Do you speak ‘Manc’, ‘Lancashire’, ‘posh’ or ‘Wigan’? That’s the question a group of sociolinguists at Manchester Metropolitan University are trying to figure out.
The Manchester Voices research project has been looking at how people speak across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs and what people think and feel about our different accents.
The project has identified four emerging accents within Greater Manchester folk, finding that the ‘Manc’ accent is mostly situated in the city centre while residents of South Manchester, Trafford and Stockport are more likely to sound ‘posh’.
Residents in Bury, Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham tend to have a more ‘Lancashire’ sounding accent while locals in Wigan have their own distinctive dialect.
Comprised of academics Dr Rob Drummond, Dr Holly Dann, Dr Sadie Ryan and a group of student research assistants, the Manchester Voices research team hope the project will celebrate the diversity of language across the city-region.
“The project came about partly because there hadn’t really been a big study that looked at the whole of Greater Manchester,” Dr Sadie Ryan tells the M.E.N.
“If you speak to people from Greater Manchester, people will immediately begin to tell you that people from Wigan will sound completely different from people in the city centre or in Oldham.
“Northern languages are often stigmatised in the UK and people have told us they can be held back from certain things in life because they have a very distinctive Salford accent, for example.
“We wanted to look at whether people have pride in their accents or if they wanted to change them.”
In the first stage of the research, researchers asked more than 350 people from the region to draw and describe different accents and dialects on an online map.
Researchers analysed the responses by creating heatmaps, with the red areas showing where respondents labelled the different regions.
The analysis suggested that the use of ‘burr’ and ‘bewk’ could be lessening over time, with younger people – and especially young women – being more likely to say ‘bear’ and ‘book’.
“We’ve found that people in the Manchester and Salford area do seem to do something different to the northern boroughs,” Dr Holly Dann explains.
“There’s the pronunciation of the latter vowel – the ‘er’. People in Manchester and Salford are more likely to say ‘Manchesta’ and they don’t tend to do that in the northern or southern boroughs.
“People in Trafford and Stockport, which were identified as posh in the research, seem to have what’s described as a general, northern English accent.
“People were very positive about the Bolton accent – they said it was lovely.”
When asked whether these changes will only continue to change over time, Dr Holly adds: “Language is constantly evolving and it’s a never-ending process.
“The number one fuel for the fire in terms of language change is people from different places meeting one another.
“There’s always going to be new populations moving into the area who have their own linguistic backgrounds.
“There’s never going to be a stopping point.”
Dr Sadie adds that ‘the future of accents is going to be really interesting’ as how we are told to speak a certain way molds with our sense of belonging.
“Our data is definitely showing that this sense of local pride is still very strong,” she adds.
“Obviously, there’s still a pressure to speak more like they do on the BBC in order to get ahead in life, but people like what makes them different.
“People like what makes their accent distinctive and how nobody says things similar to them.”
The next stop for the project is the Accent Van, a renovated camper van that’s touring the city-region to get people to put their voice to the research.
People are being invited to get into the van – in the least creepiest way possible – and be interviewed by a talking computer about accents, dialects and identity.
They’ve already visited the likes of the Mosley Common Scarecrow Festival, a mosque in Rusholme and the Museum of Transport, and have more dates coming up alongside a website where people can take part virtually.
“We’re hoping that anyone will be able to access and use the data for years to come,” Dr Holly adds.
“We want to make it accessible for linguists in the future to be able to look at a certain vowel, for example, and see how accents change over time and not just in Manchester..
“Greater Manchester is an excellent example of the encapsulation of what happens all over the country.”
So, what do the people of Greater Manchester make of their accents and these distinctive variables?
There was only one way to find out, and that was to take to the streets…
“It’s the Coronation Street accent, everyone on there talks like we do”
Friends Gail Byrne and Sharon Delaney, from Salford, were catching up over a coffee in Exchange Square before Gail risked offending her mate over their accents.
“Posh? That’s definitely us,” the 55-year-old joked, before adding: “The Salford accent is awful. I think it’s dead horrible, I think it’s common as hell.
“When people record me speaking and I listen back to it, I think ‘have I really spoken like that?’. I think it’s rotten, I really do.
“I think it’s the same as the Manchester accent. When you come here and you talk to people from here, we tend to sound the same, they don’t sound any better.”
Sharon, 54, replied: “I think I sound alright… we were friends weren’t we?
“It’s the Coronation Street accent, everyone on there talks like we do.
“When you speak to people from places like Oldham, they’ve got a bit of a twang.”
Vinnie Lydon, who is originally from Fallowfield and now lives in Stretford, described his accent as ‘general Mancunian’ – and felt others had the same accent in both areas.
The 51-year-old added: “It’s about the town you’re in and where you were brought up. I’ve always lived in Manchester.”
There was some scepticism about whether accents in Bury, Oldham and Rochdale could be grouped together and described as ‘Lancashire’.
Amanda Rothwell is from Rossendale in Lancashire, just over the border from Bury.
The 55-year-old said: “I think there’s a vast difference between accents, even 20 minutes from where I live.
“I work in Burnley and they have a completely different accent to what people have in Rossendale.”
Joseph Marsden and Alistair Rowan, both 18, have recently started studying at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The pair are from Saddleworth – which is in Oldham, but is historically part of Yorkshire rather than Lancashire.
Joseph believes their accents are different to the ‘Lancashire’ dialect that researchers have picked up in the rest of Oldham – and feels other students from elsewhere in the country have sometimes struggled with it.
He said: “It’s probably a mix between Oldham and Yorkshire. My family have always been there.
“[Other students] think I sound a bit like an old man.”
Alistair added: “Everyone from the south sounds so much posher than we do.”
There was also some disagreement accents in south Manchester and Stockport being described as ‘posh’.
Amanda Newton, from south Manchester, feels that her accent is not as strong as others’ in the city.
But when told about researchers describing accents in that area as ‘posh’, the 47-year-old insisted she didn’t fit the description.
“I possibly don’t sound quite as Manc as people that live in north Manchester,” said Amanda.
“But ask someone from London and they might say I’m more Manc than Liam Gallagher.
“I wouldn’t call myself posh, absolutely not. It’s just not quite as Manc as other people. Definitely not posh.”
Luna Lee, 26, has previously lived around the UK and agreed the south Manchester accent doesn’t sound particularly posh, adding: “I lived in London before so I wouldn’t say it sounds posh to me.
“But you can tell the difference between different parts of Manchester. People have their own sort of slang.”
An older couple from Didsbury, who asked not to be named, felt the south Manchester accent was more ‘neutral’ – while other areas in the north and west of Greater Manchester had stronger accents.
They said: “We are from the south side, Didsbury, and it’s pretty neutral. If you want the accent from Manchester you need to go to the surrounding suburbs.
“I think they accents are pretty neutral there because people come from other areas, they move about for jobs, and they tend to lose their accents.
“If you go down the East Lancs Road, down to the mining villages, you will find some accents that are more difficult to understand.”
For more information on the Manchester Voices project, click here.