Has North Wales “Gone Scouse?”

Many feel that accents in North Wales have begun to resemble those of Liverpool. Unlike similar notions, this one has evidence behind it, as I’ll discuss later. But first, let’s hear for ourselves. Below is a snippet of the speech of North Wales’ most prominent town, Wrexham, from a documentary on binge drinking (so you really don’t have to watch the whole thing):

This video suggests a difficulty in deciding whether a Welsh accent has gotten the “Scouse treatment:” there’s some overlap between Welsh and Scouse English. For instance, at a number of moments in the video, we hear a fronted vowel for the ‘ur’ sound in words like ‘nurse’ (i.e. e:). But a number of Welsh accents do this as well, albeit usually with some lip rounding. Note also that many Welsh accents pronounce ‘strut’ and ‘cut’ with a schwa (ə); yet this is also common in some Northern English speakers.

That being said, my impression from this video is that younger residents of Wrexham indeed have a lot of Northern Englishness (if not outright Scouseness) in their speech. Which really isn’t surprising; the town is right across the border, and it’s likely that many residents commute into English cities for work. So what about somewhere further afield?

One of the few studies done on this matter, in fact, studied English in Bangor, a city further to the West. The study*, published in 2005, found that Scouse English was becoming a common influence on teenagers’ speech. Although I couldn’t locate videos of young Bangor natives, this young woman identified herself as being from a small village near Porthmadog, about 45 minutes south:

Her speech obviously lacks many Scouse features, but I was struck by her frequent affrication of /t/ (i.e. so that it sounds like /ts/), which is classically Liverpool. Again though, it’s unclear if this is really “Scouse” at work of merely a feature of North Wales English; the 2005 study I mention above concludes that affrication is in fact a “native” feature in North Wales, and more or less unrelated to Scouse.

So I find it something of a puzzle: what is actually Scouse, and what is simply native to North Wales?

Source: Cremer, M. 2007. “Accents, Attitudes and Scouse Influence in North Wales
English.” Publications of the Universiteit van Amsterdam (Netherlands).

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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13 Responses to Has North Wales “Gone Scouse?”

  1. Jason Reid says:

    I think we also have to consider that some of the features of Scouse may have come from North Wales English. I read a paper that said there were some Welsh people in Liverpool during the formation of Liverpool English (not that strong of a statement I know). However I don’t know if there were enough to have a significant impact on the future local accent.

    Here’s a conversation with locals of Bethesda, a town about 10 km (6 miles) to the south of Bangor, from the “BBC Voices” part of the British Library website. They also have one from Bangor, but the interviewees are older in that one. There are conversations from other parts of North and South Wales on the website as well.

    • I think that’s an important thing to consider as well. Scouse is often treated as a result of Irish influence, but Welsh English is arguably just as plausible factor, as it’s more of less in Liverpool’s backyard!

  2. Danny Ryan says:

    Affrication of /t/ is a feature of Welsh English, but the young woman from Porthmadog sounds as though she may be a native speaker of Welsh or at least from a natively Welsh speaking home/environment.

  3. Lucy says:

    She probably is, Danny, going by Porthmadog’s demographics.

    Your comment’s made me curious. Is there much of a difference in how two people from the same area of Wales speak English, depending on whether they’re native speakers of Welsh? For example, could you tell whether someone who grew up in, say, Bangor or Carmarthen, is a native Welsh speaker or not just based on how they speak English?

    • Chris says:

      People from Carmarthen, in Welsh or English, sounds completely different to people from Bangor. People from one side of Swansea – Townhill – sound completely different to people from Mumbles. Also in Swansea – about 5 miles away. That difference is obvious (posh and rough – middle class/lower class?or a pretence). Llanelli Welsh and English sound very different to Swansea, also from Carmarthen. The North Wales thing is odd since the ‘scouser’ element does seem pretty clear. The wherefore/why is not something I know about.

  4. Montmorency says:

    My wife’s brother and family live in that part of the world. The adults were born in England, the children brought up in that part of N.Wales, and they speak with a north-west English accent which seems quite common around there.

    When we visit, I will sometimes hear what I think of as a pure Welsh accent (perhaps among older people) and even actual Welsh being spoken, but I hear a lot of north-western English as well (but I wouldn’t call it scouse exactly). I’ve always assumed these were English “incomers” or children of incomers, but perhaps not, although I’m sure the accent there has been influenced by English people. The advent of fast, motorway style roads along the north coast now mean that it is quite easy for people to commute between North Wales (even as far as Bangor) and (say) Chester, or even further afield.

    • Montmorency says:

      Sorry, I’m replying to myself to add the comment that the young lady from near Porthmadog seemed to be doing something interesting with her initial “L”s which sounded somewhat like a north-western English “L”, but in other respects, I wasn’t getting any hints “English”-influenced accent.

  5. This article was well written and easy to follow. Ben, What motivated you to call this blog “Has North Wales “Gone Scouse?””, not that the title does not go with the content, I am just wondering. Thank you for the info Ben.

  6. C says:

    That woman from Porthmadog is a Welsh speaker and I can hear it in her speech (I’m a native Welsh speaker as well. To be honest, a lot of people from north Wales wouldn’t really see people from Wrexham as Welsh because it’s so close to the border.

    What I’ve learnt is – the more scouser or northern English someone sounds, the less likely it is that they are a native Welsh speaker, and they’re more likely to come from further west. I can usually tell if someone lives within 5 miles of where I grew up, or 15 miles away by their tone and slight changes in pronunciation.

    ”I was struck by her frequent affrication of /t/ (i.e. so that it sounds like /ts/), which is classically Liverpool”

    Or maybe it’s the other way around. The Celts moved and were pushed more and more Westwards over time, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the Brythonic language would influenced the various forms of English at that time on it’s way west.

    I know this first clip is in Welsh, but the interviewer displays all the sound that are definitely not scouser – they’re just part of the language and you can hear them in other non-British languages as well.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTpvOzP5qOE

    Generally, the more east or south you go in Wales, the gentler that ‘o’ sound is, and with a heavier influence of English, vowels become more less defined or rounded.

    If you want to know what a strong north Welsh accent is without any influence of English, this is a good clip –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65H34V2bf7Y

    Although, I’ve heard stronger accents than his before!

    • Alex says:

      Wrexhamite here agree with you that the more scouser or northern English someone sounds, the less likely it is that they are a native Welsh speaker. You can hear this in Wrexham itself if you are from the town like myself you are more likely to sound a bit scouse but you can still hear the Welsh, however if you’re from the surrounding villages such as Rhosllannerchrugog, Ruabon & Johnstown way the Welsh is stronger but the scouse is still there and these people are more likely to speak Welsh. Most people would just band our accents together but locals can tell the difference.

      I resent not being considered Welsh by English people and Welsh speakers and so does most of the town, there’s a lot of patriotism here. The reality is that Liverpool has for probably over 200 years has been the capital of North Wales it’s our main city. It’s where all our major hospitals are, there’s a large Liverpool & Everton fan base here, its where many people go to find work, go to university, renew your passports etc. It’s only natural that it’s going to have an effect on the North Welsh accent.

      If think it’s pretty obvious that Scouse is influenced by Irish & Welsh accents but you would still consider it an English accent because it is in and is from England, so why is this different for North Welsh accents that are influenced by scouse? They still belong to Wales and you could even at a push argue that scouse is partly Welsh due to all the Welsh influences we’ve probably had on the accent due to our large presence there.

  7. C says:

    ‘on it’s way west’ should be ‘on its way west’

    Oh dear……….apologies for the typos!!!

  8. David says:

    I think the Welsh influence on Scouse is probably seriously underestimated. After all, the modern day borders are exactly that – a modern creation; and Celtic languages were probably spoken in the Liverpool region long after they died out in the East of the country. Even Cumbrian dialects still have traces of Celtic languages in them.

    So it’s not surprising that near the ‘border’ the dialects sounds similar. Actually, when I listen to Welsh being spoken, I am frequently reminded of the Scouse intonation, and the affrication of the /t/s and what-not. It’s just a natural phenomenon that dialects in a geographical proximity are naturally going to be more alike.

    Also, I don’t think it’s correct to say Scouse has been ‘influenced’ by Irish and Welsh, but rather that it is a product of these two dialects (along with a bit of Lancashire thrown in). Liverpool was a tiny place until the industrial revolution, which saw huge amounts of Irish and Welsh immigration, so the modern Scouse accent has never been truly ‘English’.

    Also, I’m a Scouser myself but have a very watered down accent. People from outside of Wales and the North West almost always think that I am Welsh.

    • Bryn says:

      What David is saying is very enlightened and more people should heed that legacy

      Liverpool was from the welsh “llif pwll” meaning flooded pool. King John admittedly made it a significant port in the 12th century but the language was brythonic in rural areas especailly towards the Wirral (Cilgwri)

      The attack on the wrexham people as “plastic scousers” is unfounded

      This was the original welsh accent used back when Wrecsam spoke mostly welsh

      English influence certainlyin the last few hundred years….but dont underestimate the legacy of celtic culture and peoples

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