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To take part in the virtual Accent Van, simply visit virtualvan.manchestervoices.org.

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 currently six main strands to the project:

1. The Accent Van and community workshops

Saturday 31st July saw the first outing of our brand new Accent Van – a specially kitted-out vehicle which serves as a mobile interview booth and recording studio. Over the next few months we will travel to various places across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, inviting people to take part. 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 poetry workshops in collaboration with the Manchester Poetry Library, which will serve to engage members of the public in thoughtful discussion and creative collaboration around issues of accent, dialect and identity.

2. Virtual Accent van

In case you aren’t able to be out and about to visit The Accent Van, you can have the same experience online! If you go to virtualvan.manchestervoices.org you will be interviewed by our Accent Van virtual assistant, and your recording will be automatically submitted to us when you’ve finished.

3. Language attitude surveys

In late 2021, 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.

4. ‘Talking About Voices’ podcast resource and competition for schools

Talking About Voices is an opportunity for secondary school pupils in Greater Manchester to learn about audio production while also reflecting on issues around language and identity. The objective is for pupils to make a short podcast episode about language and identity, with plenty of ideas, training and support provided along the way. The materials can be used remotely, as well an in class. For more details, or if you would like your school to take part, please email manchester.voices@mmu.ac.uk. You can find out a bit more about this part of the project on the Talking About Voices website (talkingaboutvoices.org). This strand of the project is now closed for this year, with the winners to be announced in September 2021. But we plan to launch it again for 2021-22!

5. Analysing historical recordings from the region

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a fantastic project being carried out by the British Library and its partners across the UK, including Archives+ at Manchester Central Library. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the wider Save Our Sounds programme, the project aims to preserve and provide access to half a million of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings. We are working with Archives+ to transcribe and analyse recordings from across Greater Manchester. This provides us with the perfect opportunity to compare speech from people born at the turn of the 20th Century with their counterparts in the present day.

6. 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. This part of the project closed to new submissions in March 2021, but check back soon for some of the findings!

Outcomes

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, 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.