There might not be long left to hear one of Britain’s most distinctive accents.
Celebrities like Eric Morecambe, Jane Horrocks, and Jim Bowen made the Lancashire accent famous, but scientists say it is now disappearing.
The Lancashire accent is unique for its use of the ‘Arr’ sound in words like ‘car’ or ‘father’.
However, researchers from the University of Lancashire say that young people in the region are starting to drop these so-called ‘rhotic Rs’.
Worryingly, they say that the distinctive accent could die out entirely within just a few generations.
Accents with hard ‘Rs’ were common in 1962 (left), and included Cornwall, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Lancashire. However, by 2016 (right), they have all but disappeared in these areas. On the maps, red areas show places where the accent is common while yellow and green areas indicate that the accent is less common
In the past, the whole of England would have sounded a lot like Blackburn does today.
However, since the 18th century, the accent has slowly disappeared.
Dr Danielle Turton, lead author of the study, said: ‘This is a sound change that started a couple of hundred years ago, and it was thought to originate in London.
‘The whole of England was pronouncing R this way at some point and then it dried up and we’ve got remnants in little disparate areas left over,’ Dr Turton told The Sunday Telegraph.
Rhoticity – using the rhotic R – is now most common in Cornwall, Scotland, and North America.
However, a study published in the Journal of Phonetics, found that the accent persists in parts of the North West.
Actor Jane Horrocks is well known for her distinct Lancashire accent, but scientists say that Lancashire’s hard ‘R’s may soon disappear
What does it mean for an accent to be ‘Rhotic’?
According to linguists, the Lancashire accent is distinctive due to the ‘rhotic’ or hard ‘R’ sound.
Speakers emphasise the ‘Arr’ sound in phrases like ‘car’, ‘father’, or ‘beer’.
Rhoticity used to be widespread across the UK but has now all but vanished.
Beginning in the 1800s, the accent slowly disappeared in all but a few isolated regions.
It is present but fading in parts of Cornwall and is the norm in Scotland and large areas of North America.
The researchers interviewed 28 people from Blackburn, Lancashire to analyse how they pronounced the ‘R’ in words like letter, beer, car, and square.
Participants were also asked whether they thought the words ‘spa’ and ‘spar’ should be pronounced differently.
The researchers found that the Blackburn natives still make use of the hard ‘R’ sound, just like speakers in Cornwall and Scotland.
Likewise, native speakers said that ‘spa’ and ‘spar’ had very different sounds while many parts of the country wouldn’t see much of a difference between the two.
Dr Turton says this shows that ‘rhoticity is certainly present in Blackburn, Lancashire.’
However, the authors also found that younger speakers had much softer Rs than the older generation.
The authors say this implies that rhoticity could vanish from the North within ‘the next few generations.’
The authors believe that Blackburn might have been able to keep its rhotic accent for so long due to its isolation and self-sufficiency.
Dr Turton said: ‘It has one of the highest manufacturing rates in the UK so perhaps we’re seeing fewer people commute outside the area compared to other places in the UK.
Comedian Eric Morecambe (right) who took his stage name from the Lancashire town of Morecambe, had a strong distinctive Lancashire accent
‘Geographically, it’s in a valley, so we can imagine historically it might have been more isolated, but even today transport links in and out of Blackburn are not as efficient as those in nearby Preston, for example.’
These thick accents have often been a point of derision, with thick rhotic accents often being mocked in films and television.
The researchers said: ‘Rhoticity in England in the present day is heavily stigmatised, representing a national rural stereotype and employed in media representation of characters for “comic effect”.’
However, the researchers say that social pressures are unlikely to be the cause of the vanishing accent.
Instead, the experts say the decline is more likely to be caused by face-to-face contact with people outside of the town.
‘We have more face-to-face contact with people these days,’ Dr Turton explained.
‘People are travelling farther from work; people don’t live where their parents grew up as much anymore.’
HOW ENGLISH IS CHANGING
Backend – Used instead of autumn that has vanished from the north of England
Shiver – Once common in Norfolk and Lincolnshire but now replaced with splinter
Sliver – Used in Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Kent but now replaced with splinter
Speel – A regional word used for splinter found Lancashire and Carlisle but now no longer used
Spell – The middle English for splinter, it was still being used across the North of England in the 1950s but has now vanished
Spile – Used instead of splinter in Blackburn and Bolton but now replaced
Spill – Seen in just a few places on the welsh border in the 1950s but now totally vanished
Spool – Used by people in Huddersfield in the 1950s but now replaced by spliter
Fifteen per cent of people pronounce three with an f compared to just 2 percent in the 1950s
The southern pronunciation of ‘butter’ – with a vowel as in put – has spread north