Cor love a duck: spot the difference between London and Cornish quacks
Friday June 4, 2004
In a discovery that gives a new meaning to the phrase estuary English, researchers have found that ducks have regional accents.
While cockney ducks make a rough "shouting" quack so that their mates can hear them above the din of urban life, their laid-back counterparts in the west country give off a Cornish burr of a quack, rather like a "giggle".
Researchers at Middlesex University discovered the difference after recording the quacks of ducks at Spitalfields City Farm in east London, and comparing them with the more "chilled out" noises made by the ducks on a tranquil farm near Looe in Cornwall.
Victoria de Rijke, a lecturer in English, said the ducks had developed regional accents in response to their environment.
"The cockney ducks at the city farm were much louder and vocally excitable than the ducks on Trerieve Farm in Downderry, Cornwall," Dr De Rijke said.
"The Cornish ducks made longer and more relaxed sounds, much more chilled out.
"The cockney quack is like a shout and a laugh, whereas the Cornish ducks sound more like they are giggling."
The lecturer, who has been nicknamed "Dr Quack" by colleagues, said ducks, like humans, were influenced by their environment.
"London ducks have the stress of city life and a lot of noise to compete with, like sirens, horns, planes and trains.
"On the other hand, the Cornish ducks have a big field to roam in and their quiet surroundings make all of a difference.
"So it is like humans: cockneys have short and open vowels, whereas the Cornish have longer vowels and speak fairly slowly."
Dr De Rijke now hopes to study the quacking sounds of geordie, scouse and Irish ducks.
"I choose ducks because they are so like humans - they are very sociable, they have a good sense of humour, and they are birds of habit," she said.
"When looking at the history of how a language developed, I like to look at animals as an example.
"I think it's a very useful method for explaining a complex subject."