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Why didn’t the British elite who lived in India develop their own distinct accent?

Why didn’t the British elite who lived in India develop their own distinct accent?

Why didn't the British elite who lived in India develop their own distinct accent?

Question: Why the British elite didn’t develop their own dialects or accents in India, like how Rhodesians, Australians, Canadians, etc did.

It’s really hard to answer a negative question, answering “why didn’t…?” basically boils down to examining similar situations and trying to find the salient differences. The question mentions a few varieties; South African English (Rhodesian English is basically an offshoot of SAE), Australian English, and Canadian English. Let’s do a historical comparison.

Canadian English really fits more snugly into General American English, which itself is part of the collection known as Northern Hemisphere Extraterritorial Englishes, basically, North America and the Caribbean.

These varieties are different from others in that they have had time. Much more time to innovate and for British Englishes to innovate as well. The diverging point for something like Canadian English far predates RP and the common “ancestor” of both is as différent from them as they are from each other.

So as for the Southern Extraterritorial Englishes, I’ll focus on South African and Australian English (the differences between Aus.E and New Zealand English are negligible enough that the analysis works for that variety too, though).

That framework is really more diachronic, though it’s a geographical division, it’s based on the fact that the Americas were influenced by English earlier than Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Kachru’s Three Circles

From a more synchronic point of view, World Englishes are generally divided into three categories, Kachru’s Three Circles model.

The Inner Circle represents countries where English is spoken primarily as a native language and the socio-linguistic framework was laid down by white anglos, outside of England this was generally achieved by immigration and (at the very least, cultural) genocide of native peoples, the US and Australia are the typical examples. Later immigrants generally assimilated into the Anglophone community.

The Outer Circle represents countries where English is primarily used as a lingua franca in multilingual environments. Creoles and pidgins also fall into this environment. India is a typical example of this model. English is first and foremost a lingua franca used to overcome the barriers that hundreds of languages and billions of folks tend to create.

Expanding Circle are countries where English is exclusively a foreign language- think Sweden. Not relevant for us today haha.

South Africa is difficult to place in this model. Some communities are definitely Inner Circle, others are Outer Circle. There is definitely a native speaker population but it only numbers about 8% and many other South Africans also learn English but as a lingua franca. Still, English is increasingly creeping into communities in a post-apartheid SA.

It’s obviously a very rough comparison, but the late British Raj could be analyzed as very similar to SA. There’s obviously an Outer Circle community that uses English in a utilitarian way but also an Inner Circle native speaker community dominated by a socio-linguistic framework laid down by immigrants.

The Great Trichotomy

Now, Inner Circle SET Englishes, that is, native speaker communities in recently colonized areas are often analyzed using the Great Trichotomy.

The Great Trichotomy was first used to describe Australian English, but it’s also been used to describe South African English. It has three tiers of sociolects; Cultivated, General, and Broad; or alternatively (as Lass puts it, unfortunately, named) Conservative, Respectable, and Extreme.

Broad Speakers are the most innovative, in both Aus. E and SAE, they’re typified by extensive vowel shifts, but in SAE, the deepest end of this community begins to transition into something more resembling the speech of Outer Circle South Africans, or second language speakers. Influence from Afrikaans and Bantu languages both permeate the speech patterns of this community.

General speakers are less innovative than Broad speakers but still have noticeable local dialects. The phonological differences tend to be only the first stages of vowel shifts that are more developed in Broad varieties, but also the presence of consonantal innovations, many universal in the Southern Hemisphere and also shared with other dialects around the world.

Among these is ‘t’ flapping; pronouncing the intervocalic /t/ in a word like water /wɔtə/ as the more General /ɾ/ [woɾə]. This is also universal in General American.

Syllable-initial yod-coalescence, or pronouncing sequences such as /tj/, /dj/ as /tʃ/, /dʒ/, making dune and June [dʒuːn] homophones, is shared with many British English dialects.

Cultivated speakers represent the elite, it’s also traditionally the variety used for broadcasting. They either have no vowel shifts or the very first hesitant steps and avoid the consonantal shifts entirely. For example, in Australia, a Cultivated speaker would avoid ‘t’ flapping and often produce tune as /tju:n/.

And in some cases, these Cultivated speakers are hyper-conservative and avoid innovations or retain archaisms that modern British RP has moved past. For example, Cultivated SAE speakers retain a distinction between as in wine and as in whine and avoid intrusive ‘r’ as in “Indier and China” [ɪn.djə.ɹæn(d) tʃaɪ.nə].

And this is in 2020! But it’s not so odd that these speakers would continue to resist change. RP is an educated accent, literally! It’s something that is taught through elocutionary practice.

What is RP?

Daniel Jones, who, in the 2nd edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1924, popularized the term “Received Pronunciation”, originally used a different term for this dialect, “Public School Pronunciation”. In this case, referring to a childhood spent first at a boarding school like Eton and later, graduating from a uni like Oxford. Oxford English is still often synonymous with RP.

RP was and is an accent associated, not with belonging to a regional community, but a class. Not only do many General speakers in countries like Australia and South Africa code-switch to RP (or Cultivated speech) when they deem it appropriate, but the same pattern can be seen even in England. How many BBC broadcasters ACTUALLY speak like that at home? How many have had to memorize their TRAPs and BATHs?

And for native speakers of RP or cultivated varieties, any variation from that accent is ironed out as adherence to a standard, which is carefully detailed in manuals by fellas like Mr. Jones, is paramount. So the accent resists any change. And even now in 2020, these speakers in former colonies still retain very conservative speech patterns.
Indian Cultivated Speakers?

I’d argue that an analog to this last community is extinct in modern India. Most speakers are Outer Circle speakers and native speakers in India do exist, but, very roughly speaking, most would be more a corollary of what would be called Broad speakers in other SH countries and even those who are said to imitate RP are noticeably different from RP speakers and would be analyzed as parallel to General speakers in the Trichotomy.

Indeed, Kachru (1982, a quote from Schneider (2007)) notes that:

On the analogy of brown Sahibs (‘brown Englishmen,’ used for Westernized Indians) we have the term White Babus used for ‘English officers who have become de-Europeanized from long residence among undomesticated natives’ … In due course, the White Babus developed certain features in their English which separated them from those Englishmen who had not ‘‘gone native.’’

That sounds like Broad and General speakers to me. Particularly as they exist in South African English.

However, the Cultivated community did once exist. But as we’ve seen, if in 2020, cultivated speakers have only barely deviated from RP, at the moment of decolonization, there would have been basically no difference at all. And that’s why your relatives sound more or less like RP speakers.

1. Written by u/xarsha_93.
2. Postcolonial English: Varieties Around the World by Edgar Schneider (2007)
3. Contemporary Indian English by Andreas Sedlatscheck (2009)
4. South African English by Roger Lass in Language in South Africa by Rajend Mathesrie
5. Received Pronunciation by Jonnie Robinson (2019)
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