Turning back to the world of accent minutiae, a reader emailed me with a conundrum regarding the difference between Leeds and Manchester accents. This concerns ‘punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke, from Salford in Greater Manchester:
I like to think of myself as quite good at identifying English accents, yet I would have no way of telling whether [Clarke]’s from closer to Leeds or Manchester.
Here is a clip of Clarke speaking:
The accents of Leeds and Manchester sound very similar to me, although Northern England is notorious as a region where adjacent suburbs speak ‘different languages.’ The difference I’ve noticed the most between the two cities is found in what we call GOAT words: ‘go,’ ‘flow,’ ‘road,’ etc. In Leeds, there seems a tendency for this to be a monophthong, while in Manchester, this seems more typically a diphthong.
(To review, monophthongs are single, ‘pure’ vowel sounds, so GOAT might be something like goht, while diphthongs are combinations of two vowel sounds, so GOAT might sounds like goh-oot, guh–oot, or geh-oot depending on your accent.)
I have at least one (slight) piece of evidence to back this up, courtesy of the British Library. In 1999, the BBC conducted a nationwide survey of English dialects* entitled the Millennium Memory Bank. This includes an interview of a man from Manchester named Cyril, born in 1923, who exhibits consistent diphthongization of the GOAT vowel (rendered [ɔʊ]). In Leeds, the survey profiles a group of teenagers who consistently use a monophthongal vowel for GOAT ([ɔ:] or [ɵ:])**. So while it seems diphthongal GOAT was a part of Manchester at least by the mid-20th-Century, monophthongal GOAT is still going strong among the youngest natives of Leeds.
My impression is that when people from either city move away (or in more ‘non-local’ accents) diphthongs are the norm regardless of where one is from. Hence Leeds celebrity Angela Griffin uses more of the ‘Manchester’-style diphthong:
It’s unclear to me why there is a difference in this respect between Leeds and Manchester. Any thoughts from locals of either city?
*Well, more a sample of English people talking than a dialect survey.
**The transcriptions of someone at the British Library, not mine.