They write to me because I was foolhardy enough fifteen years ago to launch a website on the topic of EE, with the aim of bringing together the material on the subject that I could find on line or, in most cases, put on line. A lot of it was journalism, usually more or less sensational, making wild claims about this new variety of English supposedly sweeping the country and ousting RP from its former position of preeminence. Later, when academics were able bit by bit to investigate the truth of such claims, I did my best to publish (or link to) their research findings. In my view the most important of these were those by Joanna Przedlacka, incorporated in her 2002 book Estuary English? A sociophonetic study of teenage speech in the Home Counties. ISBN 3-631-39340-7, pb. Bern: Peter Lang. This work, as I put it,
demolishes the claim that EE is a single entity sweeping the southeast. Rather, we have various sound changes emanating from working-class London speech, each spreading independently.
I summarized her findings for my UCL students here and here.
In Britain media interest in the EE phenomenon has now died down, and it is three years since I have had anything to add to the site (most of which is now eight to twelve years old, an eternity in web time).
Nevertheless, I still receive emails like this one from Ámbar Romero in Chile.
I'm interested in doing some research on Estuary English and Received Pronunciation in order to do my Thesis project… I would like to ask you if you knew or if you had any information about the percentage of usage of these 3 characteristics of EE that are mentioned in the literature i.e. L-vocalization, the use of the glottal stop in final position and before consonants, and Yod- coalescence in tonic syllables. Is there any comparison between RP and EE speakers regarding the use of this features? ...I would very much [like to] know your opinion on the current status of RP, if you think it is including or not some of the characteristics of EE and if the latter might replace it as the accent of EFL in the short term.
What can one say? Here’s what I actually said.
Please read (or reread) Joanna Przedlacka's work. The point is that there is no real definable entity “Estuary English”. You can't divide up the speakers in the southeast into those who speak EE and those who speak something else. So there can be no comparative statistics of the kind you ask for (“Is there any comparison between RP and EE speakers regarding the use of this features?”). All we can do (given money, time, and effort) is to estimate the proportions of the population of a given area who do glottalling, yod coalescence etc in given phonetic environments and in given styles of speech.
If someone uses a relatively high proportion of glottalling, you might say “Ah! This must be a speaker of EE.” If you define EE speakers as those who use a lot of glottalling, you will indeed find that EE speakers use more glottalling than RP speakers (etc). But this argumentation is circular, therefore unscientific. A scientific approach would be to divide your speakers up by social class or some other non-linguistic criterion, then establish the possible correlation of phonetic variables such as glottalling with the non-phonetic variables.
All we have is various sound changes in progress. Many sound changes seem to spread out from London and from the working class into the middle class (and defining social class is another scientific nightmare). These sound changes all move at different rates. This kind of thing has certainly been going on in English English for at least five hundred years.
The leader of the Conservative party, David Cameron, is an Old Etonian and an archetypal RP speaker. But political commentators have recently asserted (with what truth I do not know) that he has been trying to make his speech sound more popular by using glottal stops. How does that relate to "the current status of RP"?
For EE to be used as the sole or main pronunciation model in EFL someone would have first to define it clearly and then produce learning materials (dictionaries, textbooks etc) using it. I don’t see any likelihood of that happening. Rather, BrE-oriented ELT will continue to be based mainly on a modernized version of RP (aka Standard Southern British English or SSBE, the modish term at BAAP last week).
But I hope that we’re gradually getting the message across that students will benefit from being exposed to a wide range of different varieties of English, just as native speakers are.