shameful self-promotion

It's just too embarrassing to ask, so I'll just put this here:

What you do with that is your business.

It's been a problematic week (Britishoid understatement), so haven't had a chance to post, but did see an old (17 April 1996) Steve Bell If... cartoon in the Guardian that made me think of (AmE) you-all. I can't reproduce it here (can't find it on the web, and fear that people who break copyright rules might not get blog awards), but the dialogue goes like this:
Her Majesty the Queen out on a walk with her corgi "Geraint" [emphasis as in original]

HM: Tell me Geraint Do you think I'm middle clawss? I pay
, I live in inner London, I wear sensible claythes. My children aren't very bright and my husband's unemployed!

G: You'll always be my little bit of rruff maaajesty!

Some quick notes on the sounds here, courtesy of Upton and Widdowson's Atlas of English Dialects:
  • The pronunciation of a before [s], [f] or [θ] as 'aw' is a distinctly Southern pronunciation. This was due to a couple of fashionable sound changes in the South. In the 17th century, people here started lengthening this vowel, and in the 18th it moved further back in the mouth (hence the 'aw' quality). This later became part of 'Received Pronunciation' (RP).
  • Pronouncing tax as tex: This is an exaggeration of the conservative form of Received Pronunciation, which U&W describe as 'a with a flavour of e'. They note that 'to many Northerners southern [ae] sounds like [ɛ], and it is not hard to see how this pronunciation at times slips over in to the full [ɛ] to which it is so close.'
  • U&W don't cover claythes (i.e. variant pronunciations of o in the middles of words), and the RP pronunciation of this sound is typically [əʊ], which gives it a bit of a Frenchish sound. I've found a few uses of claythes on the web. One is from a man in Teesside wondering about a woman in a play (Does she get her claythes off?). But other evidence is in favo(u)r of this being a northern thing as well, as there are historical spellings of clothes with a or ai in the OED, such as clathes and clais, which are marked as Northern and Scottish, respectively. (Well, she does spend a lot of time at Balmoral...). Any other thoughts on why the Queen is depicted as saying claythes?
cheating postscript: I was sitting in the theat{re/er} tonight, watching a show, and suddenly reali{s/z}ed that I forgot to end this post in the manner I'd intended--which was to point out the study that's shown how the Queen's English has become decidedly more "middle clawss" over the years. So now I have.


  1. Sex is, famously, what they deliver the coal in, in Morningside. The "aw" story is interesting. But where I grew up in Scotland, a lot of our "a"s were pronounced "aw". (In the playground, I mean, not in front of parents or teachers.) Thus the town was Gawlieshiels, not Galashiels. The drunk in the poem was Tawm O'Shawnter. But this was quite distinct from the longer sound in Southern English. But ye did take yer clais off for dookin. (Disrobe for swimming.) As for HM, perhaps Bell has had a poor shot at "cleothes"?

  2. I've heard posh English people saying 'clathes' for 'clothes', not unlike the Scottish 'claes'. Another oft-imitated Royal Family quirk is pronouncing 'house' as 'hice'.

    I've also heard that line about coals being delivered in 'sex', only with reference to Kensington.

  3. 'Clawss' and 'tex' sound quite South African to me, but probably only in a stereotypical manner.
    As for 'clothes', I imagine the Queen's accent has fronted the first half of the diphthong, even beyond a schwa, toward [ɛ]. To me it sounds like [klɛʊðz] rather than the [kloʊðz] of my dialect.
    'Claythes' doesn't seem to me to be a very good depiction at all.

  4. Yes, tex is common in South African and New Zealand English as well.

  5. If I think of sex as a bag of coal and fex as how a sheet of A4 is fed into one phone console to come out from another, then where does that leave the Irish profanity 'feck' - the vowel swapped only to avoid outraged readers' letter?

  6. Moreover, in Melbourne English, the [ɛ] has moved to [æ], the complete reverse! (But only in certain environments, hell and Hal are both [hæɫ], I think.)

  7. I don't say 'Clawse', being from Yorksher. A slang/archaic term round here for 'clothes' is 'clarts', you can see how this might be related to what you said, can't you?

  8. I don't understand the 'l' in 'milk' as a vowel? I know that people from Essex/London tend to say it kind of like 'miwk'? Or 'ball pool' becomes 'baw poow'.

  9. What a great blog! I just checked out an old bookmark, which I probably got from Language Hat. I'm an American academic (mathematician) living in Australia and long ago bored all my friends with talk about language and especially pronunciation differences. (By the way, I love all the posts I've looked at, but I might not be commenting as often as I would otherwise because Firefox (on the mac) doesn't display the word verification, which means I have to use another browser if I want to comment. Probably out of your control, alas.)

  10. Thanks for the compliments, James!

    But-- I'm using Firefox (Mozilla 5.0) on the Mac (OS X10.3) and I do see word verification, so something else must be different for you.

  11. It's the cookies! Damn them all. Except the edible ones.

  12. Steve Bell himself - whose ear is usually very acute - defined sex many years ago as being what Seth Efricans used to carry coal.
    The dialogue is some of Bell's strips is completely incomprehensible unless read aloud (an approach to be pursued with caution on commuter trains, particularly when succeeded by a large guffaw).

  13. I don't think Southern English "claythes" and Scottish "claes" are pronounced the same way at all! When I spell out "a" (which rhymes with "claes" in my not very strong Scottish accent) Southern English speakers persistently transcribe it as "e".

  14. Well, I don't think there is any such thing as Southern English claythes...I think Bell's just mis-spelt cliewthes.

  15. I think there may be one more layer of complication .....I can just hear my sister-in-law saying "claythes". But she has quite a strong Devon accent, and would be saying it to mimic/send up upper-middle class incomers to Devon. So perhaps "claythes" is a standardised (if somewhat inaccurate) piss-take version of (something like) "cleothes"?

  16. lynne wrote:
    >>Well, I don't think there is any such thing as Southern English claythes...I think Bell's just mis-spelt cliewthes.<<

    Hmm, I think it depends what you mean by claythes and cliewthes (the latter makes me think of
    Brian Sewell
    rather than Her Maj.). And does the Queen speak "Southern English" anyway? If she does, it's one with a super-specialized form of proNINEciation, shared by her husband and most of her offspring (especially Charles).

    John Wells's phonetic blog refers to this feature of the Royal accent as "the now obsolescent variant of the GOAT vowel involving a front starting point, so eʊ (or something similar but with less rounding on the second element)" and shows that Steve Bell is consistent in marking it in HM's speech:

    hellay (hello)
    lair (lower)
    dane't knay (don't know)

    Steve Bell is pretty good, too, on Preznit Bush and his War on Tourism in Yurp 'n' Murka.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)