I completed a BA in English Language and Linguistics at the Lancaster University between 2007 and 2010, and an MA in Linguistics at the University of York in 2012, but apparently that wasn’t enough for me. I started my PhD at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2013, with the generous support of the Wolfson Foundation and the fantastic guidance of Dr Emma Moore and Dr Chris Montgomery.
My general linguistic pursuits are in the realm of phonetics and phonology, dialectology, identity and sociolinguistics, but I’m also really interested in language and prejudice, language and social class, rhythm and gesture, internet linguistics and swearing. I write alongside my friend Kate on a variety of language topics at So Long As It’s Words, a site which (we hope) balances the academic and the ridiculous.
Delving into dialectology, I was surprised that the Stoke-on-Trent accent had been left unstudied. I grew up in Newcastle-under-Lyme (‘the posh bit’), and had been exposed to the local accent extensively throughout the years, as well as acres of meta-commentary about its beauty and/or ugliness (depending on who you ask). To me and many other locals, the accent seemed strong and unique, and tied very closely to the identity of the city and its residents. And yet it was almost completely unresearched linguistically.
So I butted in. My BA dissertation investigated whether and why people from the north-west Midlands were better able to identify the Stoke accent (among others) better than people from the rest of the country. My MA dissertation launched a preliminary investigation into the acoustic properties of unstressed vowels in Stoke-on-Trent English, which see the Stokie pronunciation of it sound a bit like eet. The unstressed vowel system in Stoke, it turns out, is incredibly interesting (promise), and curious folk can read a little more about it here. In the year between my MA and PhD, Chris Montgomery and I collaborated on a paper which investigated perception of and attitudes towards the local accent, demonstrating a polarised combination of extreme local pride in the dialect and embarrassment at its wider perception as parochial and ‘common’ – again, those interested can see that here.
Voices of the Potteries: accent, identity and social history in Stoke-on-Trent
My PhD is a larger, more coherent attempt to get the Stoke-on-Trent accent on the linguistic map, building the foundations for future work and locating its place in the dialectology of the United Kingdom. With the generous and wise help of Stoke-on-Trent Museums, I have gained access to an oral history archive in which local speakers who worked in the Pottery industry detail their memories of the city and its industry, and stories from their fascinating lives. Using this audio data, I plan to conduct a systematic phonetic analysis of the local accent, pinning down some of its features with phonetic evidence.
Additionally, I plan to explore the issue of identity in the city. Once the ceramics capital of the world, Stoke-on-Trent was a city full of highly-skilled manual workers with a strong working class mentality. Pottery, mining and steel dominated local industry, and locals were united because of this. However, the deindustrialisation of the UK’s manual industries throughout the last 50 years has seen this industrial core fall out of the city, with little to fill its place. The locals, now, are at once fiercely proud of the city’s heritage and history, and often embarrassed and disappointed at its fall from grace and current economic struggles. The local accent is very closely tied to identity in Stoke-on-Trent, and I hope that my PhD work will be able to illuminate this further, looking in detail at social and economic history in the region.