Estuary English Revisited

Principal Investigator:

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Altendorf (Leibniz Universität Hannover)



Being genuinely estuarial enables you to spot a fake estuarine accent like a shot. The worst was Tony Blair, who when he wanted to impress the proles adopted a kind of music hall costermonger accent, unlike his normal public school English, itself a fake since he was Scottish to start with. (Posted by Peter Wadhams, Mail on Sunday, 25th March 2010)


Coined by David Rosewarne in 1984, the term and concept of 'Estuary English' has resonated with the wider public, with journalists and with mostly applied linguists ever since. It has also until very recently met with opposition from variationist linguists. Hickey (2007, 5), for example, calls Estuary English a "misnomer" and Trudgill qualifies it alternately as "inappropriate" (1999, 80), "inaccurate" (2002, 177) and even "foolish" (2001, 10). Still, Estuary English has come to stay. In 2013, Wells blogs that "we can now expect to be readily understood if we describe someone's speech as 'estuarial'". In her 2016 talk at 21st Sociolinguistics Symposium, Braber employs the term 'Estuary English' to refer as a matter of course to "the emerging influential accent of the South East". And in 2017, Trudgill and Hannah include Estuary English in the 6th edition of their seminal work on International English, however, still qualifying it as "unfortunate" (21). In this second and third stage of my work on Estuary English, I will draw on concepts and insights of the third wave of variationist linguistics and of cognitive sociolinguistics to account for the unusually long and controversial history of Estuary English. I will draw on the enregisterment formula proposed by Johnstone (2017) to analyse the emergence and expansion of Estuary English as the result of a process of enregisterment conducted by Rosewarne, Coggle and many lay speakers, in particular journalists (see Altendorf forthc.). In line with Kristiansen's (2008) proposal for varieties as prototype categories, I will then describe the resulting category as a perceptual prototype (Altendorf 2016). Ideology and perception will be shown to play a key role in ascribing social meaning to the linguistic forms associated with the term 'Estuary English' and in shaping the Estuary English category. (28th June 2020)



Altendorf, Ulrike (2016). "Caught between Aristotle and Miss Marple… – A proposal for a perceptual prototype approach to 'Estuary English'." Complutense Journal of English Studies 24, 129-152. Web. (28th June 2020).

Altendorf, Ulrike (forthc.). "The Role of Ideology and Perception in the Enregisterment of Estuary English." In: David Britain, Kellie Gonçalves, Laura Tresch and Christoph Neuenschwander (eds.). Through the Lens of Ideology: Debates on Language Contact. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Braber, Natalie (2016). "Accent Perception: Prestige and Prejudice in three UK varieties." Sociolinguistics Symposium 21: Attitudes and Prestige. Murcia. 15th June 2016. E-Book, 409-410. Web. (28th June 2020).

Hickey, Raymond (2007). "Dartspeak and Estuary English." In: Ute Smit, Stefan Dollinger, Julia Hüttner, Ursula Lutzky, Gunther Kaltenböck (eds). Tracing English through Time: Explorations in Language Variation. Vienna: Braumüller, 179-190. Web. (28th June 2020).

Johnstone, Barbara (2017). "Enregistering Dialect." In: Lieselotte Anderwald und Jarich Hoekstra (eds.). Enregisterment: Zur sozialen Bedeutung sprachlicher Variation. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 15-28.

Kristiansen, Gitte (2008). "Style-shifting and shifting styles: a socio-cognitive approach to lectal variation." In: Gitte Kristiansen and René Dirven (eds.). Cognitive Sociolinguistics: Language Variation, Cultural Models, Social Systems. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 45-88.

Trudgill, Peter (21999 [11992]). The Dialects of England. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell.

Trudgill, Peter (2001). "Received Pronunciation: Sociolinguistic Aspects." Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 26, 3-13

Trudgill, Peter (2002). Sociolinguistic Variation and Change. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah (62017 [11982]). International English: A Guide to Varieties of English Around the World. London and New York: Routledge.