You may recall the classic scene in the film “My Fair Lady,” in which Professor Higgins, phonetics expert, instructs the lovely Audrey Hepburn in the proper pronunciation of the words, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
Well, in just a few short decades — “this” may not be so necessary in our English language.
Linguists predict that by 2066, the “th” sound will completely vanish from our English language. That’s due to the influx of so many foreigners who struggle to pronounce the interdental consonant, as it’s called — which is created by pushing the tongue against the upper teeth.
Look at London, for starters. Currently traditional Estuary English, prevalent in the South East of the U.K. — a hybrid of Cockney and received pronunciation (RP) — is being heavily influenced by Caribbean, West African, and Asian communities, which are replacing it with Multicultural London English (MLE). Within 50 years, according to experts at the University of York, MLE will “spread from its London roots and throughout the U.K.”
How This Will Happen, Exactly
“The Sounds of the Future” report, from the University of York, is based on analyses of recordings from the last 50 years as well as social media language use.
The “th” sound — also called the voiced dental nonsibliant fricative (just in case you were wondering) — is likely to be replaced an “f,” “d,” or “v” — meaning “mother” will be pronounced “muvver” and “thick” will be voiced as “fick.”
1.) “Th” will vanish. The dental consonants will be replaced by “d,” meaning “this” or “that” will become “dis” or “dat.”
2.) “Th” fronting will be lost. Words that begin with the “th” sound will be lost, so “thin” will become “fin.”
3.) Emojis — such as the happy face, sad face, and wink — will become part of our language and facial expressions.
4.) The glottal stop pronunciation of “t,” that brief catch in the throat when the tongue tip closes against the roof of the mouth, will be the default pronunciation.
Right now, all of this sounds a bit hard to believe — but multiculturalism has its long-tail effects.