What Hinkley C will mean for the West Somerset Accent

Hinkley Point as it is today (2013)

Prime Minister David Cameron and Energy Secretary Ed Davey were at Hinkley Point this morning to announce the go-ahead for the construction of Hinkley C.  The controversial power station has received wide criticism from Environmental activists, as well as from the Opposition, who claim that the deal Cameron did with EDF and Chinese companies will mean increased energy costs for British consumers.

What it will mean for Somerset, however, is 25,000 jobs over the next 10 years.  And that could have a much longer lasting impact on the accent of Somerset.

With 25,000 new jobs on offer, along with new accommodation being built in Bridgwater and Combwich to house the new employees, there will be an increase in people coming to the area for work.  And they will not all necessarily be English.

When the original Hinkley A was given the go ahead in 1957, it brought in thousands of workers and their families from all over the UK.  When Hinkley B was started 10 years later, it brought in yet more workers, for both the construction and running of the power station.  The power stations boosted the population in the area, and created a community within local villages and towns of workers, all speaking with different accents, and many with families, all growing up in Somerset surrounded by a variety of accents.

This kind of variety in accents often leads to a change in accent due to ‘language contact’.  People make accommodations for new accents which over time can lead to one or two changes occurring in their pronunciation.  When this happens among adults, it’s called diffusion.  However when younger children grow up surrounded by new accents and develop an accent of their own, this can be called transmission.

In my previous study for my MPhil where I focused on the accents around Bridgwater, I briefly looked into the potential impact that population movement can have on language change.  When comparing data from 1957 (the same year construction began on Hinkley A, coincidentally) a change was found in the local accent but only among certain members of the community.

With the sign-off given for Hinkley C, and with increased mobility occurring these days in order to find work, it seems highly likely that construction workers, and subsequent power-plant employees coming from outside the UK, possibly from all over Europe, the potential for language change is extremely high.  We can only wait to see what happens……


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