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Professor Jane Setter – University of Reading

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  • Dialectable

    When you speak you are revealing so much about yourself.

Professor Jane Setter

DELAL_Jane_Setter_ImageProfessor Jane Setter teaches five modules in phonetics, pronunciation, and varieties of English, and feeds her research into the teaching of all of them.

In the module 'English in the World', students are involved in a different research project each year looking at features of global English pronunciation. 'Sounds, Grammar and Meaning' is a basic introduction covering phonetics and speech science, and 'Analysing Speech' teaches students acoustic and auditory speech analysis.

Jane is also co-editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary and she researches new words for inclusion. For example, in the 2011 edition, words added included 'pwn' and 'noob'. These come from online gaming but are now frequently used by non-gamers.

She is currently writing a book about how our voices represent us, why we have ended up with all the accents we have in Britain, why it is so tribal, and why people react to accents differently.

the scone debate

Recently, the Guardian newspaper asked Jane to determine why people pronounce the word 'scone' so differently:

"It is not a matter of being posh, or thinking you are posh, if you pronounce scone as in cone, it is more a matter of where you grew up. By and large, the pronunciation that rhymes with gone is more common."

"Our language continually reshapes itself," she adds. "New words appear. In addition, pronunciations of existing words alter. These changes have been tracked in our dictionary for over a century now - though very often when we detect changes, we are yet to understand why they have taken place."

Language and Identity

Jane's new book will also include a chapter on how forensic phoneticians can help solve crime by looking at features of individuals' voices.

"When you speak you are revealing so much about yourself. It is part of your identity, and you are unique when you speak."

Today, people are communicating with others from all over the world in English, and this is affecting the way our language is evolving further still and creating even more unique accents.

Looking at how a word is pronounced in varieties of English around the world, Jane searches for where there is a difference, what that difference is, and if a way of saying a word is dependent on your upbringing, your social networks, education, or other factors.

"People find things like this important enough to argue about - that's what makes the English language so interesting."

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