Falkland Islands English

Dec 6, 2010 by

Discussions of English as a global language often focus on English in large native-speaker countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia etc. and on places where English is spoken non-natively, like India, eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. What is typically left out is those varieties of English that are spoken in small, far-flung, isolated communities of native speakers. In this and several future postings we will look more closely at those lesser-known varieties of English from the southern Atlantic and Pacific islands.

One such variety of English is spoken on the Falkland Islands, an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom just 300 miles off the east coast of Argentina. Falkland Islands is a group of some 780 islands in South Atlantic, with the two main islands: East and West Falkland. The total area of the islands is about 4,700 sq.miles, which is slightly larger than Jamaica and Kosovo, slightly smaller than Connecticut and about half the size of Wales. The population of Falkland Islands totals about 3,000 people, with 85% of them living in the capital Stanley on East Falkland. There is an additional 2,000 British military personnel, based at RAF Mount Pleasant, about 30 miles west of Stanley.

Although the British first set foot on Falklands in 1690, an uninterrupted anglophone settlement of the Falklands dates back to the mid 1830s, when Captain Onslow of the HMS Clio landed on East Falkland on January 2, 1833 and raised the Union Flag. The only-recently-established Argentinian garrison of 26 soldiers was forced to leave, leaving the Falklands in British hands, although soon thereafter Captain Onslow left, leaving no official presence on the islands to enforce British sovereignty besides “the storekeeper William Dickson [who] was instructed to hoist a British flag on Sundays and when a ship approached” (Pascoe and Pepper 2008: 20).

The 175 years of anglophone settlement make the Falkland Islands one of the most recently developed “Inner Circle”, native-speaker varieties of English. Unlike in Australia or New Zealand, the anglophone community on the Falklands was not in contact with a non-anglophone indigenous population. Furthermore, the founding community of settlers on the Falklands spoke with a different mix of of home-country accents: while Australia and New Zealand were settled mostly by people speaking with Cockney or Irish English accent, the Falklands were settled primarily by people from southwest England and Scotland. All of this makes Falkland Islands English a particularly interesting case for the study of English language history.

Curiously, many aspects of the southwest English and Scottish English are not found in Falkland Islands English. For example, many southwest English accents are characterized by the voicing of voiceless fricatives (such as /f/ and /s/) word-initially, turning them into [v] and [z], respectively. Also, in southwestern England one finds the loss of /w/ before the short-u in words like woman, pronounced as ‘uman. Neither of these features is preserved in Falkland Islands English.

Similarly, features common to Scottish English are not present in Falkland Islands English. These include the pronunciation of the velar fricative [x] in words like eight; the distinct pronunciation of which and witch (with voiceless and voiced bilabial approximant, respectively); and the use of double modals, as in He might should come, meaning ‘It is possible that he will have to come’.

Moreover, unlike most southwest English and Scottish accents, Falkland Islands English is a non-rhotic variety of English, like Standard Southern British English or Boston English. In other words, the /r/ is not pronounced word-finally or before a consonant, resulting in pahk the cah pronunciation. As with many other non-rhotic varieties of English, many Falklanders use intrusive and linking [r], pronouncing idea[r] and mothe[r] is (vs. motheh said).

As can be expected for a variety of English that grew from a complex mix of settler accents, as Falkland Islands English did, there there is much variability in vowel pronunciation.

In terms of grammar, Falkland Islands English is characterized by many features found in other non-standard forms of English, such as the use of demonstratives to mark definites (e.g., some of them shearers); regularization of reflexive forms (e.g., he had to buy them all hisself, by analogy with myself, herself, ourselves); non-distinct forms for past tense and past participle (e.g., they might have went instead of they might have gone); lack of agreement (e.g., they was covered in concrete); and the lack of plural marking after a number (e.g., about two year ago). Also, like other non-standard forms of English, Falkland Islands English uses a distinct form for the 2nd person plural pronoun; their choice is youse, as in Australia, New Zealand, Irish-influenced English (cf. to y’all in the U.S. South).

In the next posting we will look more closely at the variety of English spoken on St. Helena.

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