The Lancashire accent is dying out and may be lost “in the next few generations”, researchers have warned.
Known for its distinctive “strong r” sound at the end of some words, the accent is uncommon in younger generations, a study has found.
Lancaster University’s Dr Danielle Turton said the accent feature, known to researchers as rhoticity, “may be lost in the next few generations”.
“Accent change is often like a puddle: it dries up in most places and leave remnants around the edges,” she added.
The “r” in the spelling for speakers from these areas means it should be pronounced like an “r” at the beginning of a word, rather than just creating a longer vowel, the study said.
Prominent Lancastrians including comedians Eric Morecambe and Les Dawson, actress Jane Horrocks and Bullseye presenter Jim Bowen would use a “strong r” at the end of words like purr, car, bird and her.
Lancastrian speakers “usually differentiate between pairs of words such as ‘stellar’ and ‘stella’, whereas most of England would consider them to be the same”, Dr Turton said.
Hundreds of years ago, people throughout England used to pronounce strong “r”s, researchers said.
The accent survives in Blackburn where young speakers do mostly say their “r”s, but they are, according to the research team, phonetically very weak and often difficult to perceive.
Young speakers also pronounce their “r”s less frequently than older speakers, the study shows.
“For the youngest speakers in Blackburn, these ‘r’s are very weak, which raises the question of whether future generations will even hear these weak ‘r’s at all, and whether this distinction will eventually fade away,” the researcher said.
Her paper – An acoustic analysis of rhoticity in Lancashire – published in the Journal of Phonetics examines rhoticity.
Researchers interviewed 28 people from Blackburn to analyse how they pronounced their “r”s.
It presents the first systematic acoustic analysis of a rhotic accent in present-day England.
Dr Turton said the disappearance of the accent might be happening “so gradually that people don’t notice it”.
A 2020 study found northern accents are becoming more similar, with the existence of a general northern English accent among “educated people” in the north.
“In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the disappearance of traditional dialects and the linguistic homogenisation of regions in England,” the researcher added.
“Unfortunately, it seems that this is the case for the East Lancashire ‘island of rhoticity’.
“In the next few generations, this traditional feature may be lost.
“That being said, Blackburn still retains many other vowel features that make it unique and changes like this often pave the way for further linguistic evolution in the future.”