The Short A


I’m reading Theodore Dalrymple’s book, Life at the Bottom. It was very good until page 81 where he says “… with the glottal stop and other vocal mannerisms of the lower classes, such as the short in words like class and pass”. This is taken from his essay, Uncouth Chic, written in 1998.

This is nonsense. The glottal stop is one of the many things that has spread upwards from the speech of the uneducated, to become almost normal in British speech. It cannot be compared with the short A. It is the long A that has been incorrectly inserted into words like “class” and “pass”.

The lower classes (as he calls them) in the Southern areas he describes in his book use the long A as well. They may make it sound more like an “ar” sound than an “aa” sound, but it’s lengthened nonetheless. The long A is a Southern characteristic and one must not fall into the trap of thinking anything Southern is “posh” and anything Northern is not. Furthermore, the long A is plainly incorrect most of the time as a gander at a dictionary would tell you. I have seen some that would provide both “glaas” and “glass” as pronunciations of “glass”, but largely they have not yet modified themselves for this recent Southern linguistic domination.

Due to the influence of television (something Dalrymple decries elsewhere in his book), the lengthened A has spread out of the South to the bottom of society elsewhere. An educated Midlander is unlikely to lengthen an A, but the more common Eastenders-watching fool is quite likely to, especially if young. Outside of the South, the short A is indeed a signal, but one that indicates the complete opposite of what Dalrymple claims. Those still using the short A outside of the South are probably higher up the ladder than most and are likely to be quite far removed from the Southern and Southern-influenced bottom rung.