Dialects do not just disappear or die. Like other elements of culture, they shift and change with time and are affected by many factors. When people move to towns and cities and then out again, a process of ‘dialect levelling’ can occur. 

In other words, dialects can sometimes become less distinct from each other. Linguists refer to this as supralocalisation, and this has happened to some extent in the South-East because of migration in and out of London, leading to the new south-eastern variety known as Estuary English. But this isn’t dialect death; it’s more a process of merging and re-alignment. In other words, dialects can become more like their neighbours in some ways over time, but they don’t disappear altogether, and new ones can form too. 

One fascinating example of a new dialect is Multicultural London English (MLE). MLE formed over the last 50 years as a result of contact between different languages and dialects in London’s culturally diverse neighbourhoods – particularly Cockney and varieties of English from the Caribbean.

In keeping with tradition

Alongside new varieties, traditional dialect still survives and thrives in the South-East. This is especially true in rural, inland areas because, like the people who use them, linguistic innovations from London tend to ‘skip over’ these places and head straight for coastal towns and cities. For example, this means that a speaker from Brighton might sound similar to a Londoner, while someone from rural East Sussex or Hampshire is likely to have a more distinctive dialect.

This is clearly the case in Hatherden, Hampshire, where Charlie Dudman was recorded speaking about his work with sheep and as a gardener in 1959. In this recording, you can hear an excellent example of a traditional south-eastern accent. Charlie has some classic pronunciation features typical of rural Hampshire, including rhoticity (pronouncing the r sound after a vowel), h-dropping, (not producing the h at the beginning of a word) and t-glottalling (notice how he pronounces the consonant in the middle of the word butter). Listen out for dialect vocabulary too; Charlie talks about pea hucks (pods) and cake – not the confection we all know and love, but a Hampshire word for seeds compressed into a flat form and used for feeding sheep. 

‘Hatherden (Hampshire)' ( LAVC/PHO/P2063) By Herbert Voitl

Listen here

Hatherden, Hampshire recording

‘Sound Recording - Hampshire (Hatherden)’( LAVC/SRE/A822r ) by John T Wright
A transcription for this audio can be found (here)