Lancashire Dialect and Accent

Lancashire dialect and accent (Lanky) refers to the vernacular speech in Lancashire, one of the counties of England. Simon Elmes' book Talking for Britain said that Lancashire dialect is now much less common than it once was, but it is not yet extinct. 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.[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, 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]

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 to 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,

  • In those parts of Lancashire that border with Yorkshire, similarities with the Yorkshire dialect and accent arise. Words are shortened such as with to wi, in to i, etc.
  • In north Lancashire, speech sounds more similar to Cumbria. This is also the area in which rhoticity is most common.
  • In south Lancashire, speech is generally more refined, although Wigan and Leigh are possibly the last bastions of the traditional dialect where older people, especially in former colliery districts, will still use the pronoun "tha" or "t'" (thou) and "thi" (thee) instead of "you" as the 2nd person singular personal pronoun, subject and non-subject form respectively; "thy" as the 2nd person singular possessive adjective instead of "your"; and "thine" as a second person singular possessive pronoun instead of "yours", e.g. "What art t' doin'?" "Tha must be jestin'!" "Dost t' see yon mon o'er theer?" "Si thee!" "Ah'm talkin' to thee!" "Wheer's thi jackbit?" "This is mine an' that's thine!" "Hast ta geet a fiver tha con lend me?" There are also some Midlands features that become apparent, such as a lack of NG-coalescence: therefore, singer rhymes with finger.

This shift also occurs in other counties; therefore, some western border areas of Yorkshire have some Lancastrian features such as rhoticity. In most of Lancashire, this sound is pronounced /ʏː/ (as in 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

  • Definite article reduction. The is shortened to t or glottalled.
  • Rhoticity is a key feature of a Lancashire accent. The closer that one gets to Manchester and Liverpool, rhoticity dies out. Northwards it seems to die out somewhere between Preston and Lancaster.[13]
  • In some words with RP /əʊ/, a sound more like [ɔɪ] may be used, for example, "hole" is pronounced [hɔɪl] "hoil".
  • Some areas have the nurse–square merger: for example, Bolton, St. Helens, Widnes and Wigan. Traditionally, both nurse and square would be said with /ɜː/ but the Scouse-like /ɛː/ can also be heard.[14]
  • In areas that border Yorkshire, it is more likely for there, where, swear, etc. to be pronounced with /ɪə/, to rhyme with "here".
  • Words that end -ight often are pronounced /iː/. For example light, night, right are pronounced /liːt/, /niːt/, /riːt/.[15] Some areas pronounce fight and right with an /ei/ vowel — a split that is also found in the West Riding of Yorkshire.[16]
  • An oo in words such as book, look, hook can be pronounced with /uː/.[17] This is a feature of Early Modern English, and is not unique to Lancashire dialect.
  • The third person feminine (she) appears to be rendered as "'er" (her) but is in fact an Old English relic which dialect poets of the 19th century would render as Oo - the pronunciation is in fact a schwa (that is, the er in better = "er's a funny un" = she is a funny one/a little strange.
  • In the past "open" would have become "oppen", "spoken" becomes "spokken", "broken" becomes "brokken", etc. but these are now uncommon amongst younger generations. They are still fairly common in West Yorkshire.
  • Traditionally, a /t/ was replaced with an /r/; for example, "I'm gerring berrer", "a lorra laughs". Amongst the younger generation, it is much more common to replace /t/ with a glottal stop [ʔ].
  • Words such as cold and old are pronounced cowd and owd (e.g.: owd mon = old man)
  • Rather than a mixed use of was and were such as occurs in Standard English, Lancashire dialects tend to use only one of the words and employ it in all cases. The west coast of Lancashire always uses was, the rest of the county always using were.
  • Certain words ending in -ool drop the l. School therefore becomes skoo" and fool becomes foo. e.g.: th'art a foo: you are a fool.
  • Use of a /z/ sound for an /s/ as in bus /bʊz/ for example in Darwen or even as far south as Oldham, Wigan and Leigh.
  • The word self is reduced to sen or sel, depending on the part of Lancashire.
  • Make and take normally become meck and teck. In older dialect, parts of north and east Lancashire used mack and tack.[18]
  • A marker of a traditional Lancashire accent is the frequent replacement of /a/ with /o/. For example, land became lond and man became mon. This is now considered to be old-fashioned.
  • As noted above the second person familiar (tha) is used by older speakers to the extent that they will (correctly) inflect the verb. Th'art an owd mon = Thou art/you are an old man, th'as(t) gone owt = thou hast/you have gone out). Also amongst some older speakers a distinction is (or rather was) made between the familiar tha and yo/yer for other circumstances. Even rarer is the (again correct) use of the imperfect subjunctive ending for tha for example: if tha wert owd, tha'dst know = if thou wert/if you were old, thou wouldst/you would know.

For speakers of the Lancashire dialect the accent/dialect from even a neighbouring town is perceived 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 (her having 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.

  • The word "lunch", now in worldwide usage, actually originates from Lancashire.
  • The term "moggy" a popular colloquial term for a cat in many parts of the country, means a mouse or insect in many parts of Lancashire, notably in the regions surrounding Wigan and Ormskirk. If older dialect speaking residents of these areas are asked what a 'moggy' is, they will say 'owt smo' an' wick '; i.e. anything small and quick. In the same districts, cheese is often referred to as 'moggy meyght'; i.e. 'moggy meat', or in other words, food for mice. Many etymological authorities believe that cats were originally referred to as 'moggy catchers' and the term was abbreviated over time.
  • The word 'maiden' for 'clothes horse' is now used even by people who consider themselves too "proper" to use dialect.

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 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.

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

  • 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.

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.


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 notable examples.[21] The 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies, written by comedienne Victoria Wood who was brought up near Ramsbottom,[22] 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 Lancashire accent. Also the ninth incarnation of the titular character of Doctor Who, played by actor Christopher Eccleston, speaks with a Lancashire accent.

The band the Lancashire Hotpots originate from St Helens,[23] and popularise dialect in their humorous songs. The folk song "Poverty Knock"[24] is written to the tune of a Lancashire accent and the rhythm of a loom in a Lancashire cotton mill.[25] It is one of the most famous dialect songs in Britain, and describes life in a textile mill.

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



  • recordings from Lancashire (circa 1950s)
  • 20th Century Lancastrian speech

Further reading

  • Boardman, Harry & Lesley, eds. (1973) Folk Songs & Ballads of Lancashire. London: Oak Publications ISBN 0-86001-027-9
  • Kershaw, Harvey (1958) Lancashire Sings Again: a collection of original verses. Rochdale: Harvey Kershaw
  • Pomfret, Joan, ed. (1969) Lancashire Evergreens: a hundred favourite old poems. Brierfield, Nelson: Gerrard ISBN 0-900397-02-0
  • Pomfret, Joan, ed. (1969) Nowt So Queer: new Lancashire verse and prose. Nelson: Gerrard
  • Just Sithabod: dialect verse from "Lancashire Life". Manchester: Whitethorn Press, 1975 (dedicated to "Lancastrians learning English as a second language")

Sound recordings

  • Aspey, Vera (1976) The Blackbird. Topic Records 12TS356
  • Boardman, Harry (1973) A Lancashire Mon: ballads, songs & recitations. Topic Records, London 12TS236
  • --do.-- (1978) Golden Stream: Lancashire songs and rhymes. AK Records, Manchester AK 7813
  • Kershaw, Mary & Harvey (1976) Lancashire Sings Again! songs & poems in the Lancashire dialect. Topic Records 12TS302

External links

  • Completely Lanky - Lancashire dialect website
  • A Glossary of Lancashire Dialect
  • Trouble at mill - Lancashire dialect website
  • Website dedicated to the poems and songs of Edwin Waugh
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