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Lancashire dialect

Lancashire Dialect
Native toEngland
RegionLancashire
EthnicityEnglish
Language family
Indo-European
  • Germanic
    • West Germanic
      • Ingvaeonic
        • Anglo-Frisian
          • Anglic
            • English
              • Lancashire Dialect
Early forms
Old English
  • Middle English
    • Early Modern English
DialectsLancashire
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottologlanc1236
EnglandLancashireTrad.png
Lancashire within England, showing ancient extent
Coordinates:53°48′0″N 2°36′0″W / 53.80000°N 2.60000°W
[]This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Speech example
An example of a female with a non-rhotic accent from Accrington (Jeanette Winterson).
Problems playing this file? See media help.
Speech example
An example of a male with a non-rhotic accent from West Lancashire (Johnny Vegas).
Problems playing this file? See media help.

The Lancashire dialect or accent (colloquially, Lanky) is Northern England's vernacular speech in the English county of Lancashire. The region is notable for its tradition of poetry written in the dialect.

Scope of Lancashire dialect

Main article: Lancashire

Lancashire emerged during the Industrial Revolution as a major commercial and industrial region. The county encompassed several hundred mill towns and collieries and by the 1830s, approximately 85% of all cotton manufactured worldwide was processed in Lancashire. It was during this period that most writing in and about the dialect took place, when Lancashire covered a much larger area than it does today. The county was subject to significant boundary changes in 1974, which removed Liverpool and Manchester with most of their surrounding conurbations to form part of the metropolitan counties of Merseyside and Greater Manchester. At this time, the detached Furness Peninsula and Cartmel (Lancashire over the Sands) were made part of Cumbria, and the Warrington and Widnes areas became part of Cheshire.

The linguist Gerard Knowles noted that Lancashire dialect was still spoken in the city of Liverpool in 1830, before the period of mass immigration from Ireland that led the dialect of the city to change radically. Modern Liverpool speech is usually treated as a separate dialect, named Scouse. In the post-war era, migration to other towns in Merseyside, and also to the new towns created at Runcorn, Skelmersdale and Warrington, has led to an expansion in the area in which Scouse is spoken, as the next generation acquired Scouse speech habits that often displaced the traditional Lancashire dialect of the area.

The area transferred in 1974 to modern Cumbria, known as "Lancashire over the sands", is sometimes also covered as in scope of Cumbrian dialect: for example, The Cumbrian Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore was written by the Barrovian William Robinson and included this area. As there was mass migration in the 19th century to Barrow-in-Furness from Ireland, Staffordshire, the Black Country, Scotland and nearby rural areas, it has (like Liverpool) developed a dialect different from the surrounding rural area.

In recent years, some have also classified the speech of Manchester as a separate Mancunian dialect, but this is a much less established distinction. Many of the dialect writers and poets in the 19th and early 20th century were from Manchester and surrounding towns.

Dialect division in the 19th century

Alexander John Ellis, one of the first to apply phonetics to English speech, divided the county of Lancashire into four areas. Three of these four were considered North Midland in his categorisation of dialects, whereas the fourth (mostly the section that is in modern Cumbria, known as "Lancashire over the sands") was considered Northern. Dialect isoglosses in England seldom correspond to county boundaries, and an area of Lancashire could have a dialect more similar to an area of a neighbouring county than to a distant area of Lancashire.

Ellis expressly excluded the Scouse dialect of Liverpool from the areas below, although his Area 22 included some sites in modern Merseyside (e.g. Newton-le-Willows, Prescot).

Ellis often spoke of "the Lancashire U" in his work. This was similar to the ʊ in other Northern and North Midland dialects, but more centralised ʊ̈. In addition, the dialects were all rhotic at the time of writing.

Dialect area numberDialect area nameDistinctive characteristicsSites in LancashireAreas of other counties in same dialect area
21southern North Midlandɐʏ in MOUTH words. ɪŋk for the present participle.Bury, Failsworth, Manchester, Moston, Oldham, Patricroft, Royton, Rochdale, StalybridgeParts of north-east Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire
22western North Midland in FACE words. ʊə in GOAT words, although ɔɪ occurs in words such as "coal" and "hole". ɛɪ in some FLEECE words (e.g. "speak").Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Clitheroe, Colne Valley, Earlestown, Farington, Halliwell, Haslingden, Higham, Hoddlesden, Leigh, Leyland, Mellor, Newton-le-Willows, Ormskirk, Penwortham, Prescot, Sabden, Samlesbury, Skelmersdale, Walton-le-Dale, Warrington, Westhoughton, Whalley, Wigan, WorsthorneNone. Ellis said that he considered including the Yorkshire sites of Halifax, Huddersfield, Marsden and Saddleworth in this area, but decided to include them in area 24 instead.
23northern North Midland in MOUTH words. ɑɪ in PRICE words.Abbeystead, Blackpool, Garstang, Goosnargh, Kirkham, Poulton-le-Fylde, Preston, WyresdaleIsle of Man
31west Northernia in FACE words. eɪ in FLEECE words. aɪ in PRICE words. iʊ in GOOSE words. ʊu in MOUTH words.Broughton-in-Furness, Cark-in-Cartmel, Caton, Cockerham, Coniston, Dalton, Heysham, High Nibthwaite, Hornby, Lancaster, Lower Holker, Morecambe, Newton-in-Furness, Quernmore, Skerton, UlverstonAll of Westmorland. Parts of east Cumberland, south Durham and north-west Yorkshire

Dialect glossaries

A number of dialect glossaries were published in the 18th and 19th Centuries, often by philologists who were interested in the old words retained in certain dialects.

Of these, only the works on Oldham and Adlington contain any phonetic notation, and this was in a slightly different code to the modern IPA.

DialectReferenceShort vowelsLong vowelsDiphthongsTriphthongs
AdlingtonHargreaves, 1904a ɑ e ɪ ɔ ʊ o əaː ɑ: eː ɛː iː ɔ: uː oː əːaɪː aːe eiː iːə ʊə ɔɪː ɔʊː uɪ ʊiːaɪə
OldhamSchilling, 1906a e ɪ ɔ ʊ o əaː eː iː ɔ: uː oː ɜːaɪ eɪ ɪə aʊ ʊə ɛʊ ɛə ɔɪ ɔə uɪ ɪɛ

Poetry and other literature

Graham Shorrocks wrote that Lancashire has been the county with the strongest tradition of dialect poetry since the mid-19th century. Many of these gave commentaries on the poverty of the working class at the time and occasional political sentiments: for example, the ballad Joan of Grinfilt portrayed an unemployed handloom worker who would rather die as a soldier in a foreign war than starve at home. Vicinus argued that, after 1870, dialect writing declined in quality owing to "clichés and sentimentality". Writing in 1999, Shorrocks argues that "Many dialect writers nowadays cannot speak dialect, or cannot speak it in any convincing fashion, and much of what is written seems exhaused, poor, and, crucially, detached from living speech.

The Lancashire Authors Association was founded in 1909 and still exists for writers in the dialect, producing an annual paper called The Record.

Some dialect poets include:

Dialect poets have occasionally appeared on the BBC since its establishment. Sam Smith featured on the radio in the 1920s. In the 2010s, BBC radio programmes analysed the Manchester Ballads (which featured dialect) and reported on contemporary poets that kept the tradition of dialect poetry alive.

In April 2011, Pendle Borough Council printed phrases from local dialect poems on stone-cube artworks in the area.

In November 2016, Simon Rennie from Exeter University announced his collection of Lancashire dialect poetry from the time of the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861–5. He said, "It's fascinating how people turned to and used poetry, in their local languages, to express the impact events so far away were having on them."

Led by Harold Orton at the University of Leeds, the Survey of English Dialects surveyed 313 sites across England, the Isle of Man and some bordering areas of Wales in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Survey recorded the dialect used in fourteen sites in Lancashire. These sites were mostly rural. A second phase, researching more urban areas, had been planned from the outset but financial problems meant that this second phase never occurred and the Survey's coverage was mostly confined to rural parts of England.

The fieldworkers for the sites were Stanley Ellis and Peter Wright. The latter was a native of Fleetwood and wrote his PhD on the dialect, using his father as the principal informant. In 1981, Wright published a book The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke that explained the dialects of Lancashire through a series of illustrations, often humorous.

The table below shows the sites as reported in Book 1 of the Survey's outputs for the northern counties.

CodeSiteDate survey administeredNumber of informantsFieldworkerTape recording made
La13Bickerstaffe, west Lancashire28 June - 1 July 19552Stanley EllisNo
La2Cartmel, modern south Cumbria28 May - 6 June 19543Stanley EllisYes, not survey respondent
La1Coniston, modern south Cumbria20–25 April 19552Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La4Dolphinholme, near Lancaster21–25 May 19543Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La11Eccleston, near Chorley23–26 March 19543Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La5Fleetwood1954 intermittently4Peter WrightYes, survey respondent
La14Halewood, near Liverpool.29 March - 3 April 19543Stanley EllisNo
La12Harwood, near Bolton16–23 February 19542Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La10Marshside, Southport8–13 April 19544Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La6Pilling, Fylde coast24–29 January 19523Peter WrightNo
La9Read, near Burnley3–7 March 19542Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La8Ribchester, between Blackburn and Preston11–17 March 19544Stanley EllisYes, survey respondent
La7Thistleton, on the Fylde near Blackpool19–23 January 19524Peter WrightNo
La3Yealand, near Lancaster20–25 April 19552Stanley EllisNo

There were several other monographs written by dialectologists by Harold Orton's department at the University of Leeds, including some urban areas such as Bury, Middleton, St. Helens and Southport. These are now contained in the Archive of Vernacular Culture at the Brotherton Library in Leeds.

Modern research

Bolton area

Graham Shorrocks, a linguist from Farnworth, conducted a series of research projects on the dialect of the Bolton area. These were consolidated into two linked books named A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area, published in 1998 and 1999.

In addition, the Harwood area of Bolton, which had been a site in the Survey of English Dialects, was made into a site for the Europe-wide linguistic project Atlas Linguarum Europae.

Accents of English series

John C Wells, who grew up in Up Holland, made some passing comments on Lancastrian speech (mostly on the southern parts of the county) in his 1982 series of books, Accents of English.

The Dialects of England regions

The linguist Peter Trudgill specified a "Central Lancashire" dialect region, defined particularly by its rhoticity, around Blackburn, Preston and the northern parts of Greater Manchester. He classified the county of Merseyside as another dialect region, grouped most of Greater Manchester in the "Northwest Midlands" region, and grouped the non-rhotic northern parts of Lancashire in with Cumbria and most of Yorkshire in the "Central North" region.

BBC Voices Survey

In 2005 and 2006, the BBC, working with the University of Leeds, undertook a survey of the speech of the country. The recordings are now available on the British Library's website. An accompanying book, Talking for Britain: a journey through the voices of a nation, was published in 2005; the author noted that the speech of Lancashire in 2005 differed markedly from "the impenetrable tracts of rural Lancastrian that the Survey of English Dialects found in the 1950s".

Other research

Academic analysis of the corpus of Lancashire dialect writing and poetry has continued into the 21st century. Areas of research include identifying the syntax of the dialect, methods of oral performance, the lexicography of dialect words, and the relationship between dialect and Social class in the United Kingdom

Organizations and media

The Lancashire Dialect Society was founded in 1951; The Journal of the Lancashire Dialect Society has included articles on the Survey of English Dialects and on the dialects of Germany, Switzerland and the United States. The society collected a library of publications relating to dialect studies which was kept at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester from 1974 onwards. This collection was afterwards taken away and deposited at the Lancashire County Library in Preston.

Various newspapers in Lancashire and the magazine Lancashire Life have included content relating to the Lancashire dialect. R. G. Shepherd contributed many articles interesting both for their philosophy and their excursions into local dialect to The West Lancashire Gazette and The Fleetwood Chronicle. Dialect has also featured in The Bolton Journal, The Leigh Reporter and The Lancashire Evening Post as well as in "Mr. Manchester's diary" in The Manchester Evening News.

Between 1979 and 2015, the North West Sound Archive contained a range of records in Lancashire dialect (as well as Cumberland and Westmorland dialect). The Archive closed owing to financial reasons in 2015, and its materials were relocated to the Manchester Central Library, Liverpool Central Library, and the Lancashire Archives.

In film

Films from the early part of the 20th century, particularly those produced by Mancunian Films, often contain Lancashire dialect: the films of George Formby, Gracie Fields and Frank Randle are some examples.

The 2018 film Peterloo used reconstructed Lancashire dialect from the early 19th century, based on the works of Samuel Bamford, who was portrayed in the film.

In music

Lancashire dialect is often used in folk songs that originate from the area. The folk song "Poverty Knock" is one of the best-known songs, describing life in a Lancashire cotton mill. The Houghton Weavers is a band, formed in 1975, that continues to sing in Lancashire dialect. In 1979, the Houghton Weavers presented a series on local folk music on BBC North West, entitled Sit thi deawn.

The band the Lancashire Hotpots, from St Helens have used dialect for humour in their work.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Lancashire dialect, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (view authors).


Date of last edit: 2021-01-29T13:05:03.000Z