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The historical extent of Lancashire

Lancashire dialect and accent (Lanky) 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. As the county encompassed Greater Manchester and Merseyside until 1974, the accents found in these areas are also covered by this article.


Historical changes to the boundaries of 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.[1] Accrington, Blackburn, Chorley, Darwen, Oldham, and Burnley were major cotton mill towns during this time. Blackpool was a major centre for tourism for the inhabitants of Lancashire's mill towns, particularly during wakes week.

The county today comprises a much smaller area as it was subject to a significant boundary reform in 1974,[2] which removed Liverpool and Manchester with most of their surrounding conurbations to form part of the metropolitan counties of Merseyside and Greater Manchester.[3] At this time, the detached Furness Peninsulaand Cartmel (Lancashire over the Sands) were made part of Cumbria and Warrington became part of Cheshire. Today the county borders Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and North and West Yorkshire.


The Lancashire Dictionary[4] stated that the Furness (Barrow, Ulverston etc) had always had more in common with Cumbrian (Cumberland and Westmorland) dialect than with the rest of Lancashire, and so excluded it;[5] with regards to Scouse, the accent is gradually spreading amongst younger people in Merseyside in certain areas. According to Crosby, the "border" between Scouse and Lancashire dialect is loosely estimated between Garswood and Bryn.[5] However, Lancastrian accents are found west of Garswood, most notably in St Helens as shown in the accents of local celebrities and broadcasters such as Johnny Vegas and Ray French. Steven Gerrard from Whiston, Merseyside sounds notably different to Vegas (originally from Thatto Heath). This illustrates that the variation between Scouse and St Helens accents occurs within only a few miles.

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. This is also the area in which rhoticity is most common.
  • 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": eg What's tha' doin'?. 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 /ʏː/[6], 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' "hübsch" /hʏpʃ/ ('pretty') or like the 'u' in the French 'tu'). In general, West Yorkshire speech renders this as /ʊu/.[7]

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 /ŋɡ/ without any coalescence, whereas Yorkshiremen rarely do this. Also, he suggested that Yorkshiremen are more likely to glottalise 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.

In popular culture

Films from the early part of the 20th century often contain Lancashire dialect: the films of George Formby, Gracie Fields and Frank Randle are notable examples.[8] The 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies, written by comedienne Victoria Wood who was brought up near Ramsbottom,[9] used Lancashire accents, and the Accrington actress, Mina Anwar[10] portrayed the Lancastrian police officer Habeeb in The Thin Blue Line.

The band the Lancashire Hotpots originate from St Helens[11], and popularise dialect in their humorous songs. The folk song "Poverty Knock"[12] is written to the tune of a Lancashire accent and the rhythm of a loom in a Lancashire cotton mill.[13] 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" (On Ilkley Moor without a hat) is associated with Yorkshire, but, having been written by natives of Halifax, contains dialect that would be just as typical of Lancashire, including eyt for "eat" and etten for "eaten".


Vowel shifts


RP English Lancashire
/æ/ as in 'bad' [a]
/ɑː/ as in 'bard' [aːr]
/aʊ/ as in 'house' [ʌʏ], [aː] or /aʊ/
/eɪ/ as in 'bay' [eː]
/eə/ as in 'bear' [ɛr]
/aɪ/ as in 'bide' [ɑː] (South), [aɪ] (North)
/əʊ/ as in 'boat' [oː]
/ʌ/ as in 'bud' [ʊ]
/uː/ as in 'boo' [ʏː] (South) or [uː] (North)
/ʊə/ as in 'cure' [uːər]

Older dialect has some other vowel shifts: for example, speak would be said with a /eɪ/ sound, to rhyme with R.P. break;[14] words ending in -ought (e.g. brought, thought) would rhyme with oat.[15] These pronunciations 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.[16]
  • In some words with RP /oʊ/, 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, Widnes and Wigan. Traditionally, both nurse and square would be said with /ɜː/ but the Scouse-like /ɛː/ can also be heard.[17]
  • 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.[18] Some areas pronounce fight and right with an /ei/ vowel — a split that is also found in the West Riding of Yorkshire.[19]
  • An oo in words such as book, look, hook can be pronounced with /uː/.[20] 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". Amongst the younger generation, it is much more common to replace /t/ with a glottal stop /?/.
  • Rather than a mixed use of was and were such as occurs in Standard English, Lancashire dialects tend to use only one of the words and employ it in all cases. The west coast of Lancashire always uses was, the rest of the county always using 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, Wigan and Leigh.
  • The word self is reduced to sen or sel, depending on the part of Lancashire.
  • Make and take normally become meck and teck. In older dialect, parts of north and east Lancashire used mack and tack.[21]
  • 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, however, words that relate to everyday life that are still in common use. 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" to use dialect.

Poetry and other literature

Many poems exist in the dialect, and the Lancashire 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. Another popular 19th Century dialect poet was Edwin Waugh whose most famous poem was "Come whoam to thi childer an' me", written in 1856.[22]

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:


  1. ^ Gibb, Robert (2005). Greater Manchester: a panorama of people and places in Manchester and its surrounding towns. Myriad. p. 13. ISBN 1-904736-86-6. 
  2. ^ George, D. (1991) Lancashire
  3. ^ Local Government Act 1972. 1972, c. 70
  4. ^ Crosby, Alan G. (2000) The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore. Otley, West Yorkshire: Smith Settle
  5. ^ a b Crosby (2000); p. xiii
  6. ^ John C Wells, Accents of English 2, page 369, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  7. ^ Golcar, Kirklees, West Yorkshire
  8. ^ Lancashire English, Fred Holcroft, introduction, 1997
  9. ^ Anon. "Information:Victoria Wood". Get me in. Get me In. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  10. ^ Anon. "Mina Anwar Biography". Movies @ Piczo. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  11. ^ Folk's t'internet sensations - World music - Music - Entertainment - Manchester Evening News
  12. ^ Anon. "Poverty Knock". Traditional & Folk Songs with lyrics & midi music. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  13. ^ Barton, Laura (6 February 2008). "Hear where you're coming from". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  14. ^ The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph79, Ph80 and Ph81
  15. ^ The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph194
  16. ^ Accents of English 2: The British Isles, pages 367-8, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  17. ^ Accents of English 2: The British Isles, page 372, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  18. ^ The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph34 and Ph 36
  19. ^ The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph35
  20. ^ Accents of English 2: The British Isles, page 362, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  21. ^ The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978 section Ph69 and Ph70
  22. ^ Anon. "Edwin Waugh". Gerald Massey. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 


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