In Norfolk but not in Suffolk, cute is pronounced the same way as coot; beauty like booty and so on; this is known by linguists as yod-dropping (dropping the ‘y’ sound before a vowel). Interestingly, one village just across the border bucks this trend. Ilketshall in northern Suffolk shares this Norfolk feature along with several others – a useful reminder that dialect does not respect political or administrative borders. Instead, dialectologists draw their own maps, like this one, using lines called isoglosses to represent language use in different geographical areas.
Yod-dropping and schwa in East Anglia
Another distinctive feature of East Anglian English is the pronunciation of the ends of certain words. Words like biscuit, horses, wanted and David are pronounced with a ‘weak’ vowel called a schwa at the end. Rabbit therefore rhymes with abbot (rather than with habit) and word pairs such as Rosa’s and roses are pronounced identically. Another instantly recognisable feature is the pronunciation of words like mice and light with an ‘oi’ sound. Both of these features are also found in Australian English, which is probably why East Anglian English is so often said to sound curiously Antipodean.
In terms of grammar, perhaps the most widespread feature characterising East Anglian English is what linguists call ‘zero marking’ in the third person present-tense singular form: in other words, you’re likely to hear ‘she go’ and ‘he say’ rather than ‘she goes’ and ‘he says’.
A feature that is often mistakenly attributed to East Anglia is rhoticity, or the pronunciation of the r sound after a vowel, as in words like summer, park, and early. This feature is common in North American, Scottish and Irish Englishes, but is now absent from most dialects in England. It is still found in parts of the West Country, but not at all in East Anglia. Nevertheless, this feature has come to represent a generic ‘rural south’ stereotype for many people, and so it is often used in impersonations of East Anglian speech, or in film and television representations, much to the frustration of East Anglians. A notable exception is the actor Ralph Fiennes’ recent performance in the film The Dig (2021). His mastery of a Suffolk accent in his portrayal of the archaeologist-excavator Basil Brown has been praised for its authenticity.