Published: 11 February 2015

Student blog: First impressions: the art of understanding new voices

Jaspreet Purewal, Combined honours student in the School of the Arts, reflects on the importance of regional accents when arriving to study in a new city:

The variation in regional accents is often one of the main distinctions that students recognise when they arrive in Liverpool.

The expectation is that the ‘typical’ English accent is Received Pronunciation (RP), a standard form of English, most recognised in the south of the country. As students, particularly those coming to British universities from overseas, they will encounter a variety of accents, some more difficult to understand than others!

Students in the School of the Arts recently learnt about the significance of how we speak to each other from Joan Beal, Professor of English at the University of Sheffield, who spoke about the strong northern accent and the “enregisterment of Sheffieldish”.

She identified the importance that an accent has on an individual’s identity, as well as the complexities of the north and south divide and how it so engrained in our history, appearing as far back at the 1800s as a topic of literary fiction in Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic North and South.

Professor Beal explained that the “sound patterns (of an accent) are linked to a framework of social identities” and therefore people often associate accents with particular stereotypes of the individuals born and raised in that region.

According to a survey carried out by ITV tonight, the Liverpool accent is fifth in the top 10 of Britain’s favourite accents. The Liverpool accent is synonymous with the image of the city, an image that local people are very proud to defend.

Accents, particularly the Liverpool accent, not only live through the people that speak it, but also through popular culture, such as music, art, and film. Liverpool, and its distinctive voice, is bound up with the sound of the Beatles, the grandeur of Victorian architecture, art, and two huge football clubs, prompting many thousands of visitors to the city each year.

The Liverpool accent has become recognisable for many reasons, however; most recently dialect has been used to further establish the city’s brand with merchandise such as the book, ‘Lern yourself scouse’, mugs, cards, and ornaments with ‘typical Liverpool words’ embossed on them.

Professor Beal explained in her lecture that “certain words and terms are associated with various dialects, but the person buying the merchandise reflects on the words as they become personal to them.”

As a student, I feel that the Liverpool dialect provides an identity in which we associate with and warm to. Being part of a wider city-based community, which essentially has its own language, provides a sense of belonging that distinguishes a students’ experience at Liverpool, making it memorable and unique.

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