Moore and Podesva 2009; Moore and Carter 2015), and experimental sociophonetics (Pharao, see Pharao et al. 2014, Maegaard & Pharao 2016).
Impact A funding application was submitted to the AHRC in December 2017
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salient Language in Context (SLIC) 
Organisation University College London
Department Institute for Women's Health
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project involves five researchers working in various communities across Europe and aims to investigate the way in which non-linguists respond to features of speech in real time. To do so, it will continue to develop a tool that allows us to capture listeners' reactions to speech in real time, building on the methods first developed in the AHRC project reported on here.
Collaborator Contribution All partners are providing an intellectual contribution to the project. The project brings together researchers with complementary expertise in speech perception (Evans, see Evans & Iverson, 2004, 2007; Adank, Evans et al., 2009; McCarthy et al., 2013, 2014), sociolinguistic cognition (Levon, see Levon 2014; Levon & Fox 2014; Levon & Buchstaller 2015), perceptual dialectology and language regard (Montgomery, see Montgomery 2012; 2014), language variation and social meaning (Moore, see Moore and Podesva 2009; Moore and Carter 2015), and experimental sociophonetics (Pharao, see Pharao et al. 2014, Maegaard & Pharao 2016).
Impact A funding application was submitted to the AHRC in December 2017
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salient Language in Context (SLIC) 
Organisation University of Copenhagen
Department Department of Chemistry
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project involves five researchers working in various communities across Europe and aims to investigate the way in which non-linguists respond to features of speech in real time. To do so, it will continue to develop a tool that allows us to capture listeners' reactions to speech in real time, building on the methods first developed in the AHRC project reported on here.
Collaborator Contribution All partners are providing an intellectual contribution to the project. The project brings together researchers with complementary expertise in speech perception (Evans, see Evans & Iverson, 2004, 2007; Adank, Evans et al., 2009; McCarthy et al., 2013, 2014), sociolinguistic cognition (Levon, see Levon 2014; Levon & Fox 2014; Levon & Buchstaller 2015), perceptual dialectology and language regard (Montgomery, see Montgomery 2012; 2014), language variation and social meaning (Moore, see Moore and Podesva 2009; Moore and Carter 2015), and experimental sociophonetics (Pharao, see Pharao et al. 2014, Maegaard & Pharao 2016).
Impact A funding application was submitted to the AHRC in December 2017
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salient Language in Context (SLIC) 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Department of Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project involves five researchers working in various communities across Europe and aims to investigate the way in which non-linguists respond to features of speech in real time. To do so, it will continue to develop a tool that allows us to capture listeners' reactions to speech in real time, building on the methods first developed in the AHRC project reported on here.
Collaborator Contribution All partners are providing an intellectual contribution to the project. The project brings together researchers with complementary expertise in speech perception (Evans, see Evans & Iverson, 2004, 2007; Adank, Evans et al., 2009; McCarthy et al., 2013, 2014), sociolinguistic cognition (Levon, see Levon 2014; Levon & Fox 2014; Levon & Buchstaller 2015), perceptual dialectology and language regard (Montgomery, see Montgomery 2012; 2014), language variation and social meaning (Moore, see Moore and Podesva 2009; Moore and Carter 2015), and experimental sociophonetics (Pharao, see Pharao et al. 2014, Maegaard & Pharao 2016).
Impact A funding application was submitted to the AHRC in December 2017
Start Year 2016
 
Description Invited talk (RAI): "Defining 'a sense of place': Working with local communities to explore the social meaning of language variation" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A talk at the Linguistic Anthropology Seminar Series, Royal Anthropological Institute, London. The audience largely consisted on non-linguistics and its aim was to help public and scientific understandings of Linguistic Anthropology.

I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and asked to contribute to a working group on Linguistic Anthropology. The aims of this group are to increase understandings of this discipline.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Project podcasts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In April 2014, I worked with the local radio station in the community studied for this project, Radio Scilly, to produce a series of podcasts about the project, and about language and identity more generally. These were broadcast to the the radio's audience and subsequently archived to be accessible after this initial broadcast.


We received several enquiries about the project and were able to encourage 100 people to take part in a perception experiment that we ran on-line.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2014
URL http://www.scillytoday.com/2014/04/10/history-of-the-scillonian-dialect-studied/
 
Description Radio Cornwall interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview about the use of the Cornish dialect in historical TV dramas. The interview was used to generate debate amongst the listeners.

After the interview, the radio station was able to generate listener debate about local dialects, which increased social awareness about dialect variation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio feature about the project on the radio station which serves the community research participants and online listeners outside the community

Radio interview about the project, targeting the community participants. Radio Scilly is a local station but it can also be heard on-line so has an audience beyond the community studied in the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://archive.today/a4cS