29 September 2016

The Sound of Britain in 2066

  • Rise in talking to machines and devices will impact the way we speak in 50 years
  • New report from HSBC offers a unique insight into the future sounds of our cities
  • Traditional accents to die out and be replaced with new urban dialects

London, 29th September 2016: It is now possible to have a glimpse into the sound and language of British cities in 50 years’ time thanks to new report “The Sound of 2066”. Co-authored by sociolinguistics experts, Dr Dominic Watt and Brendan Gunn, it has been commissioned by HSBC to mark the roll out of its voice biometrics security technology, which is going live to 15 million users.

The report predicts that in 50 years’ time, the keyboard will have become obsolete while speech becomes our main way of interacting with all digital devices and machines. This technological advance will impact the way we talk, leading to the permanent evolution of language and dialects.

The study analysed language trends from the past 50 years and major modern cultural influences to help identify future developments.

Key changes anticipated over the next 50 years include general shortening of words and simplification of pronunciations as people strive to make talking as easy as possible. Tex would replace text, or vex for vexed and think is becoming fink, for example:

“Hey bruv, I totes fink that car is a… booty!” Is how a Londoner may express their admiration for a set of wheels in 2066

“Mehk me some terst with extra buhtuh…” is how a Geordie may request their breakfast in 2066, previously it would have been “ Mee-ehk me some toast with extra boo’ttah”

The report also details how we will see the loss of traditional accents and a rise of new urban dialects in cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, meaning that despite being rivals, Mancunians may find themselves sounding more and more like their Scouse neighbours.

In London, it is widely believed that traditional working-class speech, Cockney, is dying out. However across the South East, the emergence of Estuary English (EE) can be witnessed - a combination of older London accent features with more standard speech forms.

Another newcomer is Multicultural London English (MLE), which incorporates pronunciations from ethnic minority groups such as Caribbean, West African and Asian communities. Over the next 50 years, MLE is predicted to spread from its London roots further throughout the UK.

Technology will continue to be a rich source of new vocabulary with words such as totes emosh, LOL and FOMO appearing more and more in everyday conversation. This trend was perfectly illustrated last year when an emoji was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary.

As computers become more intelligent and advanced, it is thought that they will also start introducing new words to us which will then be incorporated into our everyday language. The report also highlights that with so many innovations in computing come from California, laid back American English will be increasingly prominent.

The report was commissioned to launch HSBC’s new voice ID, which is currently being rolled out to 15 million users. The technology is now the ultimate way to bank safely and securely, without the need for passwords. With a couple of choice words, banking with HSBC is as easy as being yourself.

Dr Dominic Watt, sociolinguistics expert and lecturer in Forensic Speech Science at the University of York, said: “In the future, our voices will become ever more crucial and we’ll use them to interact with the majority of machines and devices in our daily lives. Keyboards will have become obsolete and we will become completely comfortable speaking to our cars, washing machines, fridges, taxi apps and online banking services.

“Applications like HSBC’s secure voice print technology will come to seem absolutely natural in our homes and our work places – in fact, everywhere. This, along with other cultural and geographical factors will have a profound and long-term impact on the way we speak and the words we use.

“The popularity of 'box set bingeing' could be one reason behind the widespread adoption of American catchphrases and newly-minted expressions. Comedy shows in particular, such as The Big Bang Theory, Friends and The Simpsons, have had a significant influence and are likely to impact on British English in the longer run. In just one generation, the sound of our cities, work places and homes will continue to develop and evolve quite audible differences.”

Francesca McDonagh, Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management at HSBC, said: “Speech and language is going to play more of an important role in our lives as by 2066, most of the technology in our homes and work will be voice activated with a voice print.

“Just like your fingerprint, your voice print is unique and even if your voice changes due to getting older, relocating home or feeling ill, our voice biometrics system will be able to identify you without needing to spend time remembering passwords that you may have set many years ago.

“Our accents and use of language will be changing over the years, but our voice biometrics technology doesn’t make a judgement about how you sound; you just need to be you.”

Notes to editors

See the Example 2066 UK Urban Dictionary table in the press release.

About the authors

Dominic Watt, Senior Lecturer, Department of Language and Linguistic Science Dominic Watt was appointed Lecturer in Forensic Speech Science in 2007, and teaches mainly on its new MSc programme in that subject.

Watt has an MA (Hons) from Edinburgh and a PhD from Newcastle, and has held teaching and research positions in phonetics, speech acoustics and audiology, phonology and sociolinguistics at universities in Germany and around the UK, including York (2000-2002) and Aberdeen, where I was Director of the Phonetics Laboratory for five years.

Brendan Gunn

Brendan Gunn holds an MA and a PhD in linguistics. He began working as a Dialogue and Dialect Coach in 1986 after leaving the University of Ulster where he was a Lecturer in Linguistics.

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The Sound of Britain in 2066 (15-page PDF 1MB)