Where have all the diphthongs gone?
Long taaahm passin’
Let it be said, I do not doubt that spoken language evolves over time. But I assumed it would be undetectable, like watching the hour hand on a clock. Perhaps it’s that I live in London; melting pot of people, cultures, races and languages. Or maybe I’m naive about just how long I’ve been around with my ears open (comfortably over half a century – GULP!) But the shocking fact remains, diphthongs are dying out. The biggest casualty is the sound ‘eeeyerrr’, as in ‘here’, ‘year’, ‘fear’. This vowel sound has morphed to a strange, flat ‘hiiiih’ (somewhere between ‘hair’ and ‘heee’). It’s at its most distinct in MLE speakers, but by no means restricted to this group. I hear it up and down the land, in and out of private schools. I even hear it daily on Radio 4 for goodness sake; the bastion of RP (received pronunciation) … or so they think. Are our tongues and jaws getting tired? What’s so tough about travelling from eeeee to aaaayyy, as in ‘create’? And yet Nick Clegg would far rather enthuse about everything he’s ‘crated’ (24 secs in).
I’ve only recently become aware of the glorious irony embedded in the spoken English language. Generally mocked for lacking rhythm, it turns out we English possess one of the most beautifully rhythmic languages on earth. A stress timed language such as ours is not the norm. Think of the even pitter-patter of Spanish and French; both ‘syllable timed languages’ and then reflect on the glorious diddly-dah-dee-diddly-dum-di-doodee-diddly-dum-de-daaaah of our own. Diphthongs are an integral part of this linguistic musicality, and I’m putting my hand up to say “Ih-eeem reeeyerly sad to heeyerrr you goh-ooo”