It's always tea-time!

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uppladdat: 2005-12-06
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General introduction of the subject:

Coming here to England has been a very valuable experience in many ways, especially considering the fact that we have learnt so many new words and expressions and also the difference between words which we had no idea were any different from each other such as, for example, mist and fog. What we have found among the most remarkable and confusing things is the fact that many English people use different words for their meals. In school back in Sweden and Germany we both learnt the same thing: The morning meal is called breakfast, the midday meal is called lunch, and the evening meal is called dinner. Coming here we have experienced the fact that this is not always the case, which can be very confusing at times. Within the first week Emma and Rabea’s host had called the evening meal all of the following: evening meal, dinner, supper and tea.
This started out as two separate projects, but as we discovered we had the same subject we decided to make it a collaboration and focus on two different age groups.
The title of our linguistic investigation is based on a quotation taken from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In order to explain why we have chosen that particular quotation, we will include a part from that scene below:

“’It’s always six o’clock now.’
A bright idea came into Alice’s head. ‘Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.
‘Yes, that’s it, said the Hatter with a sigh: ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.’” (Carroll 64)

Hanna and Therese’s Investigation:

Introduction

During our stay in Leeds, we noticed that English people use different kinds of terms for both their midday meal as well as their evening meal. We found this very interesting and therefore decided to use this topic as basis for our common linguistic investigation. We have also done a comparison with our friends Emma From and Rabea Hofmann’s findings, since we have all chosen to work with the same topic but in different age groups, i.e. students at TASC and older people. Hanna and I have worked with older people, since we, at first, wanted to know whether there is either a class or a geographical difference concerning people’s terms of their meals. But then we changed our approach into whether there is an age difference or not.

Our linguistic variable

The English people have different kinds of terms for their midday meal and their evening meal. We have come up with our own theory about tea originating as an afternoon light meal for the leisured classes, then the word being appropriated by the working classes for the evening meal when they got in from work trying to be genteel, while the upper class who have had their “tea” then went on to “dinner”.

Discussion

History has shown that there is a difference in what the working class and the middle/upper class call different things. In this case, the middle/upper class did not have to work as long hours as the working class had to, nor did the working class have the same kind of economic resources for as many meals as the upper class did. Our theory is that the middle/upper class probably called their midday meal “lunch”, had “tea” around 4 o’clock (which meant basically having a cup of tea and eating a cake or a biscuit) and then waiting until about 7-9 to have their so-called “supper” or “dinner”.
According to our host, Mrs. Valerie Wood-Robinson, when using the term “supper”, the speaker would probably talk about a meal containing less food than a “dinner”, but the main difference is that “dinner” refers to a more formal occasion than “supper” does. “Supper” can also refer to a bedtime-snack. As with the words “dessert” and “pudding”, the working class probably heard the social class difference in these two terms and therefore tried to follow the same way of life as the aristocracy led. Unfortunately, since the working class’s resources were less than the middle/upper class’s, they could not afford to lead the same kind of life as the aristocracy did. Instead, the working class started to call the midday meal (i.e. their main meal) “dinner” and, later on, started to use the even more fancy term “tea” for their evening meal. Thereby, the working class could identify themselves with the middle/upper class.
Valerie helped us get in touch with one of her old friends, Dr. Douglas Barnes, a retired linguist who has been working as a university lecturer for teaching of English. Valerie sent him an e-mail telling him about our hypothesis and asked him for sources to support or refute our idea. He said that he agreed with our theory. He also gave us some important information about the history of tea and some sources, which supported our idea as well. Below, we have included some parts from his e-mail since we cannot describe these parts any better than he has:
“The Oxford Dictionary gives ‘an ordinary afternoon or evening meal’ which does not help us.
Tea was first imported during the 17th century, and originally called ‘tay’. Like coffee it was drunk in public – often in tea-houses or tea-gardens – as a ceremony in its own right rather than part of a meal. This seems to have continued during the 18th century, certainly for Queen Anne:
There thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey
Dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes tay.
Pope The Rape of the Lock
At this time tea was widely associated with fashionable women exchanging scandalous gossip, who ‘retired to their tea and scandal’. (Congreve The Double Dealer)
In 1818 Keats (Letters) was still writing about ‘taking’ tea, as if it were separate from a meal.

By the late 19th century in the south of England tea was part of a light meal. W.S. Gilbert wrote:
‘Now for the tea of our host
Now for the rollicking bun,
Now for the muffin and toast,
Now for the gay Sally Lunn .’

“[…] In Rupert Brooke’s poem Granchester we may get an indication of the time of day, though it may rather imply that the clock is not working.

Stands the Church clock at ten to three
And is there honey still for tea?

So by 1913/1914 tea implies a light meal in the social context of a prosperous Cambridge undergraduate. It was certainly quite unlike the Northern ‘high tea’.
Dorothy [Mrs. Barnes] directed my attention to Jane Austen’s Emma. You’ll remember that fussy old Mr Woodhouse has trivial fads. Dorothy thought that he insisted on having dinner at four in the afternoon, though I have been unable to find the reference in the novel. Certainly when they visited friends it seemed that they had tea not long after dinner and then Mr Woodhouse wanted to go home. It wasn’t clear though whether tea was a meal or just a drink.[…]”

“[…] I’m sure that the few upper class people I have known have not used ‘dinner’ but ‘supper’, except for very formal occasions. Dorothy also found a document from 1840 which used ‘supper’ for the evening meal in a middle-class context in Whitby. (One of her ancestors.) My own lower middle class family in Kent ate a main meal (called ‘dinner’) at midday and had ‘tea’ in the evening, but that was because my father and I could get home from our schools at midday.[…]”

We have also spoken to three different people about this matter and asked them when they consider is time for lunch, tea, dinner and supper. According to Mrs. Pat Byrne, 67 years old, this is her own “timetable” for the main meal, tea and evening meal(s):

Lunch: from 12 to 2 o’clock.
Tea: between 3.30 and 4 o’clock.
Dinner: from 6 to 9 o’clock.
Supper: between 9 and 10 o’clock.

According to our host Valerie, 65 years old, her “timetable” looks like this:

Lunch: between 12 and 2 o’clock.
Tea: from 4 to 7 o’clock.
Dinner: between 6 and 8 o’clock.
Supper (or bedtime snack): from 9.30 to 11 o’clock.

In addition, we have also asked our tutor, Mr. Alan Hall, 59 years old, about when he has his meals:

Dinner/Lunch: 12 – 1.30 (he prefers to use the term “dinner” for his midday meal)
Tea/Dinner/Supper: 6.30-7.30 (he prefers to use the term “tea” for his evening meal)


Emma and Rabea’s Investigation:

This part of the essay will focus primarily on what the students at Trinity and All Saints College call their meals, and at the end we will compare our results with Hanna’s and Therese’s who focused on the way more senior people call them.
After choosing a subject, our first task was to design a questionnaire to distribute among the students in the, in our opinion, most appropriate place, the dining area. Seeing how we did not want this to become too extensive, we limited ourselves to only 20 copies (only 18 were answered) with four different questions (see appendix 1). What we wanted to see in this survey was whether there is a difference in what words are used depending on age, gender and social class.
We discovered our first obstacle when looking through the questionnaires for the first time after they had been filled in. We had written ‘profession’ as one of the facts we wanted to know about the person answering the questions, and that did not tell us anything apart from the fact that they are students at the college, which complicated the whole matter of social class. Therefore we have completely disregarded this part of the investigation.

Our results:

As stated before, 18 people took part in this survey. Below follows the number of people who gave these answers.

Question 1: What do you call the following meals of the day?

· Morning meal:
- breakfast: 17
- I never eat it!: 1

· Midday meal:
- lunch: 15
- dinner: 3

· Evening meal:
- dinner: 9
- tea: 7
- supper: 1
- dinner/tea: 1

Question 2: What time do you usually eat the biggest meal of the day?

- midday: 4
- evening: 14

Surprisingly, none of the four people who said they eat their biggest meal in the middle of the day called it "dinner" - they all referred to it as "lunch". From that, we can conclude that the size of the meal is not an important factor when determining the difference between "lunch" and "dinner".
Question 3: How did you learn the words for the different meals? Do your parents/ friends use the same words?

- parents: 13 (One person wrote that her mother is Irish and taught her lunch and dinner. She finds it confusing that people in Yorkshire sometimes use different words.)
- friends: 6 (One person identified himself as Chinese and wrote that he learnt the words from his friends as well as from his English teacher.)
- menu: 1 (Another Chinese person wrote that he looked at the menu to find the appropriate words.)
- school: 4 (One person wrote that she had changed to "dinner" since she had come to the university.)

Note that multiple answers were possible here.

Question 4: Have you always used these words, or do you recall using different words when you were younger?

yes: 13
no: 5

One person wrote that her parents used different words, namely breakfast/dinner/tea, while she learnt to use her own words later on, namely breakfast/lunch/dinner.

One person wrote that “dinner” used to be “supper” when he/she was younger.

One person wrote that “dinner” used to be “tea” and that his/her family still calls it that.

One person wrote that “lunch” used to be “dinner”.


Conclusions

The most popular choice for the midday meal, by far, is “lunch”. Only three out of 18 people prefer to call it “dinner”. For the evening meal, “tea” and “dinner” are almost equally popular, with dinner being slightly in the lead. Only one person calls his/her evening meal “supper”, and one person was unsure whether to call it “dinner” or “tea”.
There does not seem to be any connection between the choice of words and a person’s gender. Males are as likely to use “tea” or “dinner” as females.
The biggest influence by far is what parents call the meals. Friends and school are also important. One person mentions that she adjusted her language to suit her friends’ word choice since she started at studying at the university.
Several people say they used to have different names for the meals, but changed them on their own later on, mainly due to the influence of parents, friend etc. In these cases, more people have changed from “tea” or “supper” to calling the evening meal “dinner”, rather than the other way around. This could be an indication that “dinner” is becoming a more popular word for the evening meal among students, while their parents tend to call it “tea” or “supper” more often.
To conclude, we need to add that research on such a small scale can hardly be representative of any larger gro...

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Inactive member [2005-12-06]   It's always tea-time!
Mimers Brunn [Online]. http://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=4994 [2018-09-26]

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