Blackburrrrrn’s grrrrritty accent is still going strong!

Published Friday 22 December 2023 at 14:57

A new national study has found that our very own Blackburn is one of the last places left in England with a traditional English accent.

It’s all about how the letter R takes centre stage – A ‘rhotic R’ is the hard pronunciation of the letter at the end of words – and Blackburn is one of the only places left in England where the sound is widespread.

Bristol is the only other place other than Blackburn where the sound is found. It used to be heard all over but is now disappearing.

The study was carried out by the University of Lancaster, and recorded 28 speakers from Blackburn who have lived here all their lives, and asked them to say a list of words, which had a r at the end, such as pour, beer, Blackburn, singer, barm and spar.

The people taking part also then read out another string of words and said if they sounded the same or different.

The key focus was on how people pronounced and perceived the words “spa” and “spar”.

According to the report, published in the Journal of Phonetics, for native Blackburnians these words sound different, whereas to the rest of the country they sound identical, due to the dropping of the hard R.

A similar phenomenon occurs for “stella” and “stellar” and “pander” and “panda”.

While the researchers don’t really know why Blackburn has hung on to the hard R where other places have dropped it, one theory is that Blackburn is a very self-sufficient town – meaning that most of the things we need are here.

This includes local manufacturing jobs, shops and schools, which means fewer people are commuting out of the town, and the researchers thought that Blackburn’s amenities could be compared with towns which are much bigger.

Areas with more movement and people travelling in and out have had more accent change than Blackburn or Bristol and have lost the ‘rhotic R’.

Councillor Phil Riley, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said:

The Blackburn accent stands out and this study confirms it. It’s something to be celebrated. People here also use a lot of unique words and are very straight talking, warm and friendly.

It’s true that we are self-contained as a town. Like the professor says, people don’t need to travel elsewhere to get what they need, we act like a city in many ways. We are home to the National Festival of Making due to our economy still having so much manufacturing, so perhaps that is one of the reasons the people of the town have kept hold of our traditional ways of speaking. I hope we keep the tradition going, it’s not a bad thing to be famous for.

You can read the original study in the Journal of Phonetics.

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