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North/South accent divide ‘will disappear in 45 years’

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Scientists said the northern accent will become lost in time as pronunciations from the south east take over. For example, words like “strut” ‑ which currently rhymes with “foot” in the north ‑ will change. South-western pronunciations will die out too, experts claim, with the pirate “arrr” sound in “farm” disappearing from the region. However, certain differences are set to remain, with the regions continuing to disagree about how to say “class”, “bath” and “path”.

The research, published today in The Journal of Physics: Complexity, comes after experts from the universities of Cambridge and Portsmouth built a physics model to determine the future of language in England.

Dr Tamsin Blaxter, from the University of Cambridge, said: “It’s exciting that models from physics can be used to explain what we have observed about changing dialects, and even make predictions for the future.”

Dr James Burridge, of the University of Portsmouth, said the study allowed for people moving around their home location and going further afield with jobs or marriage.

The professor of maths and physics explained: “We also accounted for how people learn language.

“We ran the model with population distributions and migration patterns in the 1900s and then rolled it forward to 2000.

“We compared model maps to dialect maps and found modelling could predict how English language will evolve over the next 40 years.”

It showed that the southern pronunciation has been gradually dominating for decades now.

Dr Burridge added: “In about 1900, almost everybody said ‘thawing’, pronounced ‘thaw-wing’.

“But the majority of people now pronounce ‘thawing’ with an intrusive ‘r’, which sounds like ‘thaw-ring’.

“Our model predicts this happened over about 25 years.

“We found the word changed because it was tricky to pronounce and children are more likely to pick up the easier pronunciation. This then becomes the norm.

“However, it hasn’t changed everywhere because major cities like Leeds and Manchester rejected the change.”

Comment by Dan Townend

I’ve not lived in my home town of Leeds for more than 30 years now.

But despite being surrounded by Southerners for decades, there’s no doubting my roots.

The short vowels of bath, grass, France and castle all still make my Cheltenham-born wife wince.

One favourite is when we are talking about her aunt. “I’m not related to an insect,” she tells me.

Sure, my accent has softened, which can make trips home tricky, but the phonetic bases remain.

When I go back, the Yorkshire tones and phrases lift my heart. To my ear, the accent is as strong as ever. 

Why would you want to lose a cheery Geordie lilt, the languid tones of the Midlands or a bright Mancunian dialect? That distinctive Northern twang is here to stay. Those boffins know nowt!

Dan Townend is a Daily Express writer and Yorkshireman

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