People in Scotland could find themselves adopting Cockney slang after research found that watching television could be a factor in accent change.
Scottish fans of long-running BBC1 soap EastEnders were shown in a study to have variations in pronunciation, according to University of Leicester experts.
They found two particular features of speech typically associated with London English that were becoming increasingly apparent in the Glaswegian dialect among people who regularly watched the TV drama.
The features were using F for TH in words like “think” and “tooth”, and using a vowel sound like that in “good” in place of an I sound in words like “milk” and “people”.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and published in the American journal Language, is the first evidence to prove that active and engaged television viewing helps to accelerate language change.
Researchers said the results show significant correlations between using these features and strong emotional and psychological engagement by the viewers of the programme.
The study said that simply being exposed to television is not sufficient to cause accent change; for someone’s speech to alter, they need to regularly watch the show and become emotionally engaged with the characters.
The authors said television and other forms of popular media constitute one of many factors that help accelerate language change and more powerful factors, such as social interaction between peers, has a much stronger effect on language change.
Professor Barrie Gunter, of the University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication, worked with linguists at the University of Glasgow on the study.
He said: “The findings are interesting because they provide evidence about the role that television could play in promoting the migration of regional dialects or speech patterns from one location to another.
“Socio-linguists have known for a long time that when people move to new geographical locations they take their speech patterns with them. If sufficient numbers of people move in this way, alien speech patterns can become integrated with the local speech vernacular.
“Although the mass media have previously been referred to anecdotally as playing a part in this process, this research has provided more systematic, scientific evidence for this effect.
“Thus, the researchers here asked whether the exposure of children in Glasgow to a soap opera such as EastEnders would result in some of the east end of London forms of speech being adopted locally.
“The research provided some evidence that this mediated influence on speech had occurred, most especially for children who were most closely attached to the programme and also after controlling for possible effects of meeting people from London.
“We now need to extend this work to include other media examples of speech, other speech forms and bigger samples of people. We also need to study more closely the psychological and linguistic mechanisms that underpin these speech change effects.”
Jane Stuart-Smith, professor of phonetics at the University of Glasgow and lead researcher on the project, said: “We don’t properly understand the mechanisms behind these changes, but we do see that the impact of the media is weaker than that of actual social interaction.
“We need many more studies of this kind in order to appreciate properly the influence of television and other popular media on language change.”