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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2017

7. Scouse NURSE and northern happy: vowel change in Liverpool English

Marten Juskan


This chapter investigates change in the NURSE and happy vowels in Liverpool English (Scouse) across 3 generations of speakers and discusses if and how the results might be connected to questions of salience, local identity, and Liverpool’s changing fortunes in the 20th and the 21st century. Based on a sample of 20 sociolinguistic interviews, this study finds that younger speakers use more local variants of the NURSE-SQUARE merger, a highly salient variable (Honeybone and Watson 2013, Watson and Clark 2013), than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Realisations of happy, on the other hand, become laxer, which is a change away from the (tense) traditional local norm, and towards the majority of the other varieties spoken in northern England (Trudgill 1999). These changes in production are linked up with qualitative data from the interviews, which indicate that younger Liverpudlians not only readily express pride in their city and its accent, but that they also feel a strong connection to the north of England more generally. Phonetic change in the two vowels under scrutiny is interpreted as being governed by a combination of salience and questions of identity: younger speakers use Scouse variants of the socially salient NURSE vowel to express their ‘primary’ identity as Liverpudlians, and laxer realisations of less-salient happy to also associate themselves with other towns and cities in the North - a strategy which allows them to simultaneously express both their local, and their regional identity linguistically.

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston