Lancashire dialect

Lancashire within England, showing ancient extent

The Lancashire dialect and accent (Lanky) refers to the Northern English vernacular speech of the English county of Lancashire. Simon Elmes' book Talking for Britain said that Lancashire dialect is now much less common than it once was, but it is not quite extinct, still spoken by the older population. The British Census has never recorded regional dialects. Until 1974, the county encompassed areas that are now parts of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cumbria, so the accents found in those areas are also covered by this article.[1] The historic dialects have received some academic interest, most notably the two-part A grammar of the dialect of the Bolton area by Graham Shorrocks, which was said by its publisher to "constitute the fullest grammar of an English dialect published to date".[2]

Boundaries of Lancashire

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.[3] Preston, Accrington, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan, 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. It was subject to significant boundary changes in 1974,[4] which removed Liverpool and Manchester with most of their surrounding conurbations to form part of the metropolitan counties of Merseyside and Greater Manchester.[5] 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. Today the county borders Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and North and West Yorkshire.


Within historic Lancashire are dialects belonging to two groups of English dialects: West Midland in the south and Northern in the north. The boundary represented originally the boundary between Mercia and Northumbria and in modern times has tended to move further north. The dialects of south Lancashire have been much affected by the development of large urban areas centred on Liverpool and Manchester.

There is also some evidence of Scandinavian influence - possibly linked to the medieval Norse settlements of West Lancashire and neighbouring Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire. For example, - the Lancastrian dialect word 'skrike' (meaning to cry out, to weep or shriek - definition from Crosby (2000)) is found in other places such as Lowland Scotland. Sources link this word to the Old Norse skrika - meaning scream.[6]

Example of a Lancashire accent (St Helens)
Voice of Johnny Vegas, recorded October 2010 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The Lancashire Dictionary[7] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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 from Vegas (originally from Thatto Heath). This illustrates that the variation between Scouse and St Helens accents occurs within only a few miles.

Vowel shifts

As in all counties, there is a drift within local speech that shifts towards different borders. For example,

This drift also occurs in other counties; therefore, some western border areas of Yorkshire have some Lancastrian features such as rhoticity.

In most of Lancashire, the /uː/ vowel in words such as "too" is pronounced /ʏː/ (similar to the German "ü" or the French "u" in "tu").[9] This sound is alien to Yorkshire and to Received Pronunciation, but continues almost identically through Cheshire, Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and down into the West Country In general, West Yorkshire speech renders this as /ʊu/.[10]

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 people from Yorkshire rarely do this. Also, he suggested that Yorkshire people 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.


RP English Lancashire
/æ/ as in 'bad' [a]
/ɑː/ as in 'bard' [aːr]
/aʊ/ as in 'house' [əʏ], [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;[11] words ending in -ought (e.g. brought, thought) would rhyme with oat.[12] These pronunciations are now extremely rare but still used in the Preston area.

Grammatical and phonological features

For speakers of the Lancashire dialect the accent/dialect from even a neighbouring town is perceived to be as different as for example Cockney and a Somerset accent. Thus many of those who live in Bury pronounce the town name as Burri yet speakers in some of the neighbouring towns would say Berry. To assume, therefore, that all Lancastrians strongly roll the r (in fact none of them do; that's just a non-rhotic speaker's way of trying to describe rhoticity) as did Gracie Fields (who had a typical Rochdale accent) would be greeted with the same derision as might be visited on those North American actors who assume all English speakers are Cockneys. Older speakers of South Lancashire, for example, could place a person with a remarkable degree of accuracy, with the distinctive accents of Wigan, Bolton, Leigh, Chorley, Westhoughton and Atherton having their own sometimes subtle (but often not) differences in pronunciation.

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 (on)" for talking in a mindless manner.

Survey of English dialect sites

The Survey of English Dialects took recordings from fourteen sites in Lancashire:

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 (John of Greenfield), 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.
*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. Alternatively it could be a dialect rendering of the word ‘knowest’.

(taken from Kirkpatrick Sale, "Rebels Against the Future", p. 45)

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.[19]

Other writers of Lancashire dialect verse are Sam Fitton of Rochdale (1868-1923), Joseph Ramsbottom (1831-1901), Michael Wilson of Manchester (1763-1840) and his sons Thomas and Alexander.[20]

Benjamin Brierley (often known as Ben Brierley) (1825–1896) was a writer in Lancashire dialect; he wrote poems and a considerable number of stories of Lancashire life. He began to contribute articles to local papers in the 1850s and in 1863 he definitely took to journalism and literature, publishing in the same year his Chronicles of Waverlow.

Nicholas Freeston (1907-1978) was an English poet who spent most of his working life as a weaver in cotton mills near his home in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire. He published five books of poetry, occasionally writing in Lancashire dialect, and won fifteen awards including a gold medal presented by the president of the United Poets' Laureate International.[21]

Organizations and media

The Lancashire Dialect Society was founded in 1951; The Journal of the Lancashire Dialect Society has included articles on the Leeds survey of dialectal English and on the dialects of Germany, Switzerland and the United States.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]


A Lancashire joke is as follows, "A family from Lancashire 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.'"

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 some examples.[25] The 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies, written by comedian Victoria Wood who was brought up near Ramsbottom,[26] used Lancashire accents, and the Accrington actress, Mina Anwar portrayed the Lancastrian police officer Habeeb in The Thin Blue Line. 'Bubble', a character in 'Absolutely Fabulous' played by Jane Horrocks from Rawtenstall, speaks with a strong (Rossendale) Lancashire accent. The ninth incarnation of the titular character of Doctor Who, played by Salford native and actor Christopher Eccleston, speaks with a Lancashire accent.

The band the Lancashire Hotpots originate from St Helens,[27] and popularise dialect in their humorous songs. The folk song "Poverty Knock"[28] is written to the tune of a Lancashire accent and the rhythm of a loom in a Lancashire cotton mill.[29] It is a dialect song and describes life in a textile mill.

Contemporary figures who speak with a Lancashire accent (not to be confused with Mancunian) include:


  1. The historic county of Lancashire included Furness and Cartmel in the north, Liverpool in the southwest and Manchester in the southeast.
  2. Shorrocks, Graham (1998). A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area. Pt. 1: Introduction; phonology. Bamberger Beiträge zur englischen Sprachwissenschaft; Bd. 41. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-33066-9. Shorrocks, Graham (1999). A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area. Pt. 2: Morphology and syntax. Bamberger Beiträge zur englischen Sprachwissenschaft; Bd. 42. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-34661-1. (based on the author's thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Sheffield, 1981)
  3. 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.
  4. George, D. (1991) Lancashire
  5. Local Government Act 1972. 1972, c. 70
  6. Flom, George Tobias. (1900). Scandinavian Influence on Southern Lowland Scotch. New York. Pg 32.
  7. Crosby, Alan G. (2000) The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore. Otley, West Yorkshire: Smith Settle
  8. 1 2 Crosby (2000); p. xiii
  9. John C Wells, Accents of English 2, page 369, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  10. Golcar, Kirklees, West Yorkshire
  11. The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, Sanderson & Widdowson, University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph79, Ph80 and Ph81
  12. The Linguistic Atlas of England, Orton, H.; Sanderson, S. & Widdowson, J. A., eds., Croom Helm f. University of Leeds, 1978, section Ph194
  13. Wells, J. C. Accents of English 2: The British Isles, pp. 367–8, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  14. Accents of English 2: The British Isles, page 372, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  15. Linguistic Atlas of England; sections Ph34 and Ph 36
  16. Linguistic Atlas of England; section Ph35
  17. Wells, J. C. Accents of English 2: The British Isles, p. 362, Cambridge University Press, 1982
  18. Linguistic Atlas of England, sections Ph69 and Ph70
  19. Anon. "Edwin Waugh". Gerald Massey. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  20. Hollingworth, Brian, ed. (1977) Songs of the People. Manchester: Manchester University Press ISBN 0-7190-0612-0; pp. 151-56
  21. Leaver, Eric. "Looms were mill poet's muse". Lancashire Evening Telegraph (Blackburn). 8 February 1978. Front page.
  22. Brook, G. L. (1963) English Dialects. London: Andre Deutsch; pp. 156-57
  23. "Dear Professor Brook, Ah'm fain t'tell thee as wi'n dun fer thee all yon books fer t'Lankysheer Dialect Society tha fotched ter t'University Library a while sin ..."--The Journal of the Lancashire Dialect Society, no. 23, pp. 3-4
  24. Wright, Peter (1976) Lancashire Dialect. Clapham, N. Yorks.: Dalesman; pp. 18-19
  25. Lancashire English, Fred Holcroft, introduction, 1997
  26. Anon. "Information:Victoria Wood". Get me in. Get me In. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  27. Folk's t'internet sensations - World music - Music - Entertainment - Manchester Evening News Archived 25 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  28. Anon. "Poverty Knock". Traditional & Folk Songs with lyrics & midi music. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  29. Barton, Laura (6 February 2008). "Hear where you're coming from". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 21 September 2009.


Further reading

Sound recordings

External links

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