Manchester Voices is a research project which explores the rich tapestry of accents, dialects, and identities that make up Greater Manchester. The project is based at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. There are three main strands to the project:
1. Online mapping of people’s perceptions
Regional accents and dialects are heavily bound to notions of place and belonging; as such, this aspect of the project seeks to explore the geographical landscape of Greater Manchester from a sociolinguistic perspective and to advance our understanding of the various accents, dialects and identities of the region. Using a specially-designed online tool, people are invited to draw a digital map of where they feel people speak differently from one another within Greater Manchester, before naming and describing the dialects, and giving any examples of sounds, words and grammar that they perceive to characterise each area. The digital map data will be analysed using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) techniques, enabling us to create heat maps showing areas where certain dialects are thought to be spoken and where perceptions of dialects are shared. If you would like to take part, the map can be accessed here.
2. The Accent Van and community workshops
From May 2020, we will undertake a comprehensive tour of the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester in our Accent Van – a specially kitted-out vehicle which will serve as a mobile interview booth and recording studio. Participants will be asked to share their thoughts on how they speak, reflecting on deeply embedded beliefs regarding the status and value of their own, and other people’s, accents and dialects and how they relate spoken language to a sense of local identity. This will provide both linguistic data in terms of language variation, and social data in terms of feelings towards that variation. We will also be organising oral history and poetry workshops in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies, the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage and Manchester Met’s English Department, which will serve to engage members of the public in thoughtful discussion and creative collaboration around issues of accent, dialect and identity.
3. Language attitude surveys
From 2020, we will be running a series of attitude surveys to track people’s thoughts and feelings about the speech of the region. Investigating people’s attitudes towards accents and dialects is crucial to explaining their use, loss, and maintenance at a community level, since they help us to understand the social meanings attached to linguistic features (e.g., sounds, words and grammatical forms). Attitudes also enable us to explore the ways in which individuals and groups identify and associate with one another within our local communities – for example, the feelings people from different boroughs, from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and of different age groups may have about their own and others’ speech (and about the speakers themselves). This aspect of the project seeks to uncover deeply embedded and widely held beliefs about regional accents and dialects, and to use this data to challenge any negative perceptions, to promote linguistic equality and diversity, and to nurture a sense of social and regional pride.
The project will culminate with a permanent Manchester Central Library installation and audiovisual archive, containing interviews with people from each of the ten boroughs, interactive dialect maps and excerpts of analysis and creative artefacts.
The archive will also contain recordings digitised as part of the British Library and Heritage Lottery Fund Unlocking Our Sound Heritage initiative, which will provide a vital historical link and allow the researchers to explore language change in the region over time. In addition to this, we will tour a smaller exhibition around the ten boroughs, inviting people to share in the findings they have helped to generate.
Manchester Voices will have a further public presence in the new Manchester Poetry Library (opening at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2020), where there will be an archive of regional poetry that features the area’s diverse dialects. As part of the project, we will host a series of poetry performances and events across the region, exploring the role of accent and dialect in literary works and literary creation, and workshops in local schools and community settings.
Manchester Voices is an AHRC-funded project that is truly about, with, and for the people of Greater Manchester. By bringing regional accents and dialects to the fore of public consciousness, we hope that they will come to be understood and appreciated in new ways.