The House of Scouse
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The origins of Scouse
by Paul Coslett (BBC)
Where does the Scouse accent come from? Is it always changing, and why does it even differ across the city and between people? How come we can’t learn to talk proper?
A Scouse accent is instantly recognisable, marking out the speaker’s origin in the same way that a Geordie or Cockney is immediately obvious. But where did the accent come from and what does the future hold as society becomes more and more homogenized? Will there even be Scouse accent in fifty years time?
Dockers had their own language
Speaking with a Scouse accent is a fairly recent trend, up until the mid 19th century Liverpudlians spoke pretty much the same as their Lancastrian neighbours, and traces of the warm Lancashire sound can still be heard in the accent of older residents. The Scouse accent like much else in the city owes its roots to Liverpool’s position as a port. The melting pot created by the influx of people from far and wide was the foundation of the distinctive Scouse sound.
The major influence comes from the influx of Irish and Welsh into the city. The mixing of these different accents and dialects, joining with words and sayings picked up from global maritime arrivals, all fused together to create the unique Scouse sound. Every tide brought ashore a new imported verb and many stuck becoming part of everyday language.
Lennon and McCartney
However, Scouse is not king across all of Merseyside, St Helens residents have their own distinctive way of speaking, as do people in Widnes, while Southport and parts of Wirral have more refined versions of Scouse. But Scouse also reaches far and wide, down into parts of Cheshire and as far out as North Wales. Closer to home, areas of Liverpool have their own impenetrable language ‘backslang’ a linguistic ploy that splits words, rendering them incomprehensible to the uninitiated. When Dutch police tapped the phone of Liverpool drug baron Curtis Warren, officers from Merseyside Police conversant in backslang were called in to help translate the recorded phone conversations.
Like every city and locality Merseysiders have their own sayings, those printable include; thisavvy for this afternoon and hozzy for hospital. Almost like a theme park Liverpool has developed its own sense of self, baffling and confusing to the outsider. Being described as able to wind the Liver clock implies a degree of height greater than most. Police are the bizzies, while building site security is provided by the cocky watchman. Local landmarks take on their own designations, decipherable only to natives, the Metropolitan Cathedral is Paddy’s Wigwam, the Mersey Tunnel, the Mousehole, while the ornate Vines pub is simply The Big House.
Maritime arrivals added to the accent
The dockland working environment created its own tongue of sayings and nicknames, even the Overhead Railway serving the port had a nom de plume, The Dockers Umbrella. Football is in many ways the heartbeat of Liverpool and unsurprisingly numerous players have been given nicknames, from Everton’s Gordon ‘Mae’ West to Liverpool’s Barney Rubble (Alan Kennedy) and Crazy Horse (Emlyn Hughes). Anfield’s Kopites in a similar way to the dockers, created their own sayings, many expressed in song.
The Scouse dialect is still developing, teenagers speak very differently to their grandparents, in part taking bits of Estuary English prevalent on television and radio, and in some ways mimicking the Brookside sound. Across the city various takes on Scouse can be heard, even Liverpool’s most famous group spoke differing versions of their native tongue, Ringo’s Dingle accent at odds with Paul and George’s suburban Scouse and John’s sharp nasal tones. Even foreign footballers aren’t averse to picking up the local way of speaking, Danish midfielder Jan Molby being a perfect example. How long before Rafael Benitez sounds like a native of Bootle?