How Do Falkland Islanders Speak?

English has a number of isolated speaker communities throughout the world.  Among the most isolated are the Falkland Islands, which comprise a sparsely populated British territory of about 3,000.  To date, I’ve only found one speech sample of someone truly born and bred in the Falklands, tour guide Tony Smith:

Although Smith’s accent resembles Received Pronunciation in some ways, it also has a curious sprinkling of non-RP features. Note his occasional rhotic pronunciations in an otherwise non-rhotic accent [Note: I discuss this more in the comments]. His pronunciation of “about” is also different than modern RP (it almost sounds homophonous with RP “a bite”). And like Australians and Americans, his ‘t’ between vowels is typically a tapped consonant (e.g. sort of sounds like “sord of”).

That’s only a small sample of the pronunciation quirks which pepper Smith’s speech. Although I know nothing about this man’s upbringing, his accent sounds like a unique mixture of different British accents, and perhaps a mixture of English accents in general: his intonation sometimes sounds slightly American.

Given the Islands’ proximity to South America, I was fascinated by the moment four minutes into to the clip when Smith reads the headstone of an Argentine grave:  he speaks Spanish with a very marked English accent. It’s a testament to the ability of islands to remain linguistically isolated from the mainlands to which they’re adjacent.  Although given the complex and painful history this small territory has with Argentina, the barrier is no doubt more than physical.

Share

About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to How Do Falkland Islanders Speak?

  1. Katie says:

    His “out” sounds closer to RP “eight” to my ears. His also sounds like he might have a distinction in his NURSE words that most people don’t have. Listen to reverse, for example.

  2. Andy says:

    In the beginning of the video, he says “commandos” not “commanders.”

  3. boynamedsue says:

    There are some broader accents at the end of this vid, sound a bit more west country than this guy, but with the same underlying Antipodian features.

  4. trawicks says:

    @Andy,

    Yeah, that was bad example. I must admit, it’s a little hard to separate rhotic from non-rhotic pronunciations in his speech because, unlike most contemporary Britons, he has a pronounced off-glide in ‘ar’ and ‘or’ words. The one undeniably rhotic moment in the piece, at 4:22–isn’t cut and dried either: “if they don’t find their … their actual relatives.” The easiest explanation would be that he’s merely intending ‘their’ to precede ‘actual,’ hence following the rules typical of non-rhotic accents. But the way he phrases it, it’s as if he’s searching for the next word. So why the /r/?

    boynamedsue,

    Great clip! I noticed a hint of the Antipodean thing in Smith’s accent as well. Although like many features of this accent, it’s fascinatingly inconsistent: the /ay/ in ‘day’ and ‘face,’ etc. is sometimes lowered in the Aussie manner, while other times it’s similar to RP and GenAm.

    • Katie says:

      What about the way he says first at 0:16? It sounds rhotic to me.

      • trawicks says:

        I’m still trying to scrutinize some of those pronunciations to see if they’re rhotic or not: because ‘standard’ English ‘a’ is an approximant (i.e. the tongue doesn’t actually touch the roof of the mouth), there’s actually a bit of overlap between what might be thought of as ‘rhotic,’ and what might be though of as a vowel.

  5. Dan Wilson says:

    I am not a linguist or a dialectician. But I have travalled widely in the UK. The chap’s gentle brogue reminded me very much of the accents of the Scottish Western Isles.

  6. Robert says:

    I’m not sure if Tony’s pronunciation of Spanish is a testament to the ability of islands to remain linguistically isolated from the mainlands to which they are adjacent. Direct flights between Argentina & the Falklands were severed after the war, so there’s no way that Tony or any other resident could easily access the Argentine dialect… even if they wanted to do so. Their closest neighbor by air is ironically Chile (Punta Arenas) & I’d suspect that they would speak with a Chilean accent. Perhaps through homestay courses.

    Politics often has a large role to play in the acquisition of language, & since little contact between Argentines & Islanders is feasible today there’s little expectation that an Argentine dialect would be present.

    • Gil says:

      I am a native Spanish speaker and I slightly can notice some Chilean accent, but I would not be sure to affirm that to 100% since his accent still sound like an anglophone that is going from a basic to a intermediate level of Spanish.

  7. trawicks says:

    @Dan,

    I could see that. Similar weather, to boot!

    @Robert,

    That’s a good point about flights. I should also point out that the distance between the Falklands and mainland Argentina isn’t similar to the distance between, say, England and Ireland. It looks to be a few hundred miles out.

  8. Rhys says:

    Sounds a lot like a rural English accent (West Country/Norfolk) with a slight Kiwi ‘twang’. Makes sense – the British took over in 1833 and sheep farming has been an important part of the economy.

  9. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    If I met this speaker in England it wouldn’t occur to me that he was other than English, apart from his use of the word “Argentine” (pronounced as my father, born 1908, would have pronounced it, i.e. rhyming with “fine”), whereas I think most British people today would say “Argentinian”.

  10. Christopher Handy says:

    The pronunciation of “about” as something close to “abite” is a feature of older RP (and still of “U-RP”, or “hyperlect”, the most upper-class version; cf pronunciations such as “brine trisers” for “brown trousers”, “hice” for “house”; this has all but disappeared except in some older members of the upper social classes…Noel Coward had a somewhat exagerrated version of this accent). It was formerly more standard in RP generally (as similar pronunciations are still in some other dialects of British English) and this pronunciation is probably reflective of changes in English speech relative to that of the Falkland islanders.

  11. Fernando Ramírez says:

    Hi Mr. Trawick-Smith
    I would like to know if you have some subtitles for this clip. I wrote down some subtitles in English for this clip but I didn’t understand several words. I am studying English. I wonder if you can help me to correct the subtitles I wrote for this video or if you have the subtitles and you may send me them for compare them with mine.