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Loss of Rhoticity in South-West England

Kamil Malarski of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of Agder has submitted his thesis entitled «Loss of Rhoticity in South-West England» and will defend the thesis for the PhD-degree Monday 20 December 2021. (Photo: Private)

“In my work, I test how social characteristics of speakers like gender, age, income and education align with their pronunciation of word-final and pre-consonantal /r/ sound”.
“Rhoticity is still found in South-West England, yet in limited social or stylistic contexts. It is lost in many groups of speakers, but it possibly will not disappear completely in the next two or three decades.”

Kamil Malarski

PhD Candidate

You may follow the disputation online. Link for registration as a spectator at the bottom of this page.

Caution! Registration by 16 December at 10:00 hours.


Kamil Malarski of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of Agder has submitted his thesis entitled «Loss of Rhoticity in South-West England» and will defend the thesis for the PhD-degree Monday 20 December 2021. 

What is "Rhoticity"? Find out in wikipedia.

He has followed the PhD-programme at the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of Agder, with  specialisation in linguistics.

The doctoral work is a cotutelle between the University of Agder and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.

Summary of the thesis by Kamil Malarski:

Rhoticity in England

Several decades ago, around half of the English population spoke with rhotic accents. Rhoticity denotes the pronunciation of the sound /r/ word-finally (like in the word car), as well as pre-consonantally (e.g. in the word farm). Rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ in these positions, while non-rhotic speakers do not.

Nowadays, the vast majority of accents in England are non-rhotic.

In my work, I look into the reasons for this dramatic change in the phonological system of many groups of speakers.

I have collected data in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. The South-West is one of the regions where rhoticity can still be heard; why exactly there, in what situations, by how many speakers, which speakers and in what phonetics contexts remained underresearched.

A lot of what was assumed about the status of rhoticity in the region was either anecdotal or outdated.

Fieldwork results

In my dissertation, I report the results of linguistic fieldwork conveyed in the South-West.

Using two different methods, I tested rhotic pronunciation in 316 speakers.

It turns out that, as expected, rhoticity is being lost as a pronunciation feature in young speakers. The new non-rhotic variants can then be treated as innovative pronunciation features in this region.

Rapid anonymous surveys

The first study was administered as rapid anonymous surveys in different supermarkets.

I chose three towns in each county (Truro in Cornwall, Exeter in Devon and Bournemouth in Dorset) and in each of them I visited three supermarkets stratified economically and geographically.

There was one cheaper supermarket in a poorer district, one supermarket widely available for customers coming from different age and wealth groups, and one more expensive supermarket in a more affluent part of the town.

I was visiting the supermarkets around 4pm. I was asking people about time pretending I did not know it.

I was trying to elicit the word four, in order to test whether the pronunciation would be rhotic (four with /r/) or non-rhotic (four without /r/).

Later I noted down the answer, together with the perceived age and gender of the informant.

The most /r/ pronunciations were found in the least affluent neighborhoods and cheaper supermarkets, as well as in the older speaker group, which show that /r/ persists to a large extent in older working-class speakers.

Sociolinguistic interviews

The second study were sociolinguistic interviews.

I interviewed 46 speakers in total, 23 male and 23 female speakers.

Once again, more rhoticity was found in older working-class male speakers than in any other group.

What is more, interesting stylistic variation was found.

It seems that in more formal speech styles, the speakers use considerably more rhotic variants than in casual speech.


Once again, rhoticity has been shown to be stratified socially, as well as stylistically in different linguistic contexts.

There still is, however, the need for more studies on southwestern accents if we are to look at the data more holistically.

Rhoticity is being lost in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, but possibly at a slightly lower rate than it could seem.

We have seen that rhoticity could have survived in the South-West for so long because of its relative geographical seclusion, but also due to the tightly-knit social networks which are characteristic for many communities and groups of speakers in this area.

Disputation facts:

The public defence will take place online from Poland, via the Zoom conferencing app - registration link below.

In this cotutelle distutation, there are no trial lecture.

Professor dr hab Magdalena Wrembel, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, will chair the disputation.

Public defence Monday 20 December at 11:00 hours


Thesis Title«Loss of Rhoticity in South-West England»

Search for the thesis in AURA - Agder University Research Archive, a digital archive of scientific papers, theses and dissertations from the academic staff and students at the University of Agder.

The thesis is available here:

https://hdl.handle.net/10593/26343 (at the Adam Mickiewicz University)


The assessment committees at the Adam Mickiewicz University consists of 9 persons, including the supervisors.

First opponent: Professor Emerita Joan C. Beal, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, University of Sheffield, UK

Second opponent: Associate Professor dr hab Arkadiusz Rojczyk, Institute of Linguistics, University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland

Professor dr hab Magdalena Wrembel, Department of Contemporary English Language, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, is appointed as the administrator for the assessment committee.

Other members of the Assessment Committee:

Professor dr art Gro Renée Rambø, Department of Nordic and Media Studies, University of Agder, Norway

Dean of the Faculty of English, Professor dr hab Joanna Pawelczyk, Department of Sociolinguistics and Discourse Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland

Professor dr hab Geoffrey Schwartz, Department of Contemporary English Language, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland

Deputy Dean for international co-operation and outreach, Professor dr hab Radosław Dylewski, Department of Sociolinguistics and Discourse Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland

Supervisors in the doctoral work - and members of the assessment committee are Deputy Dean for Research and Scientific Evaluation, Professor dr hab Piotr Gąsiorowski, Department of Older Germanic Languages, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland (main supervisor) and Professor Allison Louise Wetterlin, Department of Foreign Languages and Translation, University of Agder, Norway (co-supervisor)

What to do as an audience member:

Those wishing to participate in the event in a manner that allows direct communication may do so by using their web browser or the Microsoft Teams application.

The wish to participate in the defense must be communicated to the organizers no later than December 16, 2021, 10:00 p.m. Please see the instructions below.

Use the link below, given to us by Kamil Malarski - the scheme is Polish, but you can change the language to English at the top right corner of the scheme.


Read also:

Instructions for participating in the public doctoral defense