Scouse – the Liverpool Accent
Scouse is one of the most distinctive regional accents in England, with unique sound variations and a melody all of its own. In today’s lesson, we’ll learn the key features of Scouse: its consonants, vowels and intonation, and how they differ from other English accents.
In the audio, the colours indicate the following:
Black text – read in Scouse
Blue text – read in General British (GB)
Red text – read in Scouse, then read in GB
A Scouse accent has three very distinctive consonants: ‘t’s (TAKE WHAT?), ‘k’s (BACKTRACK) and ‘r’s (RARITY). You’ll also find – g-dropping (NOTHIN’ DOIN’), h-dropping (HARD HAT) and plosive ‘th’ sounds (THOSE THINGS). Here they are in more detail:
1) /t/ [t͡s] TART
/t/ is pronounced with /s/ to make an affricate [t͡s] in Scouse: TEA, TALK, PART, WITTY.
“Time is taking its toll on Terry.”
2) /t/ [h] IT
In short words ending /t/ like IT, THAT, NOT the final /t/ can be [h]:
“You’re not that good you know!”
3) /k/ [x] BACK
When /k/ appears in the end of a syllable in Scouse, it can be pronounced as a fricative [x] KICK, ROCK, BACKGROUND, BLOKE.
“Rick’s always on a break, he’s never working!”
“Look who’s talking!”
4) /r/ [ɾ] RIGHT
When you say a Scouse ‘r’ it’s pronounced as a voiced tap [ɾ] RING, ARROW, FERRY, RIVAL – the tongue-tip touches the roof of the mouth behind the teeth very quickly:
“It’s rubbish! And very wrong of Rachel to write that.”
5) /θ/ [t̪] THANK, /ð/ [d̪] THIS
The ‘th’ sounds can be pronounced as a dental [t̪] and [d̪] in Scouse,: THINK, THEATRE, THOSE, BOTHER instead of dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/:
“I think that’s their brother.”
6) Other Consonant Sound Features
- g-dropping in ‘ing’ endings: WORKIN’, HAPPENIN’.
- A lot of Scouse speakers drop all their ‘h’s: HOUSE, HORRIBLE, HAPPY.
- Scouse is non-rhotic, so ‘r’ is silent except when followed by a vowel sound: BIRD, TOUR, MINDER.
- Scouse speakers use glottal stops [ʔ] for /t/ in connected speech: DON’T GO.
- If /t/ appears between two vowel sounds it can be pronounced as a voiced tap [ɾ] – the same sound found in Scouse ‘r’: GETTING, LOT OF.
The clearest feature of Scouse vowel sounds is the front tongue position in BIT, SIR, NO, BAR and WHY. As with other northern accents, there’s no /ʌ/ – so LOVE is made with /ʊ/, and words like BATH have a short /a/. Here are the details:
1) /əː/ [œː] SIR
The vowel sound in BIRD is made with the tongue further forward and the lips a bit rounded in Scouse [œː]: SHIRT, SIR, TURN, WORLD.
“Bernard was the first person to learn the words.”
2) /ɑː/ [aː] HARD
In Scouse the long open vowel sound is made with the tongue forward [aː] in HARD, CAR, FATHER, PALM:
“Half of the party were in the bar.”
3) /əʊ/ [ɒʊ,ɛʊ] GO
Some scousers make this sound starting with the tongue to the back [ɒʊ]: GO, NO, BOAT, ALONE. Others start with the tongue to the front [ɛʊ]: GO, NO, BOAT, ALONE, but both are different from the central tongue position in GB /əʊ/.
“Don’t you know the road to Dover?”
4) /ʌɪ/ [aɪ] WHY, [aː] SIGN
In Scouse, this diphthong starts at the front of the mouth FLY, BUY, TIGHT, though if the word ends in a voiced consonant it can also be pronounced [aː] MINE, SIDE, TIMING.
“Try reciting this in time.”
5) /ɪ/ BIT
The vowel sound in BIT, WITH, BUSY is made with the tongue further forward in Scouse. It’s a subtle difference from GB, but it’s a very common vowel sound, so it’s pretty noticeable:
“This film’s a bit silly.”
6) /iː/ [ɪi] SEE, /uː/ [ɪu] POOL
In words ending with the long vowel sounds /iː/ or /uː/, the sound starts with an [ɪ]: BEE, FLEE, NEW, TRUE. This also occurs before /l/, so LIVERPOOL has a distinctive [ɪu] sound in the last syllable.
“It’s free to see the new zoo in Liverpool.”
7) Other Vowel Sound Features
- Like other Northern English accents, /ʌ/ is not used at all, so FUN, SHUT, BLOOD, SON are made with /ʊ/.
- Scouse doesn’t have the trap-bath split, so words like BATH, STAFF, MASTER and GLASS are pronounced with short /a/ instead of a long [aː].
- The schwa sound /ə/ is made to the front like [e] if it’s at the end, FATHER, BIGGER, WATER.
- Endings containing a weak /ɪ/ sound can drop to schwa /ə/, CHICKEN, WORKING, TRYING.
- The 2 distinct vowel sounds /əː/ and /ɛː/ in GB are pronounced in the same way for a lot of Scouse speakers [œː], so word pairs in GB like STIR and STAIR sound the same: [stœː]
Scouse intonation is clearly different from both GB and other Northern accents. As with many regions, it has more rising tones than GB:
“She’s called Barbara.”
But the really distinct feature is the Scouse melody which has a wide pitch range and a lot of high, flat tones after the main stresses.
“It’s cold outside.”
“She’s called Barbara you know?”
“What time is it?”
This article uses IPA (phonetic) symbols – you can learn them in the free Pronunciation Studio Starter Pack containing pronunciation notes and diagrams for each sound with audio, and an English IPA chart.