Thursday, 2 December 2010

Geordie royalty

The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell is currently exploring the pretty conceit that our royal family have a secret double life as a stereotypically lower-class couple. Here they are as Cockneys, discussing whether to change the name of the House of Windsor. (full size here)
Showing pronunciation through ad hoc misspelling is always a bit hit-or-miss. The Cockney MOUTH vowel may be a monophthongal [], but it is never [ɑː], so that (as far as I know) ’ouse is not a genuine homophone of arse.

Yesterday they decided to move to the northeast of England and become the “Ahse of Teesside” — though I must say this looks more like Tyneside (Newcastle) than Teesside (Middlesbrough). (full size here)The sporadic pronunciation of the GOAT vowel as [ɵː], which sounds passably like RP NURSE, is a striking characteristic of a Northumbrian accent. (Only a few days ago a phonetic friend of mine who lives in Morpeth was joking about the heavy “snur” that has fallen.)

The Tyneside accent, aka Geordie, has been in the news recently because of the singer and television personality Cheryl Cole. She is one of the judges on the wildly popular talent show The X Factor, and there is talk now of an American version of the show. But will Americans be able to cope with her pronunciation of English?
From her bouncy, shining mane to the over-sincere pep talks she doles out to her “girls”, Cheryl Cole seems a perfect fit for US television. She has glamour, style and empathy – all the qualities an American audience can understand.
Until, perhaps, she opens her mouth. Cheryl's Geordie accent may be celebrated (in a way) in the UK – this Christmas brings the book Woath It? Coase Ah Am, Pet by Twitter's @CherylKerl – but there are worries that some of the X Factor judge’s pearls of wisdom might get slightly lost in translation in America. … Currently it's Vernon Kay’s broad Bolton burr that is mystifying the Americans – viewers of ABC’s Skating with the Stars have complained that he is difficult to understand. And that despite American viewers having years and years of Daphne’s faux “Manchester” accent in Frasier.

If you don’t know what Cheryl sounds like and would like to know, here she is being interviewed by Piers Morgan.

Will American audiences be fazed by such things as drɔːr ə lɛɪn draw a line, fɛɪnd ðə tɛɪm find the time, kɑːnt koʊp wɪð ɪt (very back ɑː, caricatured as corn't in the cartoon) can’t cope with it, jə skrʊfs ən jər ʊɡz your scruffs and your Uggs? Or by the frequent low-accent-high-level-tail declarative intonation pattern?
Women _ have ¯a hard time of it


  1. I think that they'll just think she's Irish at first -- the intonation pattern sounds very Irish to American ears.

  2. @ ascent1729: I don't really think the intonation sounds Irish. Northern Irish (Ulster) maybe, but not like anything I've heard from the rest of Ireland.

  3. I'd transcribe the Cockney MOUTH vowel as /æː/ rather than /aː/: /mæːf/ 'mouth'; /æːs ə slæː/ 'House of Slough'.

    Something that's always interested me about this vowel is that, unlike its counterpart in other dialects, it triggers a linking R word-finally. For example ɪʔs æːr ɑː fiəw 'it's how I feel', frequently heard on EastEnders.

  4. Very interesting cartoons. A few points.

    /a:/ can occur in MOUTH, START and PALM in Sheffield and surrounding areas, although I think that /a:/ in MOUTH is a weak form. "House" and "arse" can be homophones in this area, but I think that even the broadest Sheffielder distinguishes them sometimes. I have known /a:t/ to be confused amongst three words: "out", "heart" or "art".

    @ Pete: I agree. The Cockney /æː/ is different from the Sheffield /a:/

    I've always associated /ɵː/ in GOAT with Hull and didn't even realised it was used in Northumberland. Middlesbrough is between Hull and Newcastle, so /ɵː/ is probably the local form there. I think that it would only be the very oldest people in Middlesbrough who would use /u:/ in MOUTH though.

    Also I don't get what the joke is with the second cartoon.

  5. @ Ed: the joke continues in today's cartoon,

  6. It looks like Geordie to me, not Teeside. Although /u:/ in MOUTH was traditionally found throughout much of northern England, it's not really typical of Teeside as far as I can tell, but it is still relatively common (and stereotyped) in Tyneside. 'ur' for the GOAT vowel in Tyneside is an established spelling representation, being found in the 'Sid the Sexist' comic strip in 'Viz' for example, and isn't quite the same as Hull GOAT fronting, as it seems to be a higher vowel. It is still common in Northumberland and Tyneside (Dom Watt and Lesley Milroy found it being used as a local identity marker by young males in Tyneside in the mid 90s). That said, there is some GOAT fronting in Teeside (sounds like the Hull type to me) as far as I can tell. 'can't' as 'corn't' is definitely Tyneside (PALM/START is often low-back-rounded); I'd expect an [a:] vowel for PALM/START in Teeside. Stereotypical Teeside features that wouldn't be too hard to represent in writing might include monophthong PRICE before voiced consonants (e.g. 'taam' for 'time'), NURSE-SQUARE merger (e.g. 'nairse' for 'nurse'), front PALM/START (e.g. 'staat' for 'start'), and H-dropping.

  7. Another distinctive vowel in the North-East is the southern-style "broad A". That is, the PALM/START vowel is found in some words like 'class' and 'path'.

    It doesn't appear in the Cheryl Cole interview linked above but I've heard this in Newcastle. I don't know if it's used in other parts of Tyne & Tees though - presumably an influence from RP.

  8. @Pete: I'm not sure about that. Certainly middle-class speakers in Tyneside and elsewhere in the north can have this in BATH words generally, but it's not that common, and isn't a local feature. I think what you might be referring to though is broad A (as in PALM/START) in specific words: 'banana', 'calf', 'half' and 'rather' (which should probably be thought of as PALM words anyway, despite them being categorised as BATH in 'Accents of English'), and in the two words 'master' and 'plaster'. Broad A pronunciations in these 'BATH' words IS common on Tyneside amongst all kinds of speakers (though probably not everyone), but really only in these words and maybe one or two others (including 'can't', and 'shan't', as much as it's used at all).

  9. Andrej Bjelaković2 December 2010 at 13:32

    There's something about the prominence given to some of the unaccented syllables that reminds me of Welsh accents. Or am I imagining things?

  10. @ Warren Maguire: It's interesting that all those features are also found in Hull. I think that the Middlesbrough accent is more like Hull than Geordie, but it gets associated more with Geordie since that is a better-known accent.

    One possible difference is that Hull-dwellers often use their DRESS vowel for a schwa at the end of a word (lettER, CURE, NEAR, etc.). (IPA not working on this computer, sorry)

  11. @Ed: and Liverpool. The seeming similarities between these three cities have been noted before, but I'm not sure that they've been explored in detail.

    Carmen Llamas's research shows that there has been something of a realignment, in terms of identity and accent, in Middlesbrough, from Yorkshire oriented to Tyneside (or northeast England more generally). But not so much that young Teesiders now sound just like Geordies (or indeed think of themselves as such; indeed quite the opposite).

    The DRESS vowel in lettER seems like it might be quite common in northeast England to me; although a TRAP-like vowel is found in Tyneside, a DRESS-like vowel is not uncommon too.

  12. I believe the standard for whether a word is BATH is whether American accents other than Eastern New England use their TRAP vowel in it. This is definitely true of all of banana, calf, half, master, plaster, can't. Shan't has been obsolete in AmE for a long time, though Mark Twain used it, so there is no native pronunciation any more, though the major American dictionaries list the artificial pronunciations /ʃænt/ and /ʃɑnt/. (NID3 gives a variety of indecipherable pronunciations of the vowel, including a-with-dot-above, which is not even listed in their pronunciation key.)

    Ed: By googling for "IPA keyboard" and clicking on the first link, you get a very nice clickable IPA chart.

  13. @Warren: I'm definitely talking about words like 'class' and 'path', which have a TRAP vowel in most of Northern England (and America, as John Cowan suggests). And I mean proper Geordies with proper (upper) working-class Geordie accents. I'll try & find some examples...

  14. I have lived in Yorkshire for 25 years and must say that I have never met any born-and-bred Northerners who use /ɑ:/ regularly in BATH. I agree with Upton's incorporation of /a/ into RP since the number of RP-speakers in the north would be neglible otherwise. I think that some people mistake occasional /ɑ:/ pronunciations for consistent use. For example, words like "master" and "Nazi" are more likely to take /ɑ:/ in the North than other BATH words are.

    It is quite surprising how strongly some people can feel about the BATH vowel. I have known non-native speakers be corrected sternly for pronouncing Castleford as /kɑ:slfəd/.

    (I typed the above using the keyboard John Cowan suggested and it's still not worked. The ɑ: should be the broad south-eastern BATH)

    @ Warren Maguire: that's very interesting. Middlesbrough is very different from rural, conservative North Yorkshire, so it doesn't surprise me about the identity switch. It would be interesting to do survey at towns down the east coast (Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington, Hornsea) to see whether they have the same features that Middlesbrough shares with Hull or not.

  15. @ Pete: Are you North American? Because the phonetic quality of the TRAP/BATH vowel in northern England is a fully open vowel [a] or maybe even approaching a central vowel [a̠] which is quite different from most North American accents. When I first heard northern English accents my American ears heard PALM in BATH words too, because the phonetic quality used there is so different from mine. If you're not North American just ignore this.

  16. The lexical sets (including PALM, BATH, etc.) are defined according to two accents and two accents only: RP and what JW calls "GenAm". The speech of Northern England isn't privileged in defining the lexical sets. Is that unfair? Perhaps, but JW has to draw the line somewhere or else he would have ended up with an unmanageably large number of lexical sets.

    So a word like "half", which has the same vowel as TRAP in (the vast majority of) North America, is properly classified as BATH, not PALM.

    Within the BATH set there are certain words that tend to go with PALM rather than TRAP in Northern England. These are listed in section 59(c) on p. 135 of my copy of Accents of English (i). The words are:

    calf, half, calve, halve, rather, Slav, shan't, can't, Iraq, corral, morale, Iran, Sudan, banana.

  17. @vp: I have TRAP in Iraq, corral, morale, Iran, Sudan, PALM in the others except sometimes in half.

    In Sheffield, master (and probably plaster too, but not other BATH words) is quite commonly heard with PALM. It actually seems to me (though I haven't got any data or anything) that this pronunciation is used mainly by people who have quite definite local accents, while near-RP speakers like me use TRAP.

  18. @ JHJ: I am the same as you for these words except "morale", for which I use a nasalised vowel.

    I think that it is more of an age split with words such as "master", "Nazi", etc. I recall hearing an older Northerner talk about /mɑːstəʃɛf/ and a younger one saying, "Do you mean /mastəʃɛf/?" as if she were correcting him.

    "Master" had a broad vowel in older dialect (spelt "maister" in Wuthering Heights) and "Nazi" has a broad vowel in German, so that explains them for older Northerners. I feel that the move to a short /a/ in these words reflects a dislike of the /ɑ:/ in BATH.

  19. ooh, dear, I don't think our Cheryl would do well in the big bad United States. Unless she wanted to get a holiday from being famous for a little while. Apart from anything else Girls Aloud never made it onto the radio in North America, so nobody would know who she is. And Americans are so ridiculously incapable of decoding non-American accents, it's astonishing. She'd have to learn to speak completely differently.

  20. @ella:

    Is there any evidence that Americans are any less capable than others of understanding unfamiliar accents?

  21. @ ella: I'm American and honestly I don't have much trouble at all understanding Cheryl's accent. I'll admit it sounds very different from mine, but it's quite lovely. The thing with a lot of Americans is (and this really annoys me too) they tend to exaggerate when they talk about how hard it is to understand someone with a different accent from them. They'll say things like, "I couldn't understand that man at all." However, this is really their way of saying, "He sounds very different from me, but I can still understand him fairly well." I suppose it's a type of hyperbole and maybe it's more common in America.

  22. Ed: the vowel looks right to me. You may have a font problem on your side.

    The foreign words Slav, Iraq, Nazi, Iran often have the PALM vowel in North America, but less so as you go westward; I have PALM in all of them. It's not clear to me whether they really belong in the artificial BATH set.

    In Eastern New England, PALM = BATH = /a/ and TRAP = /æ/; elsewhere in N.A., PALM = /ɑ/ and TRAP = BATH = /æ/. "Our grass", said a Bostonian many years ago, "is halfway between the grahs of an English lawn and the grass of the boundless prairies", and this is very nearly the phonetic truth.

  23. @ John Cowan: I looked that quote up and couldn't find it anywhere. Who said that?

  24. David Marjanović4 December 2010 at 22:38


    Isn't that characteristic of some African-American accents?

    low-accent-high-level-tail declarative intonation pattern

    So it's not just Swiss German! :-)


    Reportedly [ˈbastn̩].

  25. @John Cowan: I won't argue about Iraq and Iran, but Nazi is definitely in the PALM class here in New Mexico and everywhere I've ever been. I can't be as definite about Slav since it's much less common, but I've only ever heard it it with the PALM vowel.

    But then palm has the THOUGHT vowel for a fair number of Americans. That's how I grew up saying it (in Cleveland).

  26. @ Jerry Friedman: "...but Nazi is definitely in the PALM class here in New Mexico and everywhere I've ever been." But not in the movie Inglourious Basterds.

  27. David, it's also one of those things that are shared by Swabian Gemand and Irish English, in addition to rhoticity.

  28. Phil: I have no idea; I'm not even positive exactly where I saw it. I'd guess it was in the 4th edition of Mencken's book The American Language, which is post-1922 and so not on line, though the 2nd edition is.

    Jerry Friedman: With Iran, Iraq, Nazi one has to allow for deliberate distortion out of contempt: Eye-rack parallels the much older Eye-talian. I agree that I've never heard TRAP in Slav, but I didn't want to discount the possibility in advance.