Definite article reduction
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Definite Article Reduction (DAR) is the term used in recent linguistic work to refer to the use of vowel-less forms of the definite article in northern dialects of English English, for example in the Yorkshire dialect and accent, often represented t’ or th’.
The mid 20th century Survey of English Dialects (Orton et al 1962) allows DAR to be mapped across northern England from the Irish Sea coast in the present-day county of Cumbria and further south in Lancashire, to the North Sea coast of Yorkshire. The north-south distribution is less easy to define, but runs well south of the Scottish border and well north of Birmingham. Some major urban areas within this area show DAR in the local vernacular (Leeds-Bradford, Sheffield), in others usage is less apparent (e.g. Manchester), and in some it is completely absent (Liverpool, Newcastle).
DAR has been recorded in textual form since 1673, and the orthographic representations t’ and th’ occur in literature (e.g. in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights), and are frequently encountered in the media. There is even a beer called "T' owd Tup" (The Old Ram). The historical origin is unclear. Links with Middle English te forms of the article remain unproven.
The phonetic forms of DAR are very varied. The th’ form suggests a dental or interdental fricative realisation, usually voiceless [θ] (as in thin), and is restricted to the western parts of the DAR area (Lancashire and Cheshire). The orthographic t’ form suggests a voiceless dental or alveolar plosive realisation [t], as in tin, but also serves to represent a 'glottal' form. The glottal form is most widely encountered. Some dialects may show more than one phonetic form, but the conditioning factors for such variation are unknown. It seems that unvarying glottal forms are most widely found now (2005). Variation with a full form the is also common.
DAR can be heard widely across the north of England. For those outside England who wish to get a flavour of it, DAR can be heard in dialogue in recent films set in the north of England, for example The Full Monty (set in Sheffield), and in recordings available from the British Library web portal.
Speakers of other forms of English often find it difficult to hear, especially the 'glottal' forms which affect the pitch and duration and voice quality of surrounding words and sounds in subtle ways. This often leads to claims that the article is absent, but this is not usually the case. True absence of the article may occur in the east of the DAR area around Hull.
- Definite Article Reduction on Yorkshire Dialect website
- Orton, Harold, et al. (eds.) (1962 etc.) Survey of English Dialects. Leeds.
- Jones, Mark J. (2002). "The origin of Definite Article Reduction in northern English dialects: evidence from dialect allomorphy." English Language and Linguistics 6: 325-345.
- Verhoeff, J.S. and Rupp, L. to appear in 2005. "A grammatical investigation of Definite Article Reduction." To appear in English World-Wide.