The letter W in Dickens. Pronounced as a W or V?

I’m re-reading Great Expectations. This is a Penguin edition. The print and spelling are mostly conventional and don’t appear to be at all archaic or out of date. However, occasionally, I’ve come across a word, e.g. wittles (vittles) or anwil (anvil) and I have to wonder if in Dickens’ time the words were spelled with a W and pronounced as V, or if they were pronounced as a W. I’ve never seen any other English written that way, although I’m not terribly well-read in 19th c. British lit. What’s the story on this use of the W? Publisher’s quirk? Historically accurate? Something else? Thanks, Dopers.

Are these all in dialog? I would assume that they were an attempt to record a particular character’s dialect.

Agreed, I would assume it is dialect. The question has come up before.

In The Pickwick Papers, Sam Weller and his father Tony Weller mix up their Vs and Ws, so presumably Dickens had observed that as a feature of the speech of some Cockneys.

I feel compelled to point out that there is no letter “W” in “Dickens,”* so the question appears to be moot.

*We could talk about the potential advantages of pronouncing the “c” as an “s,” if you like.

From Great Expectations:

The “w” seems to be a character’s accent/dialect, or maybe speech impediment.

Can you pronounce it as a “K” instead of a “B”? Khaki, Koala, …

Here’s a British English speaker with a speech impediment that pronounces "r"s as "w"s, similar to Dickens’ “Joe”.

The fact that it’s spelled “wittles” also indicates that it is an attempt to replicate a speech pattern, as that word is properly spelled victuals. Cite.

It may be spelled “victuals,” but it’s pronounced “vittles.”

And no, I’m not Raymond Luxury-Yachting. Look at the pronunciation guide at your link.

Yeah, the spelling of victuals is yet another example of long-dead latin fetishists fucking up the spelling of perfectly good english words.

At least the “wittles” guy is keepin’ things (somewhat) classical, though: victus is pronounced like “wiktus”, with a long “i”.

The v/w interchange in Cockney dialect is attested as far back as the 18th century elocutionist Thomas Sheridan.

I found this in an interesting blog article entitled The Cockney v/w Mystery. Little is known about it other than Dickens and other writers reflected the usage in their depictions of Cockney dialect. All traces of it had disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century.

I thought that was what I said, though I didn’t make clear that what I was calling attention to was the “ittles” part of Dickens’ spelling.

Yes, and spelling nazis keeping them that way.:mad:

Pip and Joe were from the marshlands of Kent, situated in northern Kent along the Thames, downriver from London.

“The pattern of speech in some of Charles Dickens’ books pertain to Kentish dialect, as the author lived at Higham was familiar with the mudflats near Rochester and created a comic character Sam Weller who spoke the local accent, principally Kentish but with strong London influences.”

That v~w alteration would have been a regional dialectal feature which is now extinct. I wonder if the German linguist who recorded British POWs in WWI captured any of that.

W.D. Parish & W.F. Shaw, *A Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect and Provincialisms in the County of Kent* (1888), p. vi:

w and v change places invariably when they are initial ; as ‘wery vell’ for ‘very well’.”

That whole area has become subsumed in “Estuary English,” which I gather is some sort of Cockney “lite” that spread out of London.

In the Hawaiian language, the W is pronounced as V. Did Dickens travel to Hawai’i?

It’s to do with using the teeth instead of the lips, essentially. There are still a lot of Cockneys and speakers of Estuary English who say the letter r by putting their top teeth slightly on the bottom inside lip, rather than by curling the tongue towards the roof of the mouth (which is not a very technical way of describing it, but I hope you know what I mean).

I do it occasionally if I’m speaking really casually. It’s how pretty much everyone I grew up with made the r sound. It can make the r sound a bit like a v, or a bit like a w, but not exactly; it’s a sound that isn’t a feature of British RP. If you know anyone from those areas they probably don’t even realise they do it, and people under 30 generally don’t because the accent has changed (but some do). Russell Brand does it - he has the same accent I grew up with.

The w/v thing has, or rather had, the same cause, letting the top teeth graze the lower lip while making the w sound. It was never a full v like Dickens transcribes. I’m not sure it has completely died out, to be honest, but it’s definitely not as common as it was 100 years ago.

Maybe we had loads of people with overbites or something.

Estuary English only arose after the second world war, when lots of East and South-East Londoners were moved out of London to Essex (if they were North of the river) and Kent (South). There had a been a gradual migration out of the city since the railways started in the late 19th century, so the accents in those areas had gradually been changing anyway, but it was WWII that brought a bigger influx and a bigger change.

The accent has spread via class connotations and a dislike of being seen as posh, though then it’s watered down. Despite what some linguists say, it does have a geographical basis rather than just class-based - otherwise people in Merseyside would be talking in Estuary English too.

Beautiful! Thank you so much. Yep, it was dialog, and as such told readers a lot about his characters. Wonderfully informative responses. This has been and continues to be a remarkable site. I consider myself fortunate for following The Great Master and his offspring all these years. (It’s taken longer than anticipated.)