Northern accents or dialects

Speakers living in northern English cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool have significant differences in their phonology from those speakers living in the south of England.

The variant of English spoken in the South East of England is often referred to as the 'standard' or 'correct' form of English. This is a prescriptive view, and Speech and Language Therapists have no role in adapted or 'correcting' accents and dialects.

Rather, each speech community should be valued as their way of speaking is valid and as complex as any other variant of English.

The reason that the SE English variant is associated with privilege is because it is associated with the BBC, Parliament, and The Royal Family. Previously known as 'Received Pronunciation' (or RP), the SE accent itself has changed significantly in the last 100 years or so.

Many people learning to speak English as an additional language may only have heard SE English, or Standard British English (SBE). However, if you are studying or working in a Northern English city, town or village, you need information on the way speakers encode meaning into a speech code in that particular place.

If you attend a Speech and Language Therapy degree or master's programme in Scotland, you will learn vowels and consonants associated with Scottish English. If you attend The University of Manchester or work in the North (broadly the Midlands to where NE accents emerge), or have service user who has lived in those areas, then you need a knowledge Northern English Phonology.


The range of consonants is no different to Standard British English. However, you may encounter allophonic variation. This is where the speak may use the standard consonant expected for the word, or an acceptable different phone. This is therefore the SAME PHONEME with TWO different REALISATIONS or ALLOPHONES.


In square brackets as they are one of two or more possible phonetic realisations of the central phoneme
  • ‘clear’ onset [ l ] versus ‘dark’ or velarised coda [ ɫ ]
  • / ɹ / may be realised as [ ʋ ] (Folks & Docherty, 2000)
  • /-t/ word final or within word may be realised as [ ʔ ]

Phonotactic restrictions

How English ‘rules’ operate to form words - Restrictions
C(0-3) V(1) C(0-4)

E.g., ‘a’, ‘it’, ’ant’, ‘sat’, ‘sand’, ‘sands’, ‘stands’, ‘strands’, ‘strengths’, ‘twelfths’
/ ə /, / ɪt /, / ænt /, / sæt /, / sænd /, / sændz /, / sdændz /, / sdɹændz /, / sdɹeŋθs /, / twelfθs /

  • Usually / ŋ / cannot be word or syllable initial, e.g., ‘sing’ / sɪŋ /
  • In the northern English accents you may hear [ -n ] as an allophone,
    • such as in 'jumping' [ d͡ʒʊm.pɪn ]

  • / ʒ / is within word only, e.g., ‘treasure’ / ˈtɹe.ʒə /
  • 'borrowed' words from Polaris such as 'zhuzh' / ʒʊʒ / ('to do up' do not follow English phonotactics and so allow word initial / ʒ- /,

Multilingual Children’s Speech Development (2023), Charles Stuart University, Australia.

Vowels (11 + 7)

ALL voiced, all oral with NO nasality (Nasality is found in American English accents)
  • 11 monophthongs / ˈmɒnə(f).θɒŋz /

  • Long vowels: / i, ɑ, ɜ, ɔ, u / (n=5)

Only use the length diacritic, e.g., [ iː ] if the child produces a longer than expected vowel in a phonetic realisation - square brackets. Long and short vowels already have different symbols, such as / i, ɪ /.

  • Short vowels: / ɪ, ʊ, e, ə, æ, ɒ / (n=6)

  • / ʌ / is NEVER used in Northern English phonology. And is replaced with [ ʊ ] in all cases,
  • E.g., ‘put’, ‘plunge’, ’butter’, ‘bus’, ‘tuck’, ‘tug’, ‘duck’, ‘dunk’, ‘cut’, ‘c’, ‘funk’, ‘funnel’, ‘vulgar’, ‘sun’, ‘suck’, ‘thunder’, ‘thumb’, ‘thus’, ’shut’, ‘shunt’, ‘zumba’, ‘mum’, ‘muck’, ’numb’, ‘knuckles’, ‘chunk’, ‘chuck’, ‘jump’, ‘junk’.

Vowels: TRAP / æ / versus PALM / ɑ / vowels

  • Long vowel / ɑ / may be replaced with a short vowel [ æ ], but NOT in all cases
  • replaced with the short vowel before the voiceless fricatives / θ, f, s /,
    such as ‘path’, ‘bath’, ‘staff, ‘laugh’, ’grass’, ‘dance’,
  • replaced with the short vowel before a nasal and a following consonant,
    such as ‘answer’, ‘demand’, ‘
  • but NOT in ‘ar’ or ‘al’ containing words,
    such as ‘park’, ‘bark, ’tarnish’, dart’, ‘car’, ‘carnage’, ‘garnish’ ‘charm’, ‘star’, ‘palm’, ‘balm’, ’calm’, ’rather’,
  • Even southern English speakers use the short TRAP vowel: ‘pasta’, ‘maths’, ‘rant’, ‘sand’, ‘gas’, decaf’, ‘elastic’ etc.
    • (Lindsey, 2019, p. 42)


Foulkes, P., & Docherty, G. J. (2000). Another chapter in the story of /r/: “Labiodental” variants in British English. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(1), 30–59.

Lindsey, G. (2019). English after RP : standard British pronunciation today. Palgrave Macmillan.

Wren, Y. (2023) English (English - SSBE). In McLeod, S. (2023). Multilingual Children’s Speech Development (2023), Charles Stuart University, Australia.

McLeod, S. (2009). Speech sound acquisition. In J. E. Bernthal, N. W. Bankson, & P. Flipsen, Jnr (Eds.), Articulation and phonological disorders: Speech sound disorders in children (6th ed., pp. 63-120+385-405). Pearson Education.

Under construction…more to follow!

Total (n)
/ p, b, t, d, k, g /
/ m, n, ŋ /
/ f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, h /
/ t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ /
‘Liquids’ and approximants
/ ɹ, l, j /
/ w /

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