English language in northern England

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Northern England English (or, simply, Northern English in the United Kingdom) is a group of related dialects of the English language found in Northern England. It includes the dialects of North East England (such as Tyneside's Geordie or Wearside's Mackem), Cumbria, Merseyside (Scouse), and Manchester, as well as the varieties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Northern English is one of the major groupings of England English dialects; other major groupings include East Anglian English, East and West Midlands English, West Country (Somerset, Devon, Cornwall) and Southern English English.


Many northern dialects reflect the influence of the Old Norse language strongly, compared with other varieties of English spoken in England.

In addition to previous contact with Vikings, during the 9th and 10th centuries most of northern and eastern England was part of either the Danelaw, or the Danish-controlled Kingdom of Northumbria (with the exception of much of present-day Cumbria, which was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde). Consequently, East Yorkshire dialects, in particular, are considered to have been influenced heavily by Old East Norse (the ancestor language of modern Danish).

However, Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon and Old West Norse (from which modern Norwegian is descended) have arguably had a greater impact, over a longer period, on most northern dialects than Old East Norse. While authoritative quantification is not available, some estimates have suggested as many as 7% of West Cumbrian dialect words are Norse in origin or derived from it.


Northern English contains:

In some areas, it can be noticed that dialects and phrases can vary greatly within regions too. For example, the Lancashire dialect has many sub-dialects and varies noticeably from West to East and even from town to town. Within as little as 5 miles there can be an identifiable change in accent. The Yorkshire Dialect Society has always separated West Riding dialect from that in the North and East ridings.

Phonological characteristics

Red areas are where English dialects of the late 20th century were rhotic; in the North, only some of Lancashire is included.
Pronunciation of [ŋg] in the word tongue throughout England; the major Northern counties with this trait centre around where the North West and West Midlands meet.
Approximate positions of Northern English short monophthongs, from Lodge (2009:163)

There are several speech features that unite most of the accents of Northern England:[1]

  • The accents of Northern England generally do not have the trap–bath split observed in Southern England English, so there is no /ɑː/ in words like bath, ask, etc. Cast is pronounced [kʰast], rather than the [kʰɑːst] pronunciation of most southern accents, and so shares the same vowel as cat [kʰat]. There are a few words in the BATH set like can't, half, calf, master which are pronounced with /ɑː/ in many Northern English accents as opposed to /æ/ in Northern American accents.
  • The /æ/ vowel of cat, trap is normally pronounced [a] rather than the [æ] found in traditional Received Pronunciation or General American while /ɑː/, as in the words palm, cart, start, tomato is not differentiated from /æ/ by quality, but by length, being pronounced as a longer [aː].
  • The foot–strut split is absent in Northern English, so that, for example, cut and put rhyme and are both pronounced with /ʊ/; words like love, up, tough, judge, etc. also use this vowel sound. This has led to Northern England being described "Oop North" /ʊp nɔːθ/ by some in the south of England. Some words with /ʊ/ in RP even have /uː/book is pronounced /buːk/ in some Northern accents (particularly in Lancashire and Greater Manchester), while conservative accents also pronounce look as /luːk/.
  • The Received Pronunciation phonemes /eɪ/ (as in face) and /əʊ/ (as in goat) are often pronounced as monophthongs (such as [eː] and [oː]), or as older diphthongs (such as /ɪə/ and /ʊə/). However, the quality of these vowels varies considerably across the region, and this is considered a greater indicator of a speaker's social class than the less stigmatised aspects listed above.
  • The most common R sound, when pronounced in Northern England, is the typical English About this sound postalveolar approximant; however, an About this sound alveolar tap is also widespread, particularly following a consonant or between vowels.[2] This tap predominates most fully in the Scouse accent. The North, like most of the South, is largely (and increasingly) non-rhotic, meaning that R is pronounced only before a vowel or between vowels, but not after a vowel (for instance, in words like car, fear, and lurk). However, regions that are rhotic (pronouncing all R sounds) or somewhat rhotic are possible, particularly amongst olders speakers:
  • The vowel in dress, test, pet, etc. is slightly more open, transcribed by Wells as /ɛ/ rather than /e/.
  • In most areas, the letter y on the end of words as in happy or city is pronounced [ɪ], like the i in bit, and not [i]. This was considered RP until the 1990s. The tenser [i] is found in the far north, and in the Merseyside and Teesside areas.
  • The North does not have a clear distinction between the About this sound "clear L" and About this sound "dark L" of most other accents in England; in other words, most Northern accents pronounce all L sounds with some moderate amount of velarization. Exceptions to this are in Tyneside and Northumberland, which universally use only the clear L, and in Lancashire and Manchester, which universally use only the dark L.[3][4]
  • Some northern English speakers have noticeable rises in their intonation, even to the extent that, to other speakers of English, they may sound "perpetually surprised or sarcastic."[5]
Major distinctive sounds of Northern English[6][7][8]
Example words Derbyshire Manchester Lancashire Yorkshire Cumbria Northumberland Merseyside
/æ/ bath, dance, trap [æ̞~a~ä] About this sound listen
/ɑː/ bra, calm, father [aː~äː] About this sound listen [ɒː] About this sound listen
/ɑːr/ car, heart, stark /ɑː/ About this sound listen [ɒː] About this sound listen
// fight, ride, try
// brown, mouth [ɐʊ] [æʊ] [ɐʊ~u:] About this sound listen
// lame, rein, stain [ɛɪ~e̞ɪ] About this sound listen [eɪ] About this sound listen [ɪə~e:]
/ɜːr/ first, learn, word [ɛ̝ː~e̞ː] About this sound listen [øː~ʊː] About this sound listen
/ər/ doctor, martyr, smaller
// beam, marine, fleece [ɪi] [i] About this sound listen [ɪi~i]
unstressed word-final
/ɪ/ or /i/
city, honey, parties [i] About this sound listen [ɪi~i] [i]
/ɔː/ all, bought, saw [ɔː] About this sound listen [ɒː~ɔː]
Example words Derbyshire Manchester Lancashire Yorkshire Cumbria Northumberland Merseyside
// goal, shown, toe [ɔʊ~ɔo] [ɔu~ɜu~ɛʉ] [ʊə~oː]
/ʌ/ bus, flood, what
// food, glue, lose [ɵʏ] or [ɛʊ] [ʏː] About this sound listen [ʉː] About this sound listen [yː] [ʉː] About this sound listen [ʉu~ʊu~ɵʊ]
intervocalic & postvocalic /k/ racquet, joker, luck [k] [k] or [k~x] [k] About this sound listen [k~x] About this sound listen or
[k~ç] About this sound listen
initial /h/ hand, head, home [∅] or [h] [h]
/l/ lie, mill, salad [l] About this sound listen
stressed-syllable /ŋ/ bang, singer, wrong [ŋg~ŋ] [ŋ]
post-consonantal & intervocalic /r/ current, three, pray [ɹ] [ɾ] [ɹ]
intervocalic, final
& pre-consonantal
attic, bat, fitness [ʔ] or [t(ʰ)] [θ̠] About this sound listen or [ʔ] [ʔ] or [t(ʰ)]
Example words Derbyshire Manchester Lancashire Yorkshire Cumbria Northumberland Scouse Geordie


  1. ^ Wells & 1982a (section 4.4)
  2. ^ a b c d Wells (1982a:368)
  3. ^ Beal (2004:130). Note that the source incorrectly transcribes the dark L with the symbol ⟨ɬ⟩, i.e. as if it were the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative.
  4. ^ Hughes, Arthur, Peter Trudgill, and Dominic James Landon Watt. English Accents & Dialects : an Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of English in the British Isles. 5th ed. London: Hodder Education, 2012. p. 116
  5. ^ Cruttenden, Alan (March 1981). "Falls and Rises: Meanings and Universals". Journal of Linguistics Vol. 17, No. 1: Cambridge University Press. p. 83. "[T]he rises of Belfast and some northern English cities may sound perpetually surprised or sarcastic to southern Englishmen (the precise attitude imputed will depend on other factors like pitch height and the exact type of rise)".
  6. ^ Heggarty, Paul et al, eds. (2013). "Accents of English from Around the World". University of Edinburgh. 
  7. ^ Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (2003). The Phonetics of English and Dutch (PDF) (Fifth Revised ed.). ISBN 9004103406. 
  8. ^ "English Accents & Dialects". google.com. 


  • Beal, Joan (2004), "English dialects in the North of England: phonology", in Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive, A handbook of varieties of English, 1: Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 113–133, ISBN 3-11-017532-0 
  • Lodge, Ken (2009), A Critical Introduction to Phonetics, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-8264-8873-2 

Further reading

  • Katie Wales (2006), Northern English: A Social and Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-86107-1 

See also

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