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You are what you speak?

Lynda Moyo talks the talk on the Manchester accent

Written by . Published on January 10th 2008.


You are what you speak?

“Hiyoh, y’alright?” said Terry Christian.

“That’s a rather perculiar accent. Where are you from?” said William Roache

“Manchest-oh.” said Terry

“Oh? Me too.” said William

Although a hypothetical scenario, radio presenter Terry Christian and Coronation Street actor William Roache sound nothing alike even though they’re both Mancunian. What a difference a few miles can make. Whether you’re from Bolton or Burnage, Altrincham or Audenshaw you will speak with some form of a Manchester accent, (whether you think you do or not). And it’s constantly changing (again, whether you think it is or not). So what is the state of play of the Manchester accent today.

Mark Langley is the general manager of the Arden School of Theatre and a freelance vocal coach. He has studied the local lingo accent.

He said: “There are as many varieties of the accent as there are people. We make choices about who we want to sound like. There is a large influx of Asian English and Black English now which contributes to accent and dialect polarisation. Fashionability is also attached to it. When Bread was on TV suddenly the Liverpool accent was great. Queer as Folk and Shameless have done the same for Manchester. People want to move towards a sound which is in vogue.”

The accent has certainly come along way from its Lancastrian roots. From Estuary English to modern day slang, accents are largely influenced by age, social background and education as well as popular culture.

Roy Harrison was born in West Gorton in 1936 and grew up in Harpurhey. Roy remembers a time when the Gallagher brothers were nothing more than a twinkle in Mr Gallagher's eye, when a book was a 'buke' and Mancunians expressed themselves in what would now seem like a foreign language to the youth of today.

He said: “Manchester is still part of Lancashire, it has never left. Greater Manchester is a political administrative area and not a County. I prefer the Lancashire style Manchester accent (which I’m told I still have). I do not believe for one minute that by changing the name of an area, that this can change how people speak, it takes years for accents to change and Manchester has many of these, you can travel a matter of a few miles and the dialect will change. The expression which used to be used when slightly perplexed was ‘Well, I’ll go tert foot of our sters’. ‘Ecky thump’ was another. ‘Ta-ra’ meant goodbye, ‘look, book, cook’, were pronounced as luke, buke, cuke, ‘nowt’ meant nothing.”

As an evolving and cosmopolitan city with lots of different immigrant groups, Manchester has developed a twang which has set it aside from surrounding areas in Lancashire. Much harsher in tone, it has a nasal city quickness which immediately distinguishes it.

As Langley said: “To try and keep Manchester true to its Lancastrian roots would be cheating the principle of social evolution. I think it’s very short-sighted and avoids the whole concept of language. Everyone’s accent is constantly shifting. If Manchester find’s talking a certain way easier, then that is where it’ll go. Ultimately people vote with their feet. Lancastrian is disappearing.”

It was down to the distinctness of accent that led Stanley Ellis to pinpoint the voice on the tape which claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper back in 1979. Ellis, a Leeds University voice expert, announced that the voice on the tape was from a village called Castletown. According to Langley, this kind of specific accent recognition is not as easy these days saying: “Stanley Ellis could get it down to within two streets. As we now travel more, that will become more difficult.”

The accent most commonly associated with Mancunians in the media was made popular by culture of the time. And as easy as it is for accents to follow popular trends, it’s just as easy for them to change because of negative connotations. Not many Mancunians might appreciate this but the classic inner-city ‘oh’ sound of Manchest-oh, was borrowed from Salford. But according to Langley, the ‘scally’ and ‘dodgy’ sort of comments associated with this might in turn encourage Manchest-oh to lose its Salford-esque intonation.

He said: “Ultimately today London underpins the development of language as the epicentre of England but in Manchester if the stereotypical Salford-style accent is perceived as thick or untrustworthy, then Mancunians will subconsciously rebel against this trend and drop the current sound.”

In the end, of course, no accent is particularly right or wrong. We all have our own concept of a standard form of spoken English and it's generally a form of accent much closer to received pronunciation of the Home Counties. That in itself is by no means perfect because it is impossible to speak in pure language.

It isn't uncommon for speakers to be judged by their accent, as George Bernard Shaw famously said in Pygmalion, ‘It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him’.

But whatever accent you have the same rules apply: accents are about laziness. Like cheating in an exam you haven’t revised for, when it comes to speaking cheating is how you get an effortless result, faster. We all cut corners in our speech. Innit. If anybody criticizes your accent then that thought might be reassuring. Let’s get back to Georgie boy again: ‘Can you show me any English [person] who speaks English as it should be spoken? Only foreigners who have been taught to speak it speak it well’. Exactly.

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21 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JamesJanuary 10th 2008.

It does actually mention nasal: 'Much harsher in tone, it has a nasal city quickness which immediately distinguishes it'. The point at which the accent started to get recognisably city rather than a variant of Lancastrian was sometime in the late-sixties I reckon when immigrant inflections from a new wave of Irish and Caribbean arrivals started affecting the accent.

Spencois SpurchJanuary 10th 2008.

Prestwich man is a Goon. Critizing people for reinforcing stereotypes directly after enforcing one himself. Muppet.

VexedJanuary 10th 2008.

'Ms Linguist' sounds like she's choking on her degree, therefore no one will be able to hear her accent.

paulyJanuary 10th 2008.

OOOOOH Ms Linguist did a Degree you know so she knows what she is talking about !!!hahahahahah - reminds me of that old Manc Comedy Character - Paul Calf. He would have got that line into one of his sketches perfectly with maximum laughs following.

Miss Linguist #2January 10th 2008.

Miss Linguist probably does know what she's talking about when it comes to phonology, but what a shame that the degree of which she is so proud apparently didn't teach her any grammar.

AnonymousJanuary 10th 2008.

I agree with Sir Jimmy Saville, its ManCHESTer, not ManchestOR.

IAMCLAARTICUSJanuary 10th 2008.

look darlin, in case you hadnt noticed Ms Moyo is a journalist not a phonologist. Do you expect her to be educated to degree level in every article she writes?I'm assuming you have a career in sociolinguistics/phonology now judging from your vast knowlege... or are you one of those students who picked a waste of time course and are now wasting tax payers money not paying back your student loan working in an unrelated field.you know where you can shove your prescriptive grammar luv X

Ms LinguistJanuary 10th 2008.

Accents are not lazy and everyone has one, it might not necessarily give away where you are from, as in RP- Received Pronunciation, a regional-less accent. However, we do have opinions about them due to what we associate them with. I think this is a very amateurish article and I can't believe its been published. I did an English Language degree at Manchester University (in which I studied Phonology), so I know what I'm talking about. Although it is nice to read people opinions and observations about accents, and they do add to the rich linguistic tapestry of language.

roseJanuary 10th 2008.

I don't agree with Sir Jimmy,but that's a personal thing.The bastard never fixed anything for me

salfordladJanuary 10th 2008.

I find it hard to believe that Manchester 'borrows' the Salford accent. Broughton (Salford) borders Cheetham Hill (North Manchester) so to say people from Cheetham Hill started copying the Salford accent is a bit far-fetched. I think it's just the common accent for this part of the country. The further south Manchester you go i think people speak a little clearly, however with the recent vast influx of immigrants most people sound Jamaican nowadays anyway!! Historically Manchester City centre was a trading place for the people of Salford and Manchester, hence the city centre being on the Salford borders, therefore I believe this is why Mancunians and Salfordians sound so similar and the accent has just evolved through time!

Ms LinguistJanuary 10th 2008.

Ok- English Grammar was at 9, who is out of bed at that when your a student (sociolinguistics/ phonology was pm). But if you'd like to discuss prescriptive vs descriptive grammar- I'm all up for that. Its interesting I thought my style suited this internet/blog comment register- speech writing stylee we got goin on. Yeh mon. I was simply demonstrating any one with an English Language A level would know more than this journo- which actually brings the quality of this publication down. Grammar- you still understand what I'm sayin' go and play with your Microsoft Word spelling/grammar checker mate. x

harryJanuary 10th 2008.

Is it me or has Ian 'shocking live vocal'Brown aquired an increasingly strong Manc twang over the years. Also, when crossing Piccadilly gardens I hear lots of scallies who appear to have Jamacian/American accents, what is all that about?

Phil StephensJanuary 10th 2008.

I go to Manchester quite a bit.I'm from Belfast-I love Manchester-the accent is top and the people are the salt of the earth.Be proud of your accent and where youre from-its a tremendous city and still the people are homely are down to earth.

CarlosTheJackalJanuary 10th 2008.

I was surprised to read that article and not see the word "nasal" anywhere. "The" Manchester vocal style sound the media like to lazily fall back on is defined as much by the 'tone' of it as by the pure 'accent' itself. In much the same way as Harry Enfield's archetypal Scousers were recognised by the high pitch of their pleas to "Calm down", so it is that the next time the Beeb are casting for "Mancunian Scally #4" for their next gritty drama, they'll be looking for someone who sounds like they're just recovering from a cold.

Prestwich manJanuary 10th 2008.

The Saford accent sounds dreadful and whenever you hear it you can usually guarantee its from a member of Manchester's state funded underclass dressed in its obligatory shell suit, 6 kg's of fake gold trash and of course the fleet of prams covered in Gregg's pasty wrappers. There is nothing wrong with a local accent but this one is used deliberately to reinforce a stereotype. Lets just speak normally as opposed to this revolting exaggerated snarl.

EloiseJanuary 10th 2008.

I bumped into an old friend a few weeks back, 12 years since I've seen her. As we parted my Mum said 'what on earth was that accent all about?'. She'd only moved two miles up the road from where she was born.

NiallJanuary 10th 2008.

I'm Irish and have lived happily in Manchester for the past 6 years. Anyone who has ever come to visit me (from many countries) has remarked that 'the accent' here is unpleasant and grating. It's natural for people to defend the accent of where their from, but I sometimes wonder how many Mancs would be prepared to admit they agree with my visitors! (reaches for helmet)

paulyJanuary 10th 2008.

****Spencois Spurch says.." Prestwich man is a Goon******Nahhhhhh Spencois- He got me chuckling because his piece is pretty damned spot on - the Tossers who tend to use an over the top Manc accent are generally Scrotes or middle class student types trying to go street. I have a Manchester accent but I dont squeak it through my nose in a weaselly scrote way whilst peppering it with F this and F that (or should that be DAT!!) Pah!!! What a loada tossers.

Colin HenshawJanuary 10th 2008.

While I was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I was speaking to a friend of mine back home using "SKYPE." There was a delay in the transmission, and I heard an echo of my own voice. I thought to myself "Is that me?" .... Fluent Manc! Southerners could always recognise that I came from the North, but I didn't realise it was that strong.

CarlosTheJackalJanuary 10th 2008.

That'll teach me to speed-read on my lunch hour. Cheers James!

NiallJanuary 10th 2008.

'they're from', sorry! (slinks away)

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