Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1524 594577 Fax: +44 (0) 1524 843085

LVLT talk: ''A town between dialects: accent levelling, psycho-social orientation and identity in Merseyside

Date: 31 March 2011 Time: 12.00-1.00 pm

Venue: County South C89

The Language Variation and Linguistic Theory research group is pleased to welcome:

Helen West

...who willgive a talk entitled:

A town between dialects: accent levelling, psycho-social orientation and identity in Merseyside


County South C89



Speakers' psycho-social orientation and social knowledge have often been identified as having an important role in linguistic change. We know, for example, that speakers' adoption of linguistic features from a neighbouring region often correlates with their positive social orientation towards that region (Llamas 2007), and that their social orientation can be discussed with reference to their interpretation of physical, political and social 'boundaries' (Llamas 2010). This paper examines how the perceived presence of such boundaries may be seen to affect language use in Southport, a town which lies near the border of Merseyside and Lancashire in the north-west of England.

Southport, located 17 miles north of the large industrial city of Liverpool, is historically part of Lancashire but was absorbed into Merseyside in 1974. Southport and Liverpool are well connected by frequent transport links and, given the high levels of contact between people, it has been predicted that phonetic features of the Liverpool accent will diffuse into the traditionally Lancashire accent of Southport (Grey and Richardson 2007). However, a complicating factor is Liverpool's negative stereotype (Montgomery 2007), which may be predicted to act as a barrier to the diffusion of Liverpool features. The first aim of this paper is to analyse the diffusion of two local Liverpool features - the lenition of intervocalic and word final /t/ and /k/ - in speech from a corpus of 40 speakers stratified by age, gender and socio-economic status. I show that despite the links between the two locations, the features of Liverpool are not diffusing into Southport speech as rapidly as originally hypothesised.

The second aim is to investigate whether there is a correlation between speakers' language use and their spatial patterns by mapping their external (contact) and extra-linguistic (attitudinal) behaviour onto their linguistic production. Adopting a 'linguistics of contact' based model (Rampton 2009) I interview several communities of practice within Southport (e.g. choirs, sports teams) to identify speaker affiliation and subsequent spatial zones on both the micro and macro-scales (friendship groups, and associations within the town and region). I show that varying patterns of contact could provide an explanation for the reduced level of diffusion of Liverpool features.

In conclusion, I argue that understanding speakers' psycho-social orientations and social awareness, in conjunction with correlative patterns of speech production is crucial for explaining language change.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Language Variation and Linguistic Theory (LVLT), Linguistics and English Language