Scouse is threatened by the rising tide of Estuary English

By Kathy Marks

The Independent (London), 1 June 1999

The Liverpool accent, with its distinctive nasal twang, is being supplanted by the southern tones of Estuary English.

The phenomenon has been identified by Andrew Hamer, a regional accents expert at Liverpool University. He says that Merseysiders are increasingly speaking the watered-down form of Cockney that has already colonised much of the southern Britain.

Mr Hamer blames social mobility and EastEnders for the relentless march of Estuary English, which originated on the banks of the Thames in Essex and north Kent. He says that the trend is most noticeable in people under 30 and contrasts the sounds uttered by young scousers to those of earlier generations, whose pronunciation was influenced by the city's Irish immigrants.

"From my observations, these young speakers have started to say 'fink' instead of 'tink', and 'bruvver' instead of 'brudder'," Mr Hamer said. "It is the influence of the Cockney pronunciation."

Before the Irish arrived in Liverpool in the 19th century, seeking sanctuary from the potato famine, the native dialect was barely distinguishable from that of nearby Manchester. Immigrants from Lancashire, Scotland and Wales added to the linguistic mix, creating an accent described by one contemporary Merseysider as "one-third Irish, one-third Welsh and one-third catarrh".

Mr Hamer said the Liverpool accent had been in a constant state of flux. "I have tapes of elderly men born before the First World War who pronounce 'fair' and 'hair' as 'fur' and 'hur', which is the Lancashire influence," he said.

Many Liverpudlians will be pained by the prospect of becoming a linguistic footnote. But one likely to rejoice is the Liverpool-born novelist Beryl Bainbridge, who earlier this year called the scouse accent "stupid".

Andrew Hamer comments:

As is only to be expected, I'm going to say I was misquoted. I certainly DIDN'T claim that Scouse is about to disappear into the estuarine slime. What I DID say, in reply to the question whether I thought Scouse was changing, was that one of the detectable changes was the substitution of *th* in *think* and *brother* by *f* and *v*. I've heard this in a large number of young speakers (both sexes, mostly under 25), and have recorded it in a few - even in so-called *interview style*. I should say that although I've been recording L'pool speakers over many years, and hope at some stage to work more systematically on Scouse, at the moment I'm more interested in what can be called *Scouseness* - perceptions of Scouse among speakers from other communities. I'm working with postgrads on the Isle of Man, where Scouse is a recognised influence.

Placed on the web 1999 06 01 JCW. Extended 1999 06 02

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