“Why can’t people from Liverpool speak with a clear English accent?”
in Advice

“Why can’t people from Liverpool speak with a clear English accent?”

We have had an interesting note left on our blog this week by a European professional in the finance sector. The writer states that he speaks over 10 languages and converses regularly in all of them, but “fails to understand why people from Liverpool cannot speak Scouse when conversing with fellow Scousers but clear English when conversing with anyone else.”

Scousers – Hard to Understand?

He goes on to make the point that Scouse English is extremely hard to understand if you are speaking English as a second language and argues that Scousers should concentrate on speaking clear English that everyone else can understand.

We thought about this carefully before writing an article on the subject, because it is fairly inflammatory to say the least!

UK Accents

You could make the same request to the population of almost every area of the UK. There are quite literally hundreds of regional accents, including Northern Irish, Scottish (particularly Glaswegian), Brummie (Birmingham) Geordie (Newcastle), Mancunian (Manchester), Somerset, Devon and Yorkshire. So many areas of the UK have their own accents – and if you are British you can very often pinpoint an accent down to a very small area – that the same discussion could apply to just about every town and city!

Difference between Dialects and Accents

One misconception is that an accent is simply the way words are pronounced. A dialect includes not just pronunciations, but also general vocabulary and grammar. All three will be different from the main language – vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation are clearly distinct. UK accents are not usually dialects, although there often are old dialects lurking under regional accents (see below).

Is it possible for Scousers/Brummies et al to speak two types of English – one colloquial with a strong accent when conversing locally with fellow inhabitants of their area, and a separate clearer non-accented English spoken when conversing with the rest of the country?

I think the writer of the query about Liverpool has failed to appreciate that speaking Scouse, Geordie or Glaswegian is not a language in itself. Rather it is an accented regional feature and is rarely something that a person can switch in and out of.

My parents-in-law originate from West Yorkshire and speak English with a very strong West Yorkshire accent. However if you were to tell them to do an impression of someone from Yorkshire they would attempt to put on an accent and speak in the way they think everyone else perceives the accent to be. They have no idea that they speak English with a strong Yorkshire accent themselves! It would be virtually impossible for them to speak English without their regional accent showing through. Furthermore they have lived in North Wales for over 15 years and still retain their Yorkshire accent.

Yorkshire Dialect

Confusingly there is a Yorkshire dialect, and an example is below:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eat all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Allus do it fer thissen.

This translates as ‘Hear all, see all, say nothing; eat all, drink all, pay nothing, and if ever you do something for nothing, always do it for yourself.’

As part of the West Yorkshire accent, the use of ‘nowt’ (nothing) is very common and so is ‘thissen’ (yourself). They are also keen on lots of ‘thee’, ‘thy’ and ‘thou’, but then so was Shakespeare! The overwhelmingly majority of words spoken by Yorkshire men and Yorkshire women are English and not the Yorkshire dialect, which means it is understandable by anyone who speaks English.

UK Accents are not Separate Languages

Because these regional dialects are not separate languages, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to use them in certain settings and then to switch out and speak English with a completely different accent in other settings.

The writer of this question is completely mistaken at thinking that Liverpudlians can switch out of Scouse and into another form of English at ease. The same almost certainly applies in other countries as well, for example the strong accented German spoken by Bavarians or the local dialect of French spoken in the north and the south. It is simply a feature of the rich heritage of every individual country that the language has developed with a different accent in different locations, and something that should be protected and celebrated.

Specialist Accent Transcribers

Of course if the writer is having problems understanding UK regional accents, particularly Scouse, Geordie or Glaswegian, University Transcriptions and TP Transcription would be delighted to assist. We have specialised in heavily accented audio transcription for over 20 years. NB: we charge nothing extra to transcribe regional accents, unlike certain companies from Silicon Valley!