Stop ya chattin’! Man Met Uni linguist on ‘accent loyalty’, dialect maps and stereotypes

The different dialects and accents of Greater Manchester have been mapped out for the first time ever by sociolinguists from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The map visualises how people perceive the speech of Mancunians in different areas of the region and explores what social stereotypes they attach to each accent.

Five clear dialect areas were identified, with South Manchester branded as ‘posh’ speaking and the bordering areas described with ‘poor’, ‘broad’ and ‘rough’ accents.

Dr Drummond, Lecturer in Linguistics at the University, said: “Studies such as this one help linguists to understand people’s perceptions about where different language varieties are spoken and how they differ, as well as people’s social judgements about these language varieties and their speakers.

“It is important to note that the dialect areas and descriptions shown on the map are the collective impressions of the people of Manchester themselves and not those of language experts who often have less direct knowledge and experience of the local area.”

The accents categorized are obviously linked with the social stereotypes of those areas, but how much weight do they actually carry in our day to day lives?

Can an accent, for example, affect such things as employment?

Well, parallels between unemployment stats and the sectioned areas would suggest so.

In 2010-11, during the economic crisis, Oldham and Tameside saw the highest rise in unemployment, 16.4% and 14.4% respectively.

These boroughs are located in the purple fifth of the map labelled as having ‘common’, ‘working-class’ and ‘broad’ dialects.

Furthermore, the ‘poor’ speaking areas of Oldham West and Royton had 6.1% of residents claiming benefits in 2013 – a stark contrast to the ‘well-spoken’ and ‘posh’ members of Cheadle who had only 1.9% claiming.

The map has proven that social standing seems to impact Manchester’s accents; people who grow up in less economically stable areas seem to be judged as having ‘poor’ accents, for example.

MM asked Dr Erin Carrie, Lecturer in Linguistics at the University, whether accents actually impact social standing.

“Yes, we argue that it works both ways,” She said.

“There have been a number of news stories in recent years claiming that having a regional accent or local features in your speech can inhibit job prospects and other opportunities.

“Whilst this shouldn’t necessarily be the case, prejudices against accents and dialects do exist and can feed into daily life.”

While she did not agree that having a ‘rough’ accent lowered chances of getting a certain level of job, she did comment that people often neutralise their accents for job interviews.

She said: “People tend to play down local features in their speech when doing job interviews or talking to people from other parts of the world, yet they play up local features when they’re in their home towns and cities and talking with other locals.

“We often adapt the way we speak to meet the expectations of particular contexts and to express ourselves in a way that will resonate with the people we’re talking to.

“If speaking a certain way is a crucial factor in getting a certain job, it’s understandable that some people adapt their accents to increase their chances.”

So, what does your accent say about you?

If you are from the South, areas such as Stockport and South Trafford, you are deemed to have a ‘posh’, ‘good’ and ‘soft’ accent.

Dr Carrie said: “Southern Manchester, especially the Chorlton and Didsbury areas, are associated with higher socioeconomic status.

“Both the speech and the speakers in these areas are, therefore, thought to be more ‘standard’ and to represent higher levels of status and competence than in other areas of Manchester.”

Areas of Eastern Manchester were given ‘poor’, ‘working-class’ accents.

Dr Carrie explained that, in fact, a ‘poor’ accent does not exist but this judgement reflects how people view the area and its residents.

She told MM: “There’s no such thing as a ‘poor’ accent but what we’ve found is that attitudes towards accents often reflect broader judgements and stereotypes about the people who speak with that accent.

“Our accents are like thumbprints – they tell other people a bit about who we are and where we’re from.

“So, people will form impressions about our backgrounds – financial and otherwise – from the way we speak.”

Many areas, such as the North, where described as having a ‘common’ accent, but MM wanted to know what this actually means.

“It’s hard to tell exactly what the stereotypes and judgements are that are associated with a ‘common’ accent but we can see from the map that ‘common’ accents are also usually perceived as ‘broad’, ‘rough’ and ‘strong’,” Dr Carrie explained.

“Speakers of these accents may be perceived as expressing a strong sense of local identity.”

Western Manchester was described with ‘rough’, ‘strong’ accents, and ‘scally’ in and around the Salford area.

“The interesting thing about [scally] is that it is a local dialect word being used to describe a local dialect,” Dr Carrie said.

“We are planning to look into whether or not people’s attitudes towards accents/dialects in their own area are more positive than towards those in other areas.

“We would expect this to be the case, as research conducted in other locations has found this type of ‘accent loyalty’.”

The map and the extensive research behind it have proven that Manchester is an extremely diverse region for accents.

The lecturer said: “We think that there aren’t only regional differences within Manchester but, also, social differences.

“In other words, people living in the same area but belonging to different social groups will speak differently.

“There is a huge amount of variation in accents and dialects across the UK.

“From one town to the next, there can be clear differences in the sounds that people produce and the words that they use.”

People may associate a ‘posh’ accent with a privileged and rich upbringing, but is it possible to associate an areas dialect with its crime rates?

Figures reveal that Rochdale, with its ‘strong’, ‘working class’ accent, has the highest regional crime rate (80.36), behind Manchester city centre.

Similarly Tameside (76.14) and Oldham (78.28) received the next highest, and both areas were given ‘broad’, ‘common’ dialect.

Their figures are significantly above the force average of 72.83.

One the other hand the boroughs of Trafford and Stockport, which have ‘soft’ and ‘good’ accents, have crime rates much below average, at 52.06 and 56.19 respectively.

However, also below average are Wigan (59.39) and Salford (64.14) and they were said to have ‘rough’ speech.

“Language is like many other things we use to express ourselves so, we might expect ‘posh’ and ‘rough’ accents to be linked with certain ways of dressing, hobbies, lifestyle choices, music preferences, etc,” Dr Carrie said.

This suggests that the maps accent branding is a reflection of people’s opinions about the ‘lifestyle choices’ and actions of residents.

And that the high crime in places such as Rochdale resulted in other Mancunians connecting them with a ‘common’ accent, and collectively grouping/stereotyping them in that way.

It does not seem right that in our ever-improving, accepting society, we class people under a certain group as a result of how they pronounce their vowels.

Dr Carrie said: “It’s human nature to try to categorise and characterise others based on any information that is available to us, including language, but as we all know first impressions are not always correct.

“It’s difficult to say whether or not we can combat the social stereotypes that are deeply ingrained within our society but, in my view, we should, at least, learn not to rely on them too heavily.”

Image courtesy of David Goehring, with thanks.

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