Scouse and how she is spoke

Posted by on April 11, 2013

'Liverpool' by Mark RoulstonToday’s guest post comes from Mark Roulston, author of Liverpool in the Macmillan Cultural Readers series. Liverpool-born Mark is a commissioning editor for Macmillan Education. Previous to his career in educational publishing, he was a freelance journalist covering on-field and off-field events at both Everton FC and Liverpool FC for the national and international media. He also spent ten years in Spain reporting on events for the UK national press.

For a printed copy of the cultural reader of Liverpool, please visit the Macmillan stand at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool (8-12 April, 2013).

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With its short, clipped vowels, T-glottalization and interdental fricative consonants uttered as dental stops, Scouse – the native dialect spoken in the city of Liverpool – is typical of other dialects spoken throughout the north west of England.

You can be in Liverpool, Manchester, Wigan or St Helens and you are likely to hear words such as ‘bath’ or ‘plant’ pronounced with the /a/ sound rather than the longer /ɑː/ of received pronunciation. The word ‘butter’ all of a sudden becomes /bʊʔə/ instead of the /bʌtə(r)/ said by Her Majesty the Queen. ‘This’ and ‘that’ are said respectively /dɪs/ and /dæt/.

Within the city boundaries of Liverpool, however, the sound of the words as they leave the mouth is quite different. You would never guess that just a few short miles separates the sometimes shrill, but usually mellow intonation of Scouse from the flat Lancastrian spoken in St Helens.

But it is not only the pronunciation that makes Scouse Scouse. It also has its own vocabulary and grammar. Much like in some European languages, such as Spanish, and certain dialects of US English, Scouse has a second person plural pronoun – yous. An example of this is “Wot yous up to?” which translates as “What are you doing?”. The object pronoun me is also commonly used in place of the possessive adjective my. “Me ma izza nurse” is what a Scouser would say when describing his or her mother’s job.

So why does Scouse exist in glorious isolation? To find some provenance you have to go back to the 19th century and the Great Famine, when starvation resulted in the loss of around one million lives in Ireland. Seeking refuge across the Irish Sea, the point of entry for many Irish migrants to Great Britain was the port city of Liverpool. Many made this place their home and, today, as many as 25 per cent of Liverpudlians, as Scousers are more correctly known, have Irish ancestry.

But to limit any history of Scouse to the Irish does not do justice to the other migratory groups who have all contributed to the richness of this particular dialect. In its pomp in the 19th century, Liverpool was the second capital of the British Empire – it was from this port city that Britannia ruled the waves. Chinese sailors, Eastern Europeans, former slaves from the Caribbean all made their home here and all, undoubtedly, contributed to the linguistic melting pot that is Scouse today.

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