Swindon is on the eastern edge of the traditional dialect region called the West Country. Some of the distinctive features remain, but increasingly London features are taking over. For example, very few residents of Swindon pronounce /r/ after a vowel. It makes sense that The train ride to London is about an hour, so some people even commute to work in London.
Just like in any populous, industrialized country, not everyone in a town was born there. People in the world of this play could have accents reflecting origins in the West country, elsewhere in the UK, or anywhere in the world. Our only constraint is clear storytelling. To that end, I think we should center ourselves safely in the milieu of modern London and then lean into the handful of Swindon sounds that I’ve been able to identify. This should give a range of possibilities to create the characters that live in this world.
I think the best way for us to get our heads (and mouths) around a Swindon accent is to think about it as a West Country accent almost completely submerged under an Estuary Accent.
so, let’s take a look at the ingredients:
1) Traditional West Country
Just to get a taste of the old dialect, here’s a sample from the British Library.
These two fellers were born in the early 20th Century in Melksham, Wiltshire. not far from Swindon. The most obvious feature is the pronunciation of /r/ after vowels. We call this rhoticity, and the traditional dialect is rhotic.
We can still hear this and other features of the traditional West Country sound in people like Stephen Merchant, who’s from Bristol. However, in the samples from contemporary Wiltshire I’ve found, I’m hearing only rare breakthroughs of rhoticity,.
2) Swindon Specials
These are the features that I hear remaining in Swindonians, even after the rhoticity is gone.
STRUT = ə
The vowel of words like love, run, cut, etc. is pronounced with /ə/, much closer to the way Americans might pronounce the word the. Listen to these samples — first at regular speed, and then with the vowel lengthened.
PRICE = ɐɪ̯
This diphthong starts with the /ɐ/ vowel. That’s halfway between the RP target /aɪ̯/ and the cockney target /ɑɪ̯/. With so many Estuary sounds abounding in modern Swindon, this sound stands out as a relic.
TRAP/BATH = a
London accents make a distinction between these two vowel categories. In those accents, TRAP words like happy and challenging, would be pronounced with an /æ/ in Estuary, while BATH words like granted, after, or laugh would be pronounced with /ɑ/.
In Swindon, that distinction is leveled, and all of these words are pronounced closer to /a/
This diphthong can vary quite a bit. The more London influenced accents will scarcely touch the second element of the diphthong, realizing it as /æː/. Deeper into the West Country, the first element is closer to / ɛ /. The London exurbs would render the second element less rounded. The sample below is feels like a mix of all three.
-ing = ɪn
This is not an uncommon feature in accents of English, but for some reason it really stands out here. Perhaps it’s the strong pronunciation of the /n/ or the fact that it seems to stop so abruptly.
Ok bear with me. This is a comedy show set in a Cotswold village. It’s created by and starring two siblings from Cirencester, which is just up the road from Swindon. In interviews, they sound like they’re from London (Estuary verging on Cockney) but in the show, they’re amplifying their “village” accent, and that could be a good model for us.
Phil Vickery is from Barnstaple, which is further into the West Country. Still, you can hear the same mix of features as our other Swindon examples.
This is a series of quick interviews on the streets of Swindon.
Jamie Cox is a 35 year old boxer from Swindon. He has the “Swindon Special” sounds, but otherwise, I would have assumed he was from London.