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Lancashire dialect and accent

Lancashire dialect and accent refers to the vernacular speech in Lancashire, one of the counties of England. Simon Elmes' book Talking for Britain said that Lancashire dialect is now much less common than it once was, but it is not yet extinct. The terms sometimes includes or excludes the Liverpool area (also referred to as speaking Scouse), the Furness (now in Cumbria) and some areas that have been transferred between Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Introduction

The Lancashire Dictionary (Crosby, 2000) stated that the Furness (Barrow, Ulverston etc) had always had more in common with Cumbrian dialect than with the rest of Lancashire, and so excluded it; with regards to Liverpool, it stated that the border between modern Scouse and traditional Lancashire kicks in about ten miles from Liverpool city centre. The people of Widnes and St Helens, whilst only two or three miles from areas such as Speke, Kirkby, and Prescot speak with barely any sign of Scouse (e.g. St.Helens comedian Johnny Vegas).

As in all counties, there is a drift within local speech that shifts towards different borders. For example,

  • In those parts of Lancashire that border with Yorkshire, similarities with the Yorkshire dialect and accent arise. Words are shortened such as with to wi, in to i, etc.
  • In north Lancashire, speech sounds more similar to Cumbria. H-dropping is less frequent, and face, space words are said with an /eə/ rather than an /e:/.
  • In south Lancashire, speech is generally more refined, although Wigan and Leigh are possibly the last bastions of the traditional dialect where older people will still use the pronoun "tha" instead of "you". There are also some Midlands features that become apparent, such as a lack of Ng-coalescence (therefore, singer rhymes with finger).

This shift also occurs in other counties. Therefore, the western parts of Yorkshire have some Lancastrian features such as rhoticity. In Halifax words such as fur and fair will often be pronounced the same (see below) although the border with West Yorkshire marks the two distinctive 'oo' sounds in words like blue and shoe. In most of Lancashire ,this sound is pronounced /ʏ:/, a sound completely alien to Yorkshire and to Received Pronunciation, but which continues almost identically through Cheshire, Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and down into the West Country (as in the German 'ü' or like the 'u' in the French tu). West Yorkshire speech uses the rounder /ɪʊ:/ - the 'oo' as in the French 'vous'.

John C Wells, one of Britain's most prominent linguists, said in Accents of English Part 2 that a Manchester accent is often nearly identical to an accent from West or South Yorkshire. His proposed test was that Manchester area residents tend to pronounce a final -ng as /Ng/ without any coalescence, whereas Yorkshiremen rarely do this. Also, he suggested that Yorkshiremen are more likely to glottle a final /d/ on a word (e.g. could and should lose the /d/), and generally turn voiced consonants at the ends of words into voiceless consonants.

Perhaps the most famous Lancashire accent in popular culture is that of Peter Kay, who comes from Bolton. His comedy has parodied several features of Lancashire speech such as definite article reduction and the habit of using one's hands to illustrate what one means. The latter habit is said to originate from the Lancashire textile mills, where machinery was so loud that mill workers needed to use their hands to communicate. The folk singer/actor Bernard Wrigley is also from Bolton, and has a much more "rural" Bolton accent than Peter Kay's more modern urban Bolton accent. Jon Anderson, the singer from progressive rock band Yes, hails from Accrington, in eastern rural Lancashire, and his accent features heavy rhoticity and distinctive vowel pronunciation (made evident also in his singing), although he has gradually swifted towards slight American influences after leaving for the States in the early '80s, still keeping his native British accent on the whole though. International Paralympic Committee President Sir Philip Craven, hailing from Bolton, also speaks in a broad Lancashire rural accent, heavily rhoticised as well. The same level of rhoticism, among with many other features, can be found in actress Jane Horrocks's accent, coming from the eastern Lancashire town of Rawtenstall. Films from the early part of the 20th century often contain Lancashire dialect: the film-makers George Formby, Gracie Fields and Frank Randle are notable examples. The 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies used Lancashire accents, and the actress Mina Anwar portrayed the Lancastrian police officer Habeeb in The Thin Blue Line. The two main characters in Rita, Sue and Bob Too had accents from the south-east of Lancashire; the film was actually set in Bradford, but, as most people in television production group Lancashire and Yorkshire together as "Northern", they were allowed to use their own accents. Further proof of this is Lancashire soap Coronation Street where up to 50% of the cast have clearly Yorkshire accents, whilst in Yorkshire soap Emmerdale the reverse can be said. In fact many actors appear in both during their careers and never modify their speech.

The band the Lancashire Hotpots originate from St Helens, and popularise dialect in their humorous songs. The folk song "Poverty Knock " is written to the tune of a Lancashire accent. It is one of the most famous dialect songs in Britain, and describes life in a textile mill. The song "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at" is associated with Yorkshire, but, having been written by natives of Halifax, contains dialect that would be just as typical of Lancashire, including yet for "eat" and etten for "eaten".

Vowel shifts

Vowels

RP English Lancashire
/æ/ as in 'bad' [a]
/ɑː/ as in 'bard' [a:r]
/aʊ/ as in 'house' [εu], [a:] or /aʊ/
/eɪ/ as in 'bay' [e:]
/eə/ as in 'bear' [εr]
/aɪ/ as in 'bide' [ɐː] (South), [aɪ] (North)
/əʊ/ as in 'boat' [o:]
/ʌ/ as in 'bud' [ʊ]
/uː/ as in 'boo' [ʏ:] (South) or [u:] (North)
/uə/ as in 'cure' [u:ər]

Older dialect has some other vowel shifts: for example, speak would be said with a /eɪ/ sound, to rhyme with R.P. break; words ending in -ought (e.g. brought, thought) would be pronounced as |/oʊt/. These are now extremely rare (if not extinct).

Grammatical and phonological features

  • Definite article reduction. The is shortened to t or glottalled.
  • Rhoticity is a key feature of a Lancashire accent, and is often more trilled than in the West Country. The closer that one gets to Manchester and Liverpool, rhoticity dies out. Northwards it seems to die out somewhere between Preston and Lancaster.
  • Vowel-lengthening is common, but generally less so than in Yorkshire. In some words with RP /əʊ/, a sound more like /[ɔɪ/] may be used, for example, "hole" is pronounced [hɔɪl], "hoil".
  • Some areas have the nurse-square merger: for example, Bolton, St. Helens and Wigan. Traditionally, both nurse and square would be said with /ɜː/ but the Scouse-like /ɛː/ can also be heard.
  • In areas that border Yorkshire, it is more likely for there, where, swear, etc. to be pronounced with /ɪə/, to rhyme with "here".
  • Words that end -ight often change so that they end /iː/. For example light, night, right, sight become leet, neet, reet, seet. Some areas pronounce fight and right with an /ei/ vowel - a split that is also found in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
  • An oo in words such as book, look, hook can be pronounced with /ʉː/. This is a feature of Early Modern English, and is not unique to Lancashire dialect.
  • In days gone by "open" would have become "oppen", "spoken" becomes "spokken", "broken" becomes "brokken", etc but these are now uncommon amongst younger generations. They are still fairly common in West Yorkshire.
  • Traditionally, a /t/ was replaced with an /r/; for example, "I'm gerring berrer", "a lorra laughs". This is now confined to the more rural parts of Lancashire. Around Manchester and Salford, a glottal stop is much more common for /t/.
  • Rather than a mixed use of was and were such as occurs in Standard English, Lancashire dialects tend to only use one of the words and employ it in all cases. The west coast of Lancashire always uses was whilst the rest of the county always uses were.
  • Use of a "z" sound for an "s" as in "bus" pronounced "buzz" for example in Darwen or even as far south as Oldham and Wigan.
  • The word "self" is reduced to "sen" or "sel", depending on the part of Lancashire.
  • Make and take normally become mek and tek. In older dialect, parts of north and east Lancashire used mak and tak.
  • A marker of a traditional Lancashire accent is the frequent replacement of /a/ with /o/. For example, land became lond and man became mon. This is now considered to be old-fashioned.

Several dialect words are also used. Traditional Lancashire dialect often related to the traditional industries of the area, and these words became redundant when those industries disappeared. There are still words that relate to everyday life that are in common use however. See the list of Yorkshireisms, which are similar, for examples. Words that are popularly associated with Lancashire include "gradely" for excellent and "harping" for talking in a mindless manner. The word "lunch", now in worldwide usage, actually originates from Lancashire. The term "moggy" a popular colloquial term for a cat in many parts of the country, means a mouse or insect in many parts of Lancashire, notably in the regions surrounding Wigan and Ormskirk. If older dialect speaking residents of these areas are asked what a 'moggy' is, they will say 'owt smo' an' wick ', i.e. anything small and alive. In the same districts, cheese is often referred to as 'moggy meyght' i.e. 'moggy meat', or in other words, food for mice. Many etymological authorities believe that cats were originally referred to as 'moggy catchers' and the term was abbreviated over time. The word 'maiden' for 'clothes horse' is now used even by people who consider themselves too proper for dialect.

Poetry and other literature

Several poems exist in the dialect, and the Lancashire Dialect Society prints such poems regularly. One example of very old-fashioned dialect is the poem Jone o Grinfilt, which was written during the Napoleonic Wars. Another is "The Oldham Weaver", which is dated at around 1815:

Oi'm a poor cotton-weyver, as mony a one knoowas*,
Oi've nout for t'year, an' oi've word eawt my clooas,
Yo'ad hardly gi' tuppence for aw as oi've on,
My clogs are both brosten, an stuckings oi've none,
Yu'd think it wur hard,
To be browt into th' warld,
To be clemmed, an' do th' best as yo' con.

(taken from Kirkpatrick Sale, "Rebels Against the Future", p.45)

  • The word knoowas may have just been used to force a rhyme with clooas. The Oldham area has traditionally pronounced the words knows as knaws.

Samuel Laycock (1826–1893) was a dialect poet who recorded in verse the vernacular of the Lancashire cotton workers.

A Lancashire joke is as follows, "A family from Wigan go on holiday to Benidorm and order some food. The father thinking his pie is lacking in gravy calls the waiter over saying " 'ast tha Bisto fort pah?' and the waiter says in a southern English accent, "I'm sorry, mate. I don't speak Spanish. This is an English pub."

Survey of English dialect sites

The Survey of English Dialects took recordings from fourteen sites in Lancashire:

References

  • "Lancashire English", Fred Holcroft
  • "Talking for Britain", Simon Elmes
  • Survey of English Dialects. Recording online at http://www.collectbritain.co.uk/collections/dialects

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