For those who are completely unfamiliar with the variety of English that is found in the city of Sheffield, I thought I’d write about what constitutes the Sheffield accent – with more to follow soon on the local dialect. And if you are familiar with the Sheffield accent, or you have one yourself, then you might be able to relate!
Sheffield is a large urban, post-industrial, British city, which has a city centre characterized by its multiculturalism, diversity and growing cosmopolitanism. As you travel outside of the inner city you will find densely populated suburbs and eventually quaint villages that border the peak district and North Derbyshire, or neighbouring Yorkshire towns such as Rotherham and Barnsley. The diverse social landscape of the city has had huge impact on the way that language is used amongst it’s in habitants, and this is the main topic of interest in my own PhD study. Sheffield is well-known for it’s pioneering impact upon the British Steel Industry which branded it with the name ‘Steel City’, as well as for the Cutlery industry that once thrived here. It is also well known for its fierce football rivalry between United and Wednesday, and is very popular with students with the two world-leading Universities which the city boasts, namely the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The friendly nature of the place has gained it the highest retention rates for graduates who finish studying in Sheffield and opt to stay here to work and live long term.
As a native of the city, I grew up surrounded by the Sheffield accent in the East End of Sheffield, which is typically regarded as the working-class part of the city. Research has demonstrated a linguistic and socio-economic divide within the city between the East and the West, with the latter being home to more middle-class speakers (Finnegan 2015). Broadly speaking, one of the main trends in sociolinguistics across the UK demonstrates that middle class speakers are more likely to use standard variants to avoid stigmatization, whereas working-class speakers use non-standard variants and attach covert prestige to the use of such features. This means that working-class speakers in the East end of Sheffield might be more likely to speak with ‘broader’ accents and that it is desirable for them to do so, whereas in the West end you might hear people speaking more ‘proper.’ These evaluative terms often arise in the study of language attitudes where speakers are encouraged to express their beliefs and judgements towards particular ways of speaking.
What is the Sheffield Accent?
You might be wondering ‘what constitutes a broad Sheffield accent?’ – something which I will now consider, mentioning some of the phonetic variants that are typical of Sheffield speech – from my own experience as well as attestations in previous linguistic research. It is impossible to fit the array of available features of the accent into one short blog post, but I will describe some of the more common and recognisable features as examples. There is also the consideration of dialect words and morpho-syntax – topics that I will be writing separate blogposts on soon.
In the rest of this blogpost I will be using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols (in square brackets) to represent speech sounds. If you are unfamiliar with the IPA and would like to know what sounds the symbols represent follow this link to listen to the sounds on an online interactive IPA chart. http://www.yorku.ca/earmstro/ipa/index.html I will also be using Well’s Lexical sets (1982) – for an introduction to these take a look at this Wikipedia site https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_set
One interesting feature, that is significant enough to have branded Sheffielders with the name ‘deedah’s’ [diː dɑːz] (Stoddart and others 1999), is the use of Old English address terms ‘thee and thou’, when communicating with fellow locals. This is also paired with th-stopping, in which the dental fricative [ð] is replaced with a dental stop [d] – or the interchanging of the ‘th’ and ‘d’ sound initially so that you might hear the following sentence:
‘nah den dee how’s da doin?‘ [naː dɛn di aːs da duɪn]
Which translates to
‘now then you how you doing?’
Which in Standard English means
‘Hello you, how are you doing?’
However, research suggests that th-stopping is now in decline, and is most common in the speech of older speakers (Stoddart and others 1999).
A common division between Northern and Southern English is the distinction between the STRUT and BATH vowels. We expect to find the vowel in FOOT [ʊ] up North and in Sheffield, whereas in Southern varieties we would expect to hear the [ᴧ] in STRUT. As well this we hear the short [a] in the word TRAP up North and in Sheffield, whereas down south we would expect to hear the long [ɑ:] in BATH – which would sound something like ‘barth’.
Something that Sheffield speakers in my own previous research have been able to pick up on is the use of long vowels in the city, as in a lot of words we see monophthongization (a shift from a diphthong with two combined vowel sounds to a monophthong which has just one), with Sheffielders replacing Standard English diphthongs with an elongated monophthong so that for instance:
Price becomes ‘prahs’ or [praɪs]→[praːs]
Now becomes ‘nah’ or [naʊ]→[naː]
Rain becomes ‘rehn’ or [reɪn]→[reːn]
Another common feature is the use of short monophthongs [a] and [ɛ] in some FACE words, which are restricted lexically. This means that they only occur in certain words, which include ‘gave, make and take’, which sound more like ‘gev, mek and tek.’ The variant [ɛ] was evidenced in Stoddart et al.’s (1999) study (cited in Finnegan2015). However, interestingly recent research has demonstrated that the closing diphthong [ɛɪ] is favoured over the long close-mid monopthhong [eː], but mainly in the speech of Middle Class Sheffield speakers (Finnegan 2015:227). This demonstrates that within Sheffield there are a variety of accent pronunciations that each have the potential to index different types of local identity. This is something which I aim to explore further in my own project.
Sheffield is a border town of Yorkshire, and is in contact with Derbyshire linguistic features, which contain more stereotypically southern pronunciations. For example there are ‘frequent opportunities for Sheffield speakers to come into regular contact with speakers using the FACE and GOAT closing diphthong forms in their local accents’, which are regarded as more standard pronunciations, and this could behaving an impact upon the Sheffield dialect (Finnegan 2015:228). This could mean that we see Dialect change in Sheffield because of the influence of surrounding varieties.
Another common feature of the Sheffield accent is what linguists term happY-laxing. In the word happy for example, the last syllable is often pronounced as ‘eh’, as in ‘appeh’ or [apε]. As well as this we see regular H-dropping – the lack of word-initial [h] – evident in the previous example. Also a recognisable feature is the use of reflexives such as me’sen [miˈsεn] for myself and his’sen [ɪzˈsεn] himself (Stoddart et al 1999), and yourself sometimes becomes thi’sen [ðɪˈsεn].
The prominence of these features is evidenced in the commodification of their use in Sheffield dialect branded products that can be purchased in the city as gifts and souvenirs. Cooper (2017) points out that the use of dialect on commodities demonstrates a wider awareness of the feature as part of a local vernacular. I often see examples when I’m in and around the city and take photos, and have added some examples below:
Sheffielders are also known to pronounce the word right as reyt or rate, and this variant is often used as an intensifier in the local lexis or dialect (Beal 2009). This means that you would expect to hear it in phrases like ‘that is reyt good’ or ‘i am reyt chuffed!’
[raɪt] → [reɪt] or [reːt]
The last feature which I will mention is the realisation of Definite Article Reduction, or in other words ‘the tendency in Yorkshire to drop the definite article ‘the’, or to reduce it to a glottal stop’ (Cooper 2013). This is something that is common across the whole of Yorkshire, and most commonly discussed in the example ‘goin’ t’shop.’ In Sheffield we see glottalisation and the zero article (‘goin shop’), in which ‘the’ is omitted completely.
I hope this has been an informative introduction! Any feedback is welcomed as it will help me to improve my future posts and to make sure that I am putting out useful and interesting content. Please either comment below or contact me. My next blog post will look into dialect more specifically.
Beal, Joan C. 2009. ‘“You’re Not from New York City, You’re from Rotherham”: Dialect and Identity in British Indie Music’, Journal of English Linguistics, 37.3: 223–40 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424209340014>
Chambers, J. K. 2013. ‘Patterns of Variation Including Change’, in The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 2nd edn, ed. by J. K. Chambers and Natalie Schilling-Estes (Oxford:Wiley-Blackwell), pp. 297–323
Finnegan, Katie. 2015. ‘Sheffield’, in Researching Northern English, ed. by Raymond Hickey (Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company), pp. 227–50
Stoddart, Jana, Clive Upton, and J.D.A Widdowson. 1999. ‘Sheffield Dialect in the 1990s: Revisiting the Concept of NORMs’, in Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles, ed. by Paul Foulkes and Gerard J. Docherty (London : New York: Arnold ; Oxford University Press), pp. 72–89