Scilly Voices is a project investigating the variety of English spoken on the Isles of Scilly.

Why study language?

The way that language varies and changes over time can reflect social and historical changes. For instance, language research has shown that East and West Cornwall have slightly different varieties of English. This is a consequence of the time at which English was introduced into Cornwall, following the loss of the Cornish language. Cornish died out earlier in East Cornwall than West Cornwall, so the English that ended up being spoken there was based upon a sixteenth century model. Cornish didn’t die out until the eighteenth century in West Cornwall, so the traditional English spoken there is based on a much later model of English. These changes in the Cornish varieties of English reflect social factors such as immigration and population movement, and they demonstrate that social change and language change go hand-in-hand.

Scilly’s history includes unusual patterns of education, immigration and social governance. So, whilst the islands are close to Cornwall, their social history and population mix are quite different. This makes their linguistic past unique. Studying the variety of English spoken on Scilly provides an opportunity to learn more about the development of the islands and their relationship with their mainland neighbours. Whether or not islanders speak similar to or different from each other is also an interesting question, because it reveals the different ways that people show their identity as a Scillonian, local, or islander.

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