Sound and vision blog

05 November 2013

'angin in Mancs and rhoticity in Lancs

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bury, Coldhurst, ManchesterOldham and Salford: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC GMR. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Coldhurst, Oldham and Salford, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

I still remember the first time I ever met a Manc - the nickname for Mancunians used here by a Salford student's relatives in Liverpool. October 1983, first week at university and a fellow fresher with roots in Prestwich and the Gujarat informed me the beer in the union bar was angin. Mystified at first I soon learnt that virtually anything of which he disapproved could be dismissed as 'angin' - an iconic Manchester term used with the same enthusiasm thirty years later by these Salford sixth-form students and by Steph Britton in an episode of Coronation Street (25.02.13) earlier this year: olive in a cocktail glass - dead sophis but tastes angin.

As this small set of recordings illustrates, Manchester, like most British cities is a fascinating blend of linguistic continuity and innovation. Take the word vexed [= 'annoyed']. Is it an old-fashioned term, a Lancashire phrase or contemporary urban street vernacular? Well, all of the above, apparently. While the group in Coldhurst associate vexed with older speakers, in Oldham it's considered typical of speech locally and in Lancashire more generally. Two young singers in Bury, however, identify it closely with hip-hop lyrics, and claim they frequently adapt it when rapping to the more elaborate vexated. Just shows you can never categorise a word as solely 'archaic', 'dialect' or 'slang'.

Above all, though, the gradual change in accents as one moves across the Greater Manchester conurbation is what I enjoy most about this corner of the North West. Take a single pronunciation feature: rhoticity. Speakers in the city itself are typically non-rhotic - that is they don't pronounce the /r/ sound after a vowel in words like hard, warm, turn and better. Travel the short distance north to Oldham and beyond into East Lancs and you'll find one of the few places in the north of England where you hear a pronunciation that at one time characterised the whole of the British Isles. As all cricket fans will know, although they're both proud former Lancashire cricketers, there's a huge difference in the way Athers (Failsworth-born former England captain turned commentator Michael Atherton) and Bumble (Accrington-born ex-Lancashire captain turned broadcaster David Lloyd) say start the car.

Comments

Thank you for this fascinating post, through which I've discovered this excellent blog. I'm from Bolton, roughly half-way between Failsworth and Accrington, where we are generally non-rhotic (Boltonian Amir Khan is speaking on the BBC as I write this, demonstrating the point).

I came across this article while looking for an answer to a different question: the pronunciation of Mike Atherton's surname. I grew up playing in local cricket leagues, where one team was based in the small town of Atherton, between Bolton and Wigan. Locally this place is pronounced with a voiced 'th', and so when namesake Mike emerged, we pronounced him the same. But the national media pronounced it with an unvoiced 'th' and this has now stuck:
http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/atherton

I remember, years ago, when the Future England Captain was first gaining public attention, that Bumble himself once corrected a TV interviewer who had (in the eyes of Lancastrians) mispronounced the name: "he probably pronounces it 'Atherton' [voiced] himself". To no avail in the end.

But I've never heard Atherton himself pronounce his own name. Is it possible that such a prominent person's surname could be mispronounced so widely, contrary to the pronunciation of that person themselves?

I often think that the (mis-) pronunciation must have been influenced by the surname of an earlier England opener, Bill Athey, which I think everyone pronounces unvoiced

I wonder if you have any insight on this. (I don't have access to Sky Sports, so I don't get to hear the relevant people's voices any more!)

Paul Kaye
Brussels, Belgium

Where does rhoticity come from in British English and why does it appear to be dying out?
The late Fred Dibnah, steeplejack from Bolton, had a semi-rhotic accent.
When you listen to him speak, you hear a combination of traditional 'Lanc' but also 'Manc'!

Rhoticity is a historic feature of all English accents, that has gradually receded from accents in England and Wales for c.200 years. Scroll to entry on rhoticity at https://www.bl.uk/british-accents-and-dialects/articles/phonological-variation-across-the-uk. It remains a robust feature of Scottish, Irish & US English (apart from e.g. Boston) & survives in England in West Country & parts of Lancashire (e.g. cricket commentator, David Lloyd, from Accrington); you also hear it very occasionally among older speakers in East Yorkshire, South West Midlands & Pembrokeshire.

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