Potteries phonology


Thanks to Ed for suggesting this post.

The first thing is to distinguish between the modern Potteries accent, which I suppose I still have, although modified after 45 years’ non-residence, and the traditional dialect. Both have a phonology that is different from RP, but whereas the modern accent is an approximation to RP, with certain differences that are common to many other regional accents, the traditional dialect has no direct relationship to RP, but is the descendant of the north west Middle English dialect of the area.

The modern accent’s distinctive features are

(1) The non-existence of a velar nasal phoneme: all occurrences of [ŋ] are homorganic allophones of /n/ preceding a velar plosive. Thus ‘singer’ rhymes with ‘finger’ (/-ɪngə/), and ‘singing’ is pronounced phonemically /ˈsɪngɪng/.

(2) The three RP vowels /ʊ, uː, ʌ/ are replaced by two, with different distributions. The short one is often represented by /ʊ/, but this is not very close to the phonetic reality. I’ve written about this before, here. It is not enough to say that /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ are neutralised because some RP /ʊ/ words have Pottery /uː/, e.g. ‘book’, and many other words spelled -oo-.

(3) The distribution of /æ/ and /ɑː/ is different. Basically, /ɑː/ is restricted to stressed – whether primary or secondary –  word-final position (e.g. ‘spa’, ‘bra’, ‘Panama’) or pre /lC/ or /rC/, when the /l/ or /r/ is deleted (e.g. ‘palm’, ‘farm’). There are exceptions – e.g. ‘father’, ‘banana’, but this is the general position (my idiolect has only about a dozen words with /ɑː/ which do not fulfil the two conditions).

(4) The distribution of /h/. There is uncertainty about its occurrence or non-occurrence (so what’s new?) I once heard the Chairman of the City of Stoke on Trent’s Education Committee begin a speech with the words “First hof hall, HI would like to say ow appy HI ham to be ere, this hevening”.

Phonetically, of course, there is a lot of difference between Pottery and RP.

Traditional dialect next week.


  1. Thank you for responding to my suggestion. I’m eager to read the next half.

    I think that the phonemic structure that you’ve described is isomorphic with those of Manchester and Liverpool. I’ve often heard people say that the Potteries accent sounds similar to Scouse. Perhaps it’s the affrication of /t/ that does this.

  2. There seems to be some variation in the realization of /ÊŠ/ and /ÊŒ/ in the North. I’ve heard people from the Leeds area with a fairly consistent [ÊŠ] for both.

  3. Ed – I’m not sure about affrication in Stoke. The best example of a Stoke accent among frequently heard broadcasters is probably Garth Crooks, and I don’t notice anything like the affrication you get in Liverpool. I agree that phonologically, Stoke is a typical northwest/north midland accent.

  4. There don’t seem to be many celebrities with a Potteries accent.

    There’s an interesting recording on the British Library website, which shows some affrication of /t/.

  5. Graham, may I ask you to clarify one point ? When you write “all occurrences of [Å‹] are homorganic allophones of /n/ preceding a velar plosive … ‘singer’ rhymes with ‘finger’ (/-ɪngÉ™/, and ‘singing’ is pronounced phonemically /ˈsɪngɪng/”, I can mentally hear Potteries “singer/finger”, and the first syllable of “singing”, but have trouble with the final “ng”; if, as you say, the word is pronounced /ˈsɪngɪng/, then in my mind the syllable break is at /ˈsɪn-gɪng/, but does this not lead to the second “ng” group being pronounced differently to the first, perhaps closer to /ˈsɪngɪŋ/ ?

  6. No, Graham’s quite right. It’s /ˈsɪngɪng/.
    Ironically, many Stoke speakers are unaware of this feature of their accent (while excruciatingly aware of other features like the lack of initial /h/ leading to rampant hypercorrection). So when speaking in a formal setting where they consciously try to enunciate ‘more clearly’, i.e. closer to what the spelling seems to indicate, the /g/ comes out even more clearly. My brother reading the lesson in chapel bangs them out almost with a following schwa.
    Mind you, I’ve never told him this and I trust all followers of this blog will also maintain a respectful and forgiving silence on the matter.

  7. Hello, Graham. There seems to be a problem with the phonetic symbols on this post (unless it’s my computer that is the problem). I was hoping to use this blog post as a reference to change the (very weak) Wikipedia article on Potteries dialect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potteries_dialect

    Is there any chance that you can restore the symbols please?

    By the way, would you agree with the claim at the start of the article that the dialect is spoken almost exclusively in and around Stoke? If so, I wonder how this ever happened. The only other cases that I can think of where a town/city has a different dialect to nearby areas can be explained by migration patterns (e.g. Liverpool and Middlesbrough with the Irish, Corby with Scots, mining parts of Kent that had big influxes in 1926).

  8. Ed – Thanks for pointing out that the phonetic symbols had become mangled. I think this is due to an upgrade carried out in WordPress without alerting me! I shall try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again – it causes me a lot of work trying to remember exactly which characters I had used 5 years ago. I’m not sure how far you need to travel from the Potteries to find a different accent completely, but a friend of mine who carried out a survey in the city about fifty years ago decided that he could distinguish three varieties of the accent from north (Tunstall) to south (Longton) even within the city. If he reads this, he may wish to comment further? You mention Middlesbrough as being afected by the influx of Irish workers. Are you aware that the first industry set up in Middlesbrough was actually a pottery, and that many people from North Staffordshire (including at least two families within my own family tree) went there to help set up the factory. There is a short book on the subject: “The Pottery that Began Middlesbrough” by Mary Williams. Could there be a North Staffordshire influence remaining in the Middlesbrough accent even today?

  9. Thank you, Graham. That’s very nice of you.

    I did not know that about Middlesbrough; I always associated it with iron and steel. Kate Burland has done a similar study on the migration of South Staffordshire miners to the small town of Royston (between Wakefield and Barnsley) in the late 19th century. She found that the speech of Royston remained distinct from both Wakefield and Barnsley, and had some similarities with forms in the Black Country (see the book Language and a Sense of Place). Middlesbrough would be a more complicated case, given the number of Irish migrants that it absorbed. Potteries influence could perhaps have influenced the front and open realisation of the NURSE vowel in Middlesbrough?

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.