The Death of Dialect: South East Terms Among Those Dying Out

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A new study has found that common terms in the South East are among those most at risk of dying out, with the use of some words decreasing by 75%.

Data and AI leader, SAS, analysed 100 popular regional terms from different local authorities across the UK using the Google Books search tool to establish when certain terms may fall out of use, based on the usage of each word from 1919 to 2019.

Cities based in the South East are seeing common words such as ‘Liggle‘, meaning to carry something too big, and ‘sing small‘ meaning to put up with less than expected, be used less and less. The use of the words has declined by 75% and 68% respectively.

Distinctive dialects such as Cockney, Brummie and South Yorkshire have well-known phrases such as ‘chuffed’, ‘ey up’ and ‘duck and dive’ – but what will happen to them over time as a more widespread digital dialect evolves?

The word ‘Ansum’ – meaning ‘nice’ or ‘top-notch’ – derives from Cornwall and is the likeliest word to die out from the English Language according to SAS’ study. Despite being a popular word in the 1900s it has seen a 97% decline in usage.

One of the UK’s most debated words is ‘cob’ – a bread roll which is also known as a ‘teacake’ in West Yorkshire and ‘roll’ in the North – and it has declined in use across the UK by 55%. Similarly, ‘grand’, another well-known term, has also seen a steep decline of 67% over the last century.

Regional terms and some of their subtle differences may not be recognised by digital services like Siri and Alexa, which might impact unique localisms in the long term.

Iain Brown, Head of Data Science at SAS Northern Europe, said: “The UK’s regional dialects have such a richness and uniqueness that some localisms are well known in certain parts of the country, but as the research suggests they also are vulnerable to falling out of use in the face of a broader digital language reflecting more widespread use of online services.

“Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of AI and comprises many different techniques for interpreting human language, helping to break down language into shorter elements to understand relationships between them and how they work together to create meaning.

“NLP can be used to document languages and dialects that are specific to a region or at risk of ‘dying out’. Through speech recognition and transcription tools, our regional nuances can be preserved in digital formats. And NLP-powered language learning can also help in teaching ‘endangered’ languages and dialects to new generations.”

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