Millions of Britons don't know their Rs from their Ws

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Cwikey, Jonathan Woss is not alone. The habit of speaking with a weak R is sweeping the nation, according to new research by dialectologists.

The labial R, a cross between an R and a W, was once seen as a defect in need of remedial therapy, but is now being much more widely used. One theory is that there is no longer a stigma associated with the weak R, which researchers have noted in the speech of Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse and Sara Cox, as well as Ross.

"Using a weak R is something that children do naturally. It may be that teenagers are no longer getting rid of that element of childhood speech because it is no longer stigmatised," said Dr Paul Foulkes of York University, who led the research.

In the research, dialectologists carried out interviews to check on the use of the weak R. Overall, it is estimated is that one in 20 now uses the weak R.

"It is certainly more widespread and it does seem to be a recent phenomenon. It used to be regarded as a speech defect or a way of talking associated with upper-class fops. For some reason it is being increasingly noticed in areas around the country, but why we are not quite sure,'' said Dr Foulkes.

"One suggestion is that it might be because it is associated with the south-east. Cockney stereotypes do have a certain cachet and one possibility is that people are picking up on the way of talking of people who have certain prestige. Some alternative comedians, like Paul Whitehouse, speak in that way, and so do a number of musicians,'' Dr Foulkes added.