A major feature of the ‘Manc’ accent is disappearing – but not in North Manchester
New research by an expert at The University of Manchester has found that a major aspect of the traditional ‘Manc’ accent is still going strong in northern parts of the city, but is disappearing from people’s speech elsewhere.
Linguistics expert Dr Maciej Baranowski wanted to find out whether there is any linguistic evidence for the popular view that the north Manchester accent sounds different from the one spoken in south Manchester. He talked to 122 people from areas within the M60 motorway, as well as those immediately to the south such as Wythenshawe and Stockport.
He found that the so-called ‘north-force distinction’ – where words like four and wore have a different vowel sound to for and war – is disappearing in the south and centre of the city. It has completely disappeared from the speech of middle-class Mancunians, so for them, the words in these pairs sound identical - as they do for most speakers of English today.
The age patterns in Maciej’s data suggest that this vowel contrast began disappearing from middle class speech in Manchester decades ago, and while is still surprisingly strong in north Manchester, it is gradually changing there as well – albeit very slowly.
The spellings of these words give a clue about how different they once sounded, but ‘dialect levelling’ has led to British English being much more uniform than it once was. Some long-standing aspects of local accents are disappearing, and other features are spreading across the country – for instance, the traditional working-class Cockney accent is said to be weakening, but Multicultural London English is becoming much more widespread.
However, while some individual features of large local dialects may be slowly weakening, most are still quite strong - and there may even be some new developments within them in the future. Maciej says the Manc accent will be around for a long time yet.
Features of the ‘Manc’ accent are still present across Manchester, though they are much stronger in the working classes. Interestingly, north Manchester is actually different from the rest of the city even if we take social class into account - that is, working-class Mancunians from north Manchester sound a little different from working-class Mancunians elsewhere in the city. That is something which has rarely been reported in linguistic studies.
Dramatic changes over recent years have seen major employers including Google, Amazon and Microsoft following the BBC in relocating jobs to Manchester, and a population boom with tens of thousands of highly-educated workers arriving in the city from across the country and the wider world. Maciej says that while he did not set out to assess whether this has had a linguistic effect on the city, it may well accelerate the changes already happening to the accent.
To read the paper, visit https://doi.org/10.1017/S095439452200014X.