‘Ooh ’eck’: why northern accents are at risk of being wiped out

Scientists forecast that southern speech patterns will begin to take over

Last of the Summer Wine
Bill Owen, Peter Sallis and Brian Wilde in Last of the Summer Wine set in the Yorkshire countryside
(Image credit: BBC)

Northern English accents risk dying out within half a century as southeastern pronunciations increasingly dominate the country’s speech, scientists have predicted.

Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Portsmouth created a model comparing data from a 1950s study, the Survey of English Dialects, with a 2016 study of 50,000 English speakers carried out by the English Dialect App.

The results, published in The Journal of Physics: Complexity, show that children in the north are increasingly using southern pronunciations because they are easier to pick up.

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Or, as The Telegraph puts it in its print edition today, “northern children of the future will speak like reet southern softies”.

The shift means that some northern speech patterns for words such as “strut” (rhyming with “foot”) and “singer” (rhyming with “finger”) could disappear, says the paper.

But “not all differences will be lost”, says The Times. The short vowel version of “bath” and “grass” is predicted to “continue as one of the few distinctions between different accents”.

It follows the decline of words to describe snail, such as “dod-man”, “hodmedod”, “hoddy-dod”, “hoddy-doddy”, which “faded from English language during the past century”, says the Daily Mirror.

Study co-author Dr James Burridge, from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Mathematics and Physics, explains that comparing the two sets of data proved to be a “viable way of exploring language change in 20th-century English.

“We built a physics model, which accounted for people moving around their home location and sometimes going further afield – for instance for jobs or marriage – and we also accounted for how people learn language,” he says.

“We ran the model with correct population distributions and migration patterns in the 1900s and then rolled it forward to 2000.”

“Chuffing ’eck!” exclaimed the Daily Star’s front page. “Northern fowk are right vexed at ’t egg ’eds who say ’appen we’ll be spekkin southern in a bit.”

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