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Transcript: Protect the dialects!
In Britain Today, Colin Beaven celebrates the United Kingdom’s wide diversity of dialects and accents.
It would be terrible if no one spoke with a northern accent in England. So, it was a shock to hear from researchers that the English you hear in the south of England may spread north and take over.
But what’s a northern accent? It’s not just what you hear in Yorkshire, up in the north-east. There’s also the Lancashire accent in the north-west, Newcastle’s Geordie (UK) (ifml.)Einwohner(in) von Newcastle/TynesideGeordie accent in the north-east and the Scouse(wg. Aussprache)Scouse that’s spoken in Liverpool.
Do you need to be Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady to tell them apart? Higgins is a professor of phonetics who says he can tell where people are from by their accent. He even says he can place them within six miles.
Clever. Computers today would be even more exact. They’d no doubt use what3words, a system that divides the world into spaces three metres square. Each square gets three words as a code name to identify it – these can be any words, for example “dog.cloud.table”, but not real phrases, such as “don’t talk nonsense”.
But three-word phrases could be code names for squares that try to locate an accent. Stereotypical expressions of surprise – for example “ee bah gum” – would be somewhere in Yorkshire, while “to strike a light (UK) (ifml.)Sapperlot!, Das gibt’s doch gar nicht!strike a light” could be used for parts of London.
Professor Higgins wants to change Eliza Doolittle’s working-class London accent. He’s sure that if she spoke like a lady, all kinds of doors would open for her in London’s high society.
There is snobberySnobismussnobbery about regional speech and social class even today. A TV presenter reporting on the 2021 Olympics was publicly criticized for her London accent by a member of the House of Lords – which could no doubt be identified by the three-word code “out of touchabgehobenout of touch”.
There’s snobbery about northern accents, too, but less perhaps than in the days when a Yorkshireman I used to know was taught to lose his accent at school in order to improve his academic chances. In Yorkshire! A place that’s so proud and independent-minded.
In the end, he went to university in Manchester. Was it frustrating to have tried to sound more southern only to go west and cross the PenninesPenninen, Mittelgebirge in EnglandPennines?
Careful! A southerner like me needs to remember that northerners are not all the same. I was once talking about a colleague behind his back: “A lovely person,” I said, “but not a to be a bundle of fun (ifml.)eine Frohnatur seinbundle of fun.”
“Well,” I was told, “he’s from the wrong side of the Pennines.” I was talking to a cheeky (UK)vorwitzigcheeky LiverpudlianEinwohner(in) von LiverpoolLiverpudlian about a colleague from Yorkshire.
Enough unfair stereotypes. At least I didn’t start another War of the Roses. Back in the 15th century, the House of York fought the House of Lancaster for the English throne. Nowadays, northerners are more likely to show solidarity in challenging London.
We Brits should celebrate our accents. Liverpool lost its status as a World Heritage SiteWeltkulturerbestätteWorld Heritage Site because the UN said it hadn’t looked after its historic buildings. I just hope Liverpudlians do a better job looking after their accent.
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