Uttoxeter

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I thought Uttoxeter deserved a post of its own, because it also raises a transcription and dialect question.

Both /ÊŠt/ and /ÊŒt/ have been quoted, by Michael Lamb and John Maidment, as possible pronunciations of the initial sounds, and I agree. But in northern dialects the /ÊŠ/ ~ /ÊŒ/ split never happened, so the vowel used by locals unaffected by “education” (as John and I have been!) is still the equivalent of /ÊŠ/. On the phonological level, this is fine.

However, to transcribe it as /ÊŠ/ for all northern accents/dialects, as is most often done, leads to parodists of these accents/dialects using the southern English /ÊŠ/ indiscriminately in both STRUT and FOOT. If I try to recall my own “pre-educated” pronunciation, the nearest southern English vowel is actually a short /ɔː/, and this is certainly what I hear from my unreconstructed friends and relatives who have not had my “advantages”. This means that there are minimal pairs between but and bought, pun and pawn, full and fall, where the distinction is one of vowel length only. (Incidentally, when I’m tired, I may get /ÊŠ/ and /ÊŒ/ the “wrong” way round, and am quite likely to say /pÊŒt ÊŠp/ instead of /pÊŠt ÊŒp/. Birth will out!)

This is the situation for North Staffordshire as I hear it. I can’t find much in the literature about the phonetics of the speech of the Potteries. Certainly TV and radio adaptations of Arnold Bennett never have actors with convincing accents. There are several examples of this undifferentiated vowel from Garth Crooks (former footballer, now broadcaster) here.

12 Comments

  1. Ah, Graham. I know it well. I call it the /ɡɑ:smæsk/ syndrome.

    It has just struck me how utterly (hehe) perverse the pronunciation /ju:tɒksɪtə/ is, given the spelling.

  2. John, I did try to strike you with the utterness of that perversity on the Abergavenny thread!

    Graham, when you said “coming from the Potteries, I was always aware that Uttoxeter could be /ˈʌtʃɪtə/ locally, but I and my family (trying to be posh?) went along with the BBC in saying /juːˈtɒksɪtə/” I took that to be a demolition of my idea that it was ˈʊtʃɪtə locally, and replied that that must have been from further up North.

    It now seems that you meant Uttoxeter could be /ˈʌtʃɪtə/ locally for those not trying to be quite so posh as your family! And the sound files of the two local versions that I reported you can hear on the internet no doubt mean that the poshification struggle naught availeth.

    But my idea that it was ˈʊtʃɪtə locally remains demolished, in view of your caution against transcribing the vowel in question as /ʊ/ for all northern accents/dialects.

    So southerner that I am, I shall persist in my resolve to say /ˈʌtʃɪtə/. I don’t want to be thought one of the “parodists of these accents/dialects using the southern English /ʊ/”!

    But I think my idea that juːˈtɒksɪtə is an abomination remains undemolished, and John now seems to agree with it. Has that really become BBC practice, replacing the eminently sensible /ʌˈtɒksɪtə/ that he reported for 1983?

  3. Michael – the full entry for Uttoxeter in the 1983 PDBN (the one I edited) has juːˈtɒksɪtə first, then ʌˈtɒksɪtə, followed by ˈʌksɪtə and the note “There are other less common variants”. I tried to place the different pronunciations for any place name in order of frequency heard, or else that considered ‘correct’ by most local people. I suspect that the frequency of the variants may well vary through time, just as Coulsdon (in 1983 in Greater London) has varied between /ˈkəʊlzdən/ and /ˈkuːlzdən/. Sometimes more people tell you one thing, sometimes the other. A bit like Shrewsbury as well. It’s a bit like the story of the economists: ask two what they think about the current state of affairs, and you get at least three opinions. If you want perversity in pronunciation, what about Happisburgh in Norfolk (pronounced /ˈheɪzbərə/)?

  4. Graham said:
    “This means that there are minimal pairs between but and bought, pun and pawn, full and fall” — am I missing something, or are you falling into your “fatigued” state here too: “full” isn’t STRUT, it’s FOOT, so it doesn’t match your other pairs, does it? However, I’m perhaps a bit in the dark as a Canadian who has really had almost no real-life experience with Midlands speech, apart from one year in London in the 80’s.

  5. Eric – Yes it does match the other pairs, because although “full” is FOOT, in this dialect, there is no opposition between FOOT and STRUT, so the minimal pair is still between the short undifferentiated vowel and the long vowel of “fall”.

  6. Little did Wuttoc (aka Wittoc) know what consternation he would cause when he built his house upon that heath.

  7. So one day I was pleasantly surprised to find a packet of Elkes Custard Creams on the shelves of a Bangkok supermarket. In accordance with Thai law, the importer had affixed a sticker listing basic information (ingredients, sell-by date, etc.) in Thai. This included the name and address of the manufacturer. Some baffled translator had decided that the place was pronounced ‘Autocheater’, or possibly ‘Otto Cheater’, and had transliterated it into Thai that way.
    So I bought a packet, pulled off the label and sent it, with an explanation, to Elkes. Got 6 free packets by return. Just in time for Christmas. Smashing. Isn’t phonetics profitable at times?

  8. One strange thing about the area you’re from is how many people still use /u:k/ for words such as book, cook, look, etc. which have the FOOT vowel in most accents of English. The /u:k/ pronunciation was once common across the north and can still be heard from older people, but it seems to be only in the Potteries (the Midlands after all) that you can find a majority that uses /u:k/.

  9. Ed – There was a lot of discussion of the FOOT – STRUT – GOOSE complex on John Wells’ blog here: http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/gut-foot-hoot.html. Not just the post itself, but all the comments that followed.

  10. Thanks for the link, Graham. I missed that blog post. I’m intrigued by the green dot in north Lancashire. The Irish system seems to have established a colony on the Lancs coast. Do people in your area of Staffordshire say “foot” with /u:/.

    Is there any modern survey on geographical distribution of pronouncing book, cook, look, etc. with /u:/? I would be interested to see this. “Look” was included in the SED, but there were a lot more variant pronunciations back then.

  11. Ed –
    In Stoke on Trent, foot rhymes with but. Book rhymes with Luke (which is identical to look).

  12. Thanks, Graham. That’s interesting.

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