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In Dickens' Pickwick Papers, there's a character "Sam Weller". Weller's dialogue is written somewhat phonetically, I presume, but I'm struggling to understand what accent Dickens is trying to portray. The main peculiarities of Weller's speech are using "v" where there should be a "w" and a "w" when there should be a "v". For example, he says "wery" instead of "very" and "avay" instead of "away". Weller is supposed to be from London, but this doesn't seem like any kind of London accent I've heard. Is this a particular archaic accent?

More importantly, what is Dickens telling us about Sam Weller by having him speak like this?

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Good question. What Dickens is telling us (beyond the fact that he's Cockney and amusing) is LitCrit and therefore Off-Topic here. – StoneyB Nov 29 '12 at 18:59
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's supposed to represent 19th century Cockney, a working-class London dialect. I don't know if Cockneys actually switched v's & w's like this; it seems more likely to me they pronounced both letters in the same way, perhaps like a v but not quite touching the lips to the teeth, /ʋ/.

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I suspect it's much easier to write this dialect by showing people switching v's and w's than any other way. You also see the vowels oy and er switch in written representations of the Brooklyn accent (boyds and ersters), even though these vowels were pronounced in the same way in that dialect. – Peter Shor Nov 29 '12 at 12:14
This cites Trudgill, Peter, Daniel Schreier, Daniel Long & Jeffrey P. Williams. 2004. "On the reversibility of mergers: /w/, /v/ and evidence from lesser-known Englishes." Folia Linguistica Historica, Vol. XXIV/1-2: 23-45, to the effect that this was a bilabial approximant [β] which later demerged. – StoneyB Nov 29 '12 at 12:26

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