Manchester Voices: Documenting and celebrating the accents and dialects of Greater Manchester

Dr Erin Carrie and Dr Rob Drummond
Manchester Voices is a research project which explores the rich tapestry of accents, dialects, and identities that make up Greater Manchester. In this week’s blog, Dr Erin Carrie and Dr Rob Drummond discuss how the research will develop, and demonstrate why it really is a project about, with, and for the people of Greater Manchester.

As sociolinguists, we spend our time listening to the ways in which people use language, and investigating the role it plays in the performance of regional and social identity. With the Manchester voices project, we enrich those viewpoints with insights from poetry and history in our effort to celebrate Manchester’s rich linguistic and cultural heritage.

Present-day Greater Manchester is an increasingly prominent city-region comprising 2.8 million inhabitants across 493 square miles. It unites areas that were once part of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, bringing together wide-ranging industrial histories, folk traditions and cultural influences, making it an ideal site for a study of this kind.

Our preliminary research across the ten boroughs of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan suggested that the accents and dialects of this region are heavily bound to notions of place and belonging. They are often a source of pride for their speakers, and evoke a strong sense of identity.

We exhibited these early findings in an interactive exhibition at Manchester Central Library in the summer of 2017. They demonstrated the wide variety of linguistic forms used in Greater Manchester, with sounds and grammar changing within the space of a few miles, and words varying from region to region.

‘Ginnel’ (alley), ‘skriking’ (crying) and ‘cruckle’ (to go over on one’s ankle) were just some examples of this rich lexical variation, not to mention the numerous words used for ‘bread roll’ across the ten boroughs (‘barm’, ‘barmcake’, ‘teacake’ and ‘muffin’, to name just a few!). The enthusiastic response to the exhibition reassured us that we were investigating a topic of genuine regional interest and value, which gave us the impetus to seek further funding.

With support from the AHRC, we’re now in a position to take the project to new levels, building on earlier successes, and employing additional methods to gain a more complete picture.

In 2020, we’ll undertake a comprehensive tour of the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester in our Accent Van – a specially kitted-out vehicle which will serve as a mobile interview booth and recording studio. This will give us access to a far greater range of people, stories and insights than ever before, making this one of the most detailed linguistic descriptions of a particular region the UK has ever seen.

Participants will be asked to share their thoughts on how they speak, reflecting on deeply embedded beliefs regarding the status and value of their own, and other people’s, accents and dialects and how they relate spoken language to a sense of local identity.

In addition to the Accent Van, we will be digitally mapping the area’s accents and dialects using a sophisticated online tool developed specifically for the project, as well as running a series of attitude surveys to track people’s thoughts and feelings about the speech of the region. We will also be organising outreach and poetry workshops in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies, the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage and Manchester Met’s English Department, which will serve to engage members of the public in thoughtful discussion and creative collaboration around issues of accent, dialect and identity.

The project will culminate with a permanent Manchester Central Library installation and audiovisual archive, containing interviews with people from each of the ten boroughs, interactive dialect maps and excerpts of analysis and creative artefacts.

The archive will also contain recordings digitised as part of the British Library and Heritage Lottery Fund Unlocking the UK’s Sound Heritage initiative, which will provide a vital historical link and allow the researchers to explore language change in the region over time. In addition to this, we will tour a smaller exhibition around the ten boroughs, inviting people to share in the findings they have helped to generate.

Manchester Voices will have a further public presence in the new Manchester Poetry Library (opening at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2020), where there will be an archive of regional poetry that features the area’s diverse dialects. As part of the project, we will host a series of poetry performances and events across the region, exploring the role of accent and dialect in literary works and literary creation, and workshops in local schools and community settings.

Manchester Voices is an AHRC-funded project that is truly about, with, and for the people of Greater Manchester. By bringing regional accents and dialects to the fore of public consciousness, we hope that they will come to be understood and appreciated in new ways.

Further information about the project is available at www.manchestervoices.org

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