Lancashire dialect

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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. The region is notable for its tradition of poetry written in the dialect.

Scope of Lancashire dialect[edit]

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.[1] It was during this period that most writing in and about the dialect took place, when Lancashire covered a much larger area than it does today. The county was subject to significant boundary changes in 1974,[2] which removed Liverpool and Manchester with most of their surrounding conurbations to form part of the metropolitan counties of Merseyside and Greater Manchester.[3] 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.

The linguist Gerard Knowles noted that Lancashire dialect was still spoken in the city of Liverpool in 1830, before the period of mass immigration from Ireland that led the dialect of the city to change radically.[4] Modern Liverpool speech is usually treated as a separate dialect, named Scouse. In the post-war era, migration to other towns in Merseyside and also to the new town created at Skelmersdale has led to an expansion in the area in which Scouse is spoken, as the next generation acquired Scouse speech habits that often displayed the traditional Lancashire dialect of the area.[5]

In recent years, some have also classified the speech of Manchester as a separate Mancunian dialect, but this is a much less established distinction. Many of the dialect writers and poets in the 19th and early 20th century were from Manchester and surrounding towns.[6]

Dialect division in the 19th century[edit]

Alexander John Ellis, one of the first to apply phonetics to English speech, divided the county of Lancashire into four areas. Three of these four were considered North Midland in his categorisation of dialects, whereas the fourth (mostly the section that is in modern Cumbria, known as "Lancashire over the sands") was considered Northern. Dialect isoglosses in England seldom correspond to county boundaries, and an area of Lancashire could have a dialect more similar to an area of a neighbouring county than to a distant area of Lancashire.

Ellis expressly excluded the Scouse dialect of Liverpool from the areas below, although his Area 22 included some sites in modern Merseyside (e.g. Newton-le-Willows, Prescot).[7]

Ellis often spoke of "the Lancashire U" in his work.[8] This was similar to the ʊ in other Northern and North Midland dialects, but more centralised ʊ̈. In addition, the dialects were all rhotic at the time of writing.

Dialect area number Dialect area name Distinctive characteristics Sites in Lancashire Areas of other counties in same dialect area
21 southern North Midland[9] ɐʏ in MOUTH words. ɪŋk for the present participle. Bury, Failsworth, Manchester, Moston, Oldham, Patricroft, Royton, Rochdale, Stalybridge Parts of north-east Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire
22 western North Midland[10] in FACE words. ʊə in GOAT words, although ɔɪ occurs in words such as "coal" and "hole". ɛɪ in some FLEECE words (e.g. "speak"). Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Clitheroe, Colne Valley, Earlestown, Farington, Halliwell, Haslingden, Higham, Hoddlesden, Leigh, Leyland, Mellor, Newton-le-Willows, Ormskirk, Penwortham, Prescot, Sabden, Samlesbury, Skelmersdale, Walton-le-Dale, Warrington, Westhoughton, Whalley, Wigan, Worsthorne None. Ellis said that he considered including the Yorkshire sites of Halifax, Huddersfield, Marsden and Saddleworth in this area, but decided to include them in area 24 instead.
23 northern North Midland[11] in MOUTH words. ɑɪ in PRICE words. Abbeystead, Blackpool, Garstang, Goosnargh, Kirkham, Poulton-le-Fylde, Preston, Wyresdale Isle of Man
31 west Northern[12] ia in FACE words. eɪ in FLEECE words. aɪ in PRICE words. iʊ in GOOSE words. ʊu in MOUTH words. Broughton-in-Furness, Cark-in-Cartmel, Caton, Cockerham, Coniston, Dalton, Heysham, High Nibthwaite, Hornby, Lancaster, Lower Holker, Newton-in-Furness, Quernmore, Skerton, Ulverston All of Westmorland. Parts of east Cumberland, south Durham and north-west Yorkshire

Dialect glossaries[edit]

A number of dialect glossaries were published in the 18th and 19th Centuries, often by philologists who were interested in the old words retained in certain dialects.

  • Glossary of provincial words used in the neighbourhood of Ashton-under-Lyne, Mr. Barnes, 1846.
  • Glossary of provincial words used in the neighbourhood of Ormskirk, W Hawkstead Talbot, 1846.
  • The Dialect of South Lancashire, or Tom Bobbin's Tummus and Meary; with his rhymes and an enlarged glossary of words and phrases, chiefly used by the rural population of the manufacturing districts of South Lancashire, Samuel Bamford, 1854.
  • A Glossary of the Dialect of the Hundred of Lonsdale, North and South of the Sands, in the County of Lancaster; together with an essay on some leading characteristics of the dialects spoken in the six northern counties of England (ancient Northumbria), JC Atkinson, 1869.
  • A Glossary of the Words and Phrases of Furness (North Lancashire), RB Peacock, London Phil. Soc. Trans., 1869.
  • A Glossary of Rochdale-with-Rossendale Words and Phrases, H Cunliffe, 1886.
  • A Blegburn Dickshonary, J Baron, 1891.
  • A Grammar Of The Dialect Of Adlington (Lancashire), Karl Andrew Hargreaves, 1904.
  • A Grammar Of The Dialect Of Oldham (Lancashire), Karl Georg Schilling, 1906.

Of these, only the works on Oldham and Adlington contain any phonetic notation, and this was in a slightly different code to the modern IPA.

Dialect Reference Short vowels Long vowels Diphthongs Triphthongs
Adlington Hargreaves, 1904[13] a ɑ e ɪ ɔ ʊ o ə aː ɑ: eː ɛː iː ɔ: uː oː əː aɪː aːe eiː iːə ʊə ɔɪː ɔʊː uɪ ʊiː aɪə
Oldham Schilling, 1906[14] a e ɪ ɔ ʊ o ə aː eː iː ɔ: uː oː ɜː aɪ eɪ ɪə aʊ ʊə ɛʊ ɛə ɔɪ ɔə uɪ ɪɛ

Poetry and other literature[edit]

Graham Shorrocks wrote that Lancashire has been the county with the strongest tradition of dialect poetry since the mid-19th century.[15] Many of these gave commentaries on the poverty of the working class at the time and occasional political sentiments: for example, the ballad Joan of Grinfilt portrayed an unemployed handloom worker who would rather die as a soldier in a foreign war than starve at home.[16] Vicinus argued that, after 1870, dialect writing declined in quality owing to "clichés and sentimentality".[17]

The Lancashire Authors Association was founded in 1909 and still exists for writers in the dialect, producing an annual paper called The Record.[18]

Some dialect poets include:

  • 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.
  • John Collier, writing under the name Tommy Bobbin, published more than a hundred editions of "A View of the Lancashire Dialect".
  • Sam Fitton of Rochdale (1868–1923)
  • 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.[19]
  • Samuel Laycock (1826–1893) was a dialect poet who recorded in verse the vernacular of the Lancashire cotton workers.
  • Joseph Ramsbottom (1831–1901)
  • Margaret Rebecca Lahee (10 May 1831 – 14 June 1895), was an Irish Lancashire dialect writer from the 19th century who wrote in prose rather than verse.[20]
  • Thomas Thompson was a Lancashire dialect author and BBC broadcaster. Born in Bury in 1880, he lived there all his life until his death in 1951. He published sixteen books on Lancashire people and their communities, published by George Allen and Unwin. In 1950, he was awarded an honorary master's degree by Manchester University for his scholarly contribution to dialect literature.
  • Edwin Waugh whose most famous poem was "Come whoam to thi childer an' me", written in 1856.[21]
  • Michael Wilson of Manchester (1763–1840) and his sons Thomas and Alexander.[22]

In November 2016, Simon Rennie from Exeter University announced his collection of Lancashire dialect poetry from the time of the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861-5.[23] He said, "It's fascinating how people turned to and used poetry, in their local languages, to express the impact events so far away were having on them."[23]

Survey of English Dialects and related research[edit]

Led by Harold Orton at the University of Leeds, the Survey of English Dialects surveyed 313 sites across England, the Isle of Man and some bordering areas of Wales in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Survey recorded the dialect used in fourteen sites in Lancashire. These sites were mostly rural. A second phase, researching more urban areas, had been planned from the outset but financial problems meant that this second phase never occurred and the Survey's coverage was mostly confined to rural parts of England.[24]

The fieldworkers for the sites were Stanley Ellis and Peter Wright.[25] The latter was a native of Fleetwood and wrote his PhD on the dialect, using his father as the principal informant.[26] In 1981, Wright published a book The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke that explained the dialects of Lancashire through a series of illustrations, often humorous.[27]

The table below shows the sites as reported in Book 1 of the Survey's outputs for the northern counties.[28]

Code Site Date survey administered Number of informants Fieldworker Tape recording made
La13 Bickerstaffe, west Lancashire 28th June - 1st July 1955 2 Stanley Ellis No
La2 Cartmel, modern south Cumbria 28th May - 6th June 1954 3 Stanley Ellis Yes, not survey respondent
La1 Coniston, modern south Cumbria 20th - 25th April 1955 2 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La4 Dolphinholme, near Lancaster 21st - 25th May 1954 3 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La11 Eccleston, near Chorley 23rd - 26th March 1954 3 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La5 Fleetwood 1954 intermittently 4 Peter Wright Yes, survey respondent
La14 Halewood, near Liverpool. 29th March - 3rd April 1954 3 Stanley Ellis No
La12 Harwood, near Bolton 16th - 23rd February 1954 2 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La10 Marshside, Southport 8th - 13th April 1954 4 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La6 Pilling, Fylde coast 24th - 29th January 1952 3 Peter Wright No
La9 Read, near Burnley 3rd - 7th March 1954 2 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La8 Ribchester, between Blackburn and Preston 11th - 17th March 1954 4 Stanley Ellis Yes, survey respondent
La7 Thistleton, on the Fylde near Blackpool 19th - 23rd January 1952 4 Peter Wright No
La3 Yealand, near Lancaster 20th - 25th April 1955 2 Stanley Ellis No

There were several other monographs written by dialectologists by Harold Orton's department at the University of Leeds, including some urban areas such as Bury, Middleton, St. Helens and Southport. These are now contained in the Archive of Vernacular Culture at the Brotherton Library in Leeds.[29]

Modern research[edit]

Bolton area[edit]

Graham Shorrocks, a linguist from Farnworth, conducted a series of research projects on the dialect of the Bolton area. These were consolidated into two linked books named A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area, published in 1998 and 1999.

In addition, the Harwood area of Bolton, which had been a site in the Survey of English Dialects, was made into a site for the Europe-wide linguistic project Atlas Linguarum Europae.[30]

Other research[edit]

Academic analysis of the corpus of Lancashire dialect writing and poetry has continued into the 21st century. Areas of research include identifying the syntax of the dialect[31][32][33], methods of oral performance[34][35], the lexicography of dialect words[36], and the relationship between dialect and Social class in the United Kingdom[37][38]

Organizations and media[edit]

The Lancashire Dialect Society was founded in 1951; The Journal of the Lancashire Dialect Society has included articles on the Survey of English Dialects and on the dialects of Germany, Switzerland and the United States.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41]

Between 1979 and 2015, the North West Sound Archive contained a range of records in Lancashire dialect (as well as Cumberland and Westmorland dialect). The Archive closed owing to financial reasons in 2015, and its materials were relocated to the Manchester Central Library, Liverpool Central Library, and the Lancashire Archives.[42]

In popular culture[edit]

Films from the early part of the 20th century, particularly those produced by Mancunian Films, often contain Lancashire dialect: the films of George Formby, Gracie Fields and Frank Randle are some examples.[43] The 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies, written by comedian Victoria Wood who was brought up near Ramsbottom,[44] 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. Jessica Barden as 'Alyssa' in The End of the F***ing World speaks with a Lancashire accent. The 2018 film Peterloo used reconstructed Lancashire dialect from the early 19th century, based on the works of Samuel Bamford, who was portrayed in the film.[45]

The band the Lancashire Hotpots originate from St Helens,[46] and popularise dialect in their humorous songs. The folk song "Poverty Knock"[47] is written to the tune of a Lancashire accent and the rhythm of a loom in a Lancashire cotton mill.[48] It is a dialect song and describes life in a textile mill.

Contemporary figures who speak with a Lancashire accent include:


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ George, D. (1991) Lancashire
  3. ^ Local Government Act 1972. 1972, c. 70
  4. ^ Knowles, Gerard (1973). Scouse: the urban dialect of Liverpool. p. 17.
  5. ^ Crosby, Alan (2000). The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore. pp. xviii–xix.
  6. ^ Crosby, Alan (2000). The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore. p. xiv.
  7. ^ Knowles, Gerard (1973). Scouse: the urban dialect of Liverpool. p. 18.
  8. ^ Ellis, Alexander John (1889). On Early English Pronunciation Volume V. p. 10.
  9. ^ Ellis, Alexander John (1889). On Early English Pronunciation Volume V. pp. 315–329.
  10. ^ Ellis, Alexander John (1889). On Early English Pronunciation Volume V. pp. 329–351.
  11. ^ Ellis, Alexander John (1889). On Early English Pronunciation Volume V. pp. 351–363.
  12. ^ Ellis, Alexander John (1889). On Early English Pronunciation Volume V. pp. 537–637.
  13. ^ Hargreaves, Karl Andrew (1904). A Grammar Of The Dialect Of Adlington (Lancashire). p. 2.
  14. ^ Schilling, Karl Georg (1906). A Grammar Of The Dialect Of Oldham (Lancashire). p. 15.
  15. ^ English Literature and the Other Languages edited by Ton Hoenselaars, Marius Buning, page 90
  16. ^ English Literature and the Other Languages edited by Ton Hoenselaars, Marius Buning, page 89
  17. ^ English Literature and the Other Languages edited by Ton Hoenselaars, Marius Buning, page 95
  18. ^ English Literature and the Other Languages edited by Ton Hoenselaars, Marius Buning, page 93
  19. ^ Leaver, Eric. "Looms were mill poet's muse". Lancashire Evening Telegraph (Blackburn). 8 February 1978. Front page.
  20. ^ Hodson, J. (2017). Dialect and Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century. Dialect and Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century. Taylor & Francis. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-317-15148-7. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  21. ^ Anon. "Edwin Waugh". Gerald Massey. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  22. ^ Hollingworth, Brian, ed. (1977) Songs of the People. Manchester: Manchester University Press ISBN 0-7190-0612-0; pp. 151-56
  23. ^ a b "'Forgotten' Lancashire dialects revealed in poetry research". BBC News. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  24. ^ Frees, Craig (1991). "The Historiography of Dialectology" (PDF). Lore and Language. 10 (2): 71–72. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  25. ^ Orton, Harold (1962). Survey of English Dialects: Introduction. Leeds: EJ Arnold & Son. p. 33.
  26. ^ Orton, Harold; Halliday, Wilfrid J (1962). Survey of English Dialects: Volume 1 Basic Material, Six Northern Counties and Man: Part 1. Leeds: EJ Arnold & Son. pp. 21–22.
  27. ^ Wright, Peter (1981), The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke, Lancaster: Dalesman
  28. ^ Orton, Harold; Halliday, Wilfrid J (1962). Survey of English Dialects: Volume 1 Basic Material, Six Northern Counties and Man: Part 1. Leeds: EJ Arnold & Son. pp. 20–25.
  29. ^ "Student Research Papers". University of Leeds. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  30. ^ Shorrocks, Graham (1980). A Grammar of the Dialect of Farnworth and District (PDF). p. 35.
  31. ^ Siewierska, Anna; Hollmann, Willem (2007). "Ditransitive clauses in English with special reference to Lancashire dialect". In Hannay, Mike; Steen, Gerard J (eds.). Structural-Functional Studies in English Grammar: In honour of Lachlan Mackenzie. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 83–102.
  32. ^ Siewierska, Anna; Hollmann, Willem (2007). "A construction grammar account of possessive constructions in Lancashire dialect: some advantages and challenges". English Language & Linguistics. 11 (2). pp. 407–424.
  33. ^ Siewierska, Anna; Hollmann, Willem (2006). "Corpora and (the Need for) Other Methods in a Study of Lancashire Dialect". Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik. 54 (2). pp. 203–216.
  34. ^ Hakala, Taryn (2010). "A Great Man in Clogs: Performing Authenticity in Victorian Lancashire". Victorian Studies. 52 (3): 387–412.
  35. ^ Hollingworth, Brian (2013). "From Voice to Print: Lancashire Dialect Verse, 1800-70". Philological Quarterly. 92 (2): 289–313.
  36. ^ Ruano-García, Javier (2012). "Late Modern Lancashire English in lexicographical context: representations of Lancashire speech and the English Dialect Dictionary: An investigation of how nineteenth-century Lancashire dialect literature contributed to Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary". English Today. 28 (4).
  37. ^ Hakala, Taryn (2012). "M. R. Lahee and the Lancashire Lads: Gender and Class in Victorian Lancashire Dialect Writing". Philological Quarterly. 92 (2): 271–288.
  38. ^ McCauley, Larry (2001). ""Eawr Folk": Language, Class, and English Identity in Victorian Dialect Poetry". Victorian Poetry. 39 (2): 287–300.
  39. ^ Brook, G. L. (1963) English Dialects. London: Andre Deutsch; pp. 156-57
  40. ^ "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
  41. ^ Wright, Peter (1976) Lancashire Dialect. Clapham, N. Yorks.: Dalesman; pp. 18-19
  42. ^ "North West Sound Archive set to close due to 'financial circumstances'". Lancashire Telegraph. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  43. ^ Lancashire English, Fred Holcroft, introduction, 1997
  44. ^ Anon. "Information:Victoria Wood". Get me in. Get me In. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  45. ^ Schindel, Daniel (4 July 2019). "Mike Leigh on Why His New Film About an 1819 Massacre Feels Eerily Relevant Today". Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  46. ^ Folk's t'internet sensations – World music – Music – Entertainment – Manchester Evening News Archived 25 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ Anon. "Poverty Knock". Traditional & Folk Songs with lyrics & midi music. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  48. ^ Barton, Laura (6 February 2008). "Hear where you're coming from". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 21 September 2009.


Further reading[edit]

  • 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")
  • The Journal of the Lancashire Dialect Society (no. 15, January 1966, contains an index to no. 1-14)

Sound recordings[edit]

  • 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[edit]