Speech example (0:25)
The voice of musician Ringo Starr, an example of a working-class male from the inner-city Dingle area of Liverpool.
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Speech example (0:37)
The voice of historian Andrew Hussey, another example of a working-class male from inner-city Liverpool.
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Speech example (0:33)
The voice of comedian John Bishop, an example of a working-class male from Runcorn, a town near Liverpool which had its local accent changed by large numbers of Liverpudlians moving in during the 1950s.
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Scouse (/skaʊs/; formally known as Liverpool English or Merseyside English) is an accent and dialect of English associated with Liverpool and the surrounding county of Merseyside. The Scouse accent is highly distinctive; having been influenced heavily by Irish, Norwegian, and Welsh immigrants who arrived via the Liverpool docks, it has little in common with the accents of its neighbouring regions or the rest of England. The accent is named after scouse, a stew eaten by sailors and locals.
The development of Liverpool since the 1950s has spread the accent into nearby areas such as the towns of Runcorn and Skelmersdale. Variations within Scouse have been noted: the accent of Liverpool's city centre and northern neighbourhoods is usually described as fast, harsh, and nasal, while the accent found in the southern suburbs of Liverpool is typically referred to as slow, soft, and dark. Popular colloquialisms have shown a growing deviation from the historical Lancashire dialect that was previously found in Liverpool, as well as a growth in the influence of the accent in the wider area. Natives and residents of Liverpool are formally referred to as Liverpudlians, but are more often called Scousers.
The northern variation of Scouse has appeared in mainstream British media but, until the 2010s, often served only to be impersonated and mocked in comedy series such as Harry Enfield & Chums and its Scousers sketch. It is consistently voted one of the least popular accents in the UK. Conversely, the Scouse accent as a whole is usually placed within the top two friendliest UK accents, alongside that of Newcastle upon Tyne. The northern variation has become so synonymous with Liverpool that outsiders often mistakenly believe that the Beatles-like south Liverpool accent is dying out, and it is not uncommon for those from the southern suburbs to encounter people who doubt that they are from Liverpool.
The word scouse is a shortened form of lobscouse, the origin of which is uncertain. It is related to the Norwegian lapskaus, Swedish lapskojs, and Danish labskovs (skipperlabskovs), as well as the Low Germanlabskaus, and refers to a stew of the same name commonly eaten by sailors. In the 19th century, poorer people in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey commonly ate scouse as it was a cheap dish, and familiar to the families of seafarers. Outsiders tended to call these people scousers. In The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore, Alan Crosby suggested that the word only became known nationwide with the popularity of the BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965–1975), which featured a Liverpudlian socialist and a Cockney conservative in a regular argument.
Originally a small fishing village, Liverpool developed as a port, trading particularly with Ireland, and after the 1700s as a major international trading and industrial centre. The city consequently became a melting pot of several languages and dialects, as sailors and traders from different areas (alongside migrants from other parts of Britain, Ireland, and northern Europe) established themselves in the area. Until the mid-19th century, the dominant local accent was similar to that of neighbouring areas of Lancashire. The comedian and comic actor Rob Wilton, for example, who was born in Everton, Liverpool, in 1881 spoke with a dry Lancashire accent or dialect[better source needed] rather than a Scouse accent.
The influence of Irish and Welsh migrants, combined with European accents, contributed to a distinctive local Liverpool accent. The first reference to a distinctive Liverpool accent was in 1890. Linguist Gerald Knowles suggested that the accent's nasal quality may have derived from poor 19th-century public health, by which the prevalence of colds for many people over a long time resulted in a nasal accent becoming regarded as the norm and copied by others learning the language.
The period of early dialect research in Great Britain did little to cover Scouse. The early researcher Alexander John Ellis said that Liverpool and Birkenhead "had no dialect proper", as he conceived of dialects as speech that had been passed down through generations from the earliest Germanic speakers. Ellis did research some locations on the Wirral, but these respondents spoke in traditional Cheshire dialect at the time and not in Scouse. The 1950s Survey of English Dialects recorded traditional Lancastrian dialect from the town of Halewood and found no trace of Scouse influence. The phonetician John C Wells wrote that "the Scouse accent might as well not exist" in The Linguistic Atlas of England, which was the Survey's principal output.
The first academic study of Scouse was undertaken by Gerald Knowles at the University of Leeds in 1973. He identified the key problem being that traditional dialect research had focused on developments from a single proto-language, but Scouse (and many other urban dialects) had resulted from interactions between an unknown number of languages.
Phonetics and phonology
This section contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
The phonemic notation used in this article is based on the set of symbols used by Watson (2007).
As other Northern English varieties, Scouse lacks the FOOT-STRUT and TRAP-BATH splits, so that words like cut/kʊt/ and pass/pas/ have the same vowels as put/pʊt/ and back/bak/. However, some middle-class speakers may use a more RP-like pronunciation, so that cut and pass may be /kʌt/ and /pɑːs/, with the former containing an extra /ʌ/ phoneme that is normally not found in Northern England English. Generally, speakers are not very successful in differentiating between /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ or /a/ and /ɑː/ (only in the BATH words), which often leads to hypercorrection. Utterances such as good luck or black castle may be /ˌɡʌd ˈlʊk/ and /ˌblɑːk ˈkasəl/ instead of RP-like /ˌɡʊd ˈlʌk/, /ˌblak ˈkɑːsəl/ or Scouse /ˌɡʊd ˈlʊk/, /ˌblak ˈkasəl/. Speakers who successfully differentiate between the vowels in good and luck may use a schwa [ə] (best identified phonemically as /ə/, rather than a separate phoneme /ʌ/) instead of an RP-like [ʌ] in the second word, so that they pronounce good luck as /ˌɡʊd ˈlək/.
The words book, cook and look are typically pronounced with the vowel of GOOSE rather than that of FOOT, which is true within Northern England and the Midlands. This causes minimal pairs such as look and luck, and book and buck. The use of a long /uː/ in such words is more often used in working-class accents; however, recently this feature is becoming more recessive, being less found with younger people.
Some speakers exhibit the weak vowel merger, so that the unstressed /ɪ/ merges with /ə/. For those speakers, eleven and orange are pronounced /əˈlɛvən/ and /ˈɒrəndʒ/ rather than /ɪˈlɛvən/ and /ˈɒrɪndʒ/.
In final position, /iː, ʉː/ tend to be somewhat diphthongal [ɪ̈i ~ ɪ̈ɪ, ɪ̈u ~ ɪ̈ʊ]. Sometimes this also happens before /l/ in words such as school[skɪ̈ʊl].
/ʉː/ is typically central [ʉː] and it may be even fronted to [yː] so that it becomes the rounded counterpart of /iː/.
The HAPPY vowel is tense [i] and is best analysed as belonging to the /iː/ phoneme.
/ɛː/ has a huge allophonic variation. Contrary to most other accents of England, the /ɛː/ vowel covers both SQUARE and NURSE lexical sets. This vowel has unrounded front [ɪː, eː, ëː, ɛː, ɛ̈ː], rounded front [œː], unrounded central [ɘː, əː, ɜː] and rounded central [ɵː] variants. Diphthongs of the [əɛ] and [ɛə] types are also possible. For simplicity, this article uses only the symbol ⟨ɛː⟩. There is not a full agreement on which realisations are the most common:
The NEAR vowel /iɛ/ typically has a front second element [ɛ].
The CURE vowel /uɛ/ often merges with the THOUGHT vowel /ɔː/, so that sure is often /ʃɔː/. When distinct from THOUGHT, this vowel is a diphthong [uɛ] or a disyllabic sequence [ɪuə] or [ɪwə]. The last two realisations are best interpreted phonemically as a sequence /ʉːə/. Variants other than the monophthong [ɔː] are considered to be very conservative.
The FACE vowel /eɪ/ is typically diphthongal [eɪ], rather than being a monophthong [eː] that is commonly found in other Northern English accents.
The GOAT vowel /ɛʉ/ has a considerable allophonic variation. Its starting point can be open-mid front [ɛ], close-mid front [e] or mid central [ə] (similarly to the NURSE vowel), whereas its ending point varies between fairly close central [ʉ̞] and a more back [ʊ]. The most typical realisation is [ɛʉ̞], but [ɛʊ, eʉ̞, eʊ, əʉ̞] and an RP-like [əʊ] are also possible.Wells (1982) also lists [oʊ] and [ɔʊ]. According to him, the [eʊ] version has a centralised starting point [ë]. This and variants similar to it sound inappropriately posh in combination with other broad Scouse vowels.
Older Scouse had a contrastive FORCE vowel /oə/ which is now most commonly merged with THOUGHT/NORTH/ɔː/.
The MOUTH vowel /aʊ/ is [aʊ], close to the RP norm.
NG-coalescence is not present as with other Northern English accents, for instance realising along as [əˈlɒŋɡ].
Like many other accents around the world, G-dropping also occurs, with [ən] being a substitute for [ɪŋɡ].
/t/ has several allophones depending on environment:
Debuccalisation to [h], with older speakers only doing this in function words with short vowel pre-pausally: it, lot, not, that, what, pronounced [ɪh, lɒh, nɒh, d̪ah, wɒh] respectively. On the other hand, younger speakers may further debuccalise in polysyllabic words in unstressed syllables, hence aggregate, maggot, market[ˈaɡɾɪɡɪh, ˈmaɡɪh, ˈmɑːxɪh].
Word-finally and before another vowel, it is typically pronounced [ɹ] or [ɾ], which is found in several other Northern English varieties.
Affrication of /t/ as [t͡s] word-initially and lenited, variously articulated such as [θ̠~ð̠], intervocalically and word-finally.
/k/ can turn into an affricate or a fricative, determined mostly by the quality of the preceding vowel. If fricative, a palatal, velar or uvular articulation ([ç, x, χ] respectively) is realised. This is seen distinctively with words like book and clock.
As with other varieties of English, the voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ are aspirated word-initially, except when /s/ precedes in the same syllable. It can also occur word- and utterance-finally, with potential preaspirated pronunciations [ʰp, ʰt, ʰk] (which is often perceived as glottal noise or as oral friction produced in the same environment as the stop) for utterance-final environments, primarily found in female speakers.
The voiced plosives /b, d, ɡ/ are also fricatised, with /d/ particularly being lenitioned to the same extent as /t/, although it is frequently devoiced to /t/.
The dental fricatives /θ, ð/ are often realised as dental stops [t̪, d̪] under Irish influence, although the fricative forms are also found.
The accent is non-rhotic, meaning /r/ is not pronounced unless followed by a vowel. When it is pronounced, it is typically realised as a tap [ɾ] particularly between vowels (mirror, very) or as a consonant cluster (breath, free, strip), and approximant [ɹ] otherwise. Nevertheless, the approximant realisation can also be seen where the tap is typically realised.
Lexicon and syntax
Some of the more notable Irish influences include the pronunciation of the name of the letter H with h-adding, so it is said as /heɪtʃ/, and the second person plural "you" as "yous" /juːz/. The use of "me" instead of "my" is also present, i.e. "that's me book you got there" instead of "that's my book you've got there".[dubious – discuss] An exception occurs when "my" is emphasised in an example such as "that's my book (not your book)". Other common Scouse features include the use of "giz" instead of "give us", which became famous throughout the UK through Boys from the Blackstuff in 1982; the use of the term "made up" to mean "extremely happy", such as in "I'm made up I didn't go out last night"; and the terms "sound" for "okay" and "boss" for "great", which can also be used to answer questions of wellbeing such as "I'm boss" in reply to "How are you?" and can also be used sarcastically in negative circumstances (the reply "sound" in the case of being told bad news translates to the sarcastic use of "good" or "okay").
Scouse is highly distinguishable from other English dialects. Because of this international recognition, Keith Szlamp made a request to IANA on 16 September 1996 to make it a recognised Internet dialect. After citing a number of references, the application was accepted on 25 May 2000 and now allows Internet documents that use the dialect to be categorised as Scouse by using the language tag "en-Scouse".
Scouse has also become well known as the accent of the Beatles, an international cultural phenomenon. While the members of the band are famously from Liverpool, their accents have more in common with the older Lancashire-like Liverpool dialect found in the southern suburbs; the accent has evolved into Scouse since the 1960s, mostly in the centre and northern areas of the city, with some identifying the improvement of air quality as a potential factor.
Beal, Joan (2004), "English dialects in the North of England: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.), A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 113–133, ISBN3-11-017532-0