Rhoticity in Lancashire: Southport to Rochdale

This page reports Area B (Southport, Chorley, Bolton, Rochdale). Briefly, the sound examples are taken from the British Library online collection (from the Leeds Survey of English Dialects, the Berliner Lautarchiv, and the BBC), which includes informants from Southport, from Chorley and neighbouring villages, from Bolton and its neighbourhood, and from Rochdale (see Fig. 1, which also shows the generations of the informants).


Figure 1. Map of Area B (Southport to Rochdale) showing the places and years of birth of the informants (white) and other places (yellow). Satellite map source: GoogleEarth.

Area B is immediately north of Area A (Liverpool and Manchester), extending inland from coastal Southport in the west, past Chorley and Bolton, to Rochdale in the east. Chorley is immediately north of Wigan (that had one rhotic informant born in 1904, see part 1), while Rochdale is adjacent to Oldham (that had one rhotic informant born around 1920). Bolton and Rochdale are on the northern edge of the Greater Manchester conurbation.

The distribution of recordings is very uneven, with most informants from around Chorley, one or two from elsewhere, and none from Bury. The distribution over time is equally uneven, with either younger informants or older informants. In order to handle this distribution, and systematize the evidence, the informants were divided into three groups:

  • Marshside (near Southport) and Rochdale (informants born in 1939 and 1964)
  • Bolton and district (informants born in 1882, 1890 and 1909)
  • Chorley and district (informants born in 1881, 1884, 1926 and 1934)

Marshside and Rochdale

Marshside and Rochdale make a strange bundle, one a former fishing village by the sea in the far west and the other an industrial town near the county boundary in the east. The two informants, one from each place, just happen to be the youngest and nonrhotic.

John Wells (1982, Accents of English vol 2, CUP, p. 368) reports that any residual urban rhoticism is located in Rochdale and Accrington (the latter is at the top of Fig. 1). There is just one informant from Rochdale, born in the 1960s and nonrhotic. Presumably, Rochdale and its neighbour Oldham were similar, still rhotic generations in the 1920s (seen in Oldham in part 1), with nonrhotic generations appearing by the 1930s.

I have not seen any previous reports on rhoticity in Marshside, but some indirect information can be found in P. Wright (1952, Parasitic syllabic nasals at Marshside Lancashire, Leeds Studies in English 7-8, 92-96). His field work was done in 1948-51, and his transcribed examples (illustrating the nasal feature he was studying) suggest his informants were rhotic. There is no biographic detail, but his informants were “adult” and “not the younger generation”. A best guess is that there were rhotic generations born in Marshside until the end of the 19thc, and perhaps still in the early 20thc. There is one recording from Marshside, an informant born in the 1930s and nonrhotic.


After the NURSE vowel: tu(r)ning ea(r)ly fi(r)st me(r)chant

After the NORTH vowel: asho(r)e befo(r)e boa(r)d Fo(r)mby ho(r)se qua(r)ts coalboa(r)d mo(r)e Wa(r)dle

After the letTER vowel (morpheme final weak syllables):
wate(r) Octobe(r) shatte(r)ed summe(r) offe(r)ed standa(r)ds teenage(r) togethe(r)

Bolton district

There were also few recordings from Bolton: fully rhotic (born in 1880s) from a nearby village, nonrhotic from the town born in 1890s, and partially rhotic from the town born in 1909. This suggests that Bolton town was losing its rhoticity by 1900. There is a publication I have not seen that might offer clearer evidence (Graham Shorrocks, 1998, A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area, Part 1 Phonology, Frankfurt-am-Main). Partially rhotic examples are enlightening, as they reveal vowel environments where /r/ tends to be retained longer or lost earlier. This is discussed further down.

William Barras (2010, The Sociophonology of Rhoticity and r-Sandhi in East Lancashire English, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh) has studied changing rhoticity from the Manchester district of Prestwich, directly northwards along the Irwell valley through Bury and Ramsbottom (and onward to Haslingden and Accrington, see Fig. 1), finding progressively more rhoticity along that route, with less among younger informants and more among older informants. This line runs immediately to the east of Bolton, through Bury where Barras found least rhoticity, and very few rhotic speakers around 2000.


Village near Bolton, birth 1882, rhotic:
carters, dark, horses, morning, church, shirt, were, there, fever, Manchester, never

Bolton town, birth 1890, nonrhotic:
fa(r) yea(r) se(r)vant wo(r)k brothe(r) olde(r) younge(r)

Bolton town, birth 1909, part rhotic
rhotic after the NURSE vowel
nonrhotic after the START, NORTH, SQUARE and letTER vowels
Burnley Blackburn fern shirts Ba(r)low’s ca(r)dboa(r)d ca(r)pet ma(r)ket pa(r)t cou(r)se ho(r)ses enti(r)ely the(r)e brewe(r)s brothe(r) clutte(r)ed olde(r) pape(r)mills rattle(r) remembe(r)

Chorley district

There were 4 recordings from Chorley and neighbouring villages, comprizing generations born from the 1880s to the 1930s. This district lies north of Wigan and might have had similar rhoticity (still rhotic around 1910). Alternatively, if the same tendency applies as Barras found in the Irwell valley, Chorley might have retained its rhoticity a little longer than Wigan. As it turned out, there were two rhotic informants born in the 1880s, one part rhotic born in the 1920s, and one nonrhotic born in the 1930s.


Chorley town, birth 1881, rhotic:
dear near far cursed were working worthy share the’acorns after brother father hunger longer together

Chorley district, birth 1884, rhotic:
here afford our they’re where first they’were’working after coalcutter

Chorley district, birth 1926, part rhotic
rhotic after START, NEAR, SQUARE and NURSE vowels
nonrhotic after the NORTH vowel,
nonrhotic after the letTER vowel (morpheme-final weak syllables):

Rhotic: car cart far farming here there furthe(r) Jersey Thursday works

Nonrhotic: bo(r)n fou(r) qua(r)te(r) th’airfo(r)ce

Nonrhotic final weak: brothe(r) moto(r)way neve(r) unde(r)neath

Chorley district (birth 1934, nonrhotic):
pa(r)cels dea(r)-me we(r)e wo(r)ke(r)s Blackbu(r)n daughte(r) summe(r) theat(r)es

Partial rhoticism

Two studies have recently reported on partial rhoticity, in the English Midlands (Esther Asprey, 2007, Investigating rhoticity in a non-rhotic accent, Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics and Phonetics 12 78-101), and in the English county of Dorset (Caroline Piercy, 2012, A transatlantic cross-dialectal comparison of non-prevocalic /r/, University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 18: 77-86). Both found that /r/ was most likely to be retained longest after the NURSE vowel in partial rhoticity.

The two examples of partial rhoticity described above (born in 1909 at Bolton, and in 1926 near Chorley), both included the NURSE vowel in their retained rhotic environments.

©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2014