The Scouse accent is highly distinctive, and has little in common with those used in the neighbouring regions of Cheshire and Lancashire. The accent itself is not specific to all of Merseyside, with the accents of residents of St Helens and Southport, for example, more commonly associated with the historic Lancastrian accent.
The accent was primarily confined to Liverpool until the 1950s when slum clearance in the city resulted in migration of the populace into new pre-war and post-war developments in surrounding areas of what was informally named Merseyside and later to become officially known as Merseyside in 1974. The continued development of the city and its urban areas has brought the accent into contact with areas not historically associated with Liverpool such as Prescot, Whiston and Rainhill in Merseyside and Widnes, Runcorn and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.
Variations within the accent and dialect are noted, along with popular colloquialisms, that show a growing deviation from the historical Lancashire dialect and a growth in the influence of the accent in the wider area.
Inhabitants of Liverpool are called Liverpudlians but are more often described by the colloquialism "Scousers".
The word "scouse" is a shortened form of "lobscouse", derived from the Norwegianlapskaus, Swedishlapskojs and Danishlabskovs (or the Low GermanLabskaus), a word for a meat stew commonly eaten by sailors. In the 19th century, poorer people in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey commonly ate "scouse" as it was a cheap dish. Outsiders tended to call these people "scousers".
Originally a small fishing village, Liverpool developed as a port, trading particularly with Ireland, and after the 1700s as a major international trading and industrial centre. The city consequently became a melting pot of several languages and dialects, as sailors and traders from different areas, and migrants from other parts of Britain, Ireland and northern Europe, established themselves in the area. The Scandinavians introduced the dish Scouse. Until the mid-19th century, the dominant local accent was similar to that of neighbouring areas of Lancashire. The influence of Irish and Welsh incomers, combined with European accents, contributed to a distinctive local Liverpool accent. The first reference to a distinctive Liverpool accent was in 1890. Linguist Gerald Knowles suggested that the accent's nasal quality may have derived from poor 19th-century public health, by which the prevalence of colds for many people over a long time resulted in a nasal accent becoming regarded as the norm and copied by others learning the language.
Scouse is notable in some circumstances for a fast, highly accented manner of speech, with a range of rising and falling tones not typical of most of northern England.
Irish influences include the pronunciation of the name of the letter "H" as /heɪtʃ/ and the 2nd Person plural (you) as 'youse/yous/use' /juːz/.
There are variations on the Scouse accent, with the south side of the city adopting a softer, lyrical tone, and the north a rougher, more gritty accent. Those differences, though not universal, can be seen in the pronunciation of the vowels.
Words such as 'book' and 'cook', for example, can be pronounced as 'boo-k' or 'bewk' and 'koo-k'. This is true to other towns from the midlands, northern England and Scotland. Oddly enough words such as 'took' and 'look', unlike some other accents in northern towns, revert to the type and are pronounced 'tuck' and 'luck'. Not all Liverpudlians are brought up to speak with this variation but this does not make it any less Scouse.
The use of a long /uː/ in such words was once used across the whole of Britain, but is now confined to the more traditional accents of Northern England and Scotland.
The Scouse accent of the early 21st century is markedly different in certain respects from that of earlier decades, The Liverpool accent of the 1950s and before was more a Lancashire-Irish hybrid. But since then, as with most accents and dialects, Scouse has been subject to phonemic evolution and change. Over the last few decades the accent is no longer a melange but has started to develop further. One could compare the way George Harrison and John Lennon spoke in the old Beatles films such as A Hard Day's Night with modern Scouse speakers such as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Harrison pronounced the word 'fair' more like the standard English 'fur' – as Cilla Black does still (it could be argued that Brian Epstein's influence led to his artists adopting a softer Liverpool accent to appeal to a wider audience). This is a pure Lancashire trait but modern Scousers do it the other way round pronouncing 'fur' like 'fair'. Huge changes have taken place in Scouse vowels, which show astonishing length and exaggeration at times in words like 'read' but conversely shorter than standard in a word like 'sleep'. A final 'er' is a sound that, although pronounced as a schwa in surrounding Lancashire and Cheshire, is emphasised as strongly as the 'e' in 'pet' /pɛt/. In a strong Scouse accent, the phoneme /k/ in all positions of a word except the beginning can be realised as /x/ or sometimes /kx/.
Even if Irish accents are rhotic, meaning that they pronounce /r/ at the end as well as at the beginning of a syllable, Scouse is a non-rhotic accent, pronouncing /r/ only at the beginning of a syllable and between vowels, but not at the end of a syllable.
The use of the glottal stop as an allophone of /t/ can occur in various positions, including after a stressed syllable. This is called T-glottalisation and is particularly common amongst the younger speakers of the Scouse accent. /t/ may also be flapped intervocalically. /t/ and /d/ are often pronounced similarly to the fricatives /s/ and /z/.
The loss of dental fricatives, /ð/ and /θ/, was commonly attributed as being present due to Irish English influence. They were realised as /d/ and /t/ respectively. However, in the younger generation in some areas but by no means all, this feature is being outnumbered by those who realise them as labiodental fricatives.
/θ/ becomes /f/ in all environments. [θɪŋk] becomes [fɪŋk] for "think."[dubious– discuss]
/ð/ becomes /v/ in all environments except word-initially, in which case it becomes /d/. [dɪðə] becomes [dɪvɛ] for "dither"; [ðəʊ] becomes [dəʊ] for "though."
The use of me instead of my was also attributed to Irish English influence: for example, "That's me book you got there" for "That's my book you got there"[dubious– discuss]. An exception occurs when "my" is emphasised: for example, "That's my book you got there" (and not his).
Other Scouse features include:
The use of 'giz' instead of 'give us'.
The use of the term 'made up' to portray the feeling of happiness or joy in something. For example, 'I'm made up I didn't go out last night'.
The terms 'sound' and 'boss' are used in many ways. They are used as a positive adjective such as 'it was sound' meaning it was good. It is used to answer questions of our wellbeing, such as 'I'm boss' in reply to 'How are you?' The term can also be used in negative circumstances to affirm a type of indifference such as 'I'm dumping you'. The reply 'sound' in this case translates to 'yeah fine', 'ok', 'I'm fine about it', 'no problem' etc.
[k] pronounced as [x] at the ends of some words.
Scouse is highly distinguishable from other English dialects and because of this international recognition on 16 September 1996 Keith Szlamp made a request to IANA to make it a recognised Internet dialect. After citing a number of references, the application was accepted on 25 May 2000 and now allows Internet documents that use the dialect to be categorised as 'Scouse' by using the language tag "en-Scouse". Many natives of northern Europe, and especially the Scandinavian region, have suggested that scousers 'sound like they sing when they talk' due to the flowing rhythm and pitch.
Black, William. (2005). The Land that Thyme Forgot. Bantam. ISBN0-593-05362-1. p. 348
Honeybone, P. (2001), Lenition inhibition in Liverpool English, English Language and Linguistics 5.2, pp213–249. doi:10.1017/S1360674301000223
Marotta, G. and Barth, M., Acoustic and sociolingustic aspects of lenition in Liverpool English, Studi Linguistici e Filologici Online 3.2, pp377–413. Available online PDF (978 KB) (including sound files).