Clean Air Cleaning Up Old Beatles Accent

ByABC News
February 23, 2001, 11:56 AM

Feb. 23 -- "Eeeight days a week," sang the Beatles. "I laaaaa-uve you."

But if the Fab Four were singing their tune today, it might sound quite different.

John Lennon's laconic nasal twang would probably not shine through, and Ringo Starr could well be saying, "They gonnaahhhh put me in the movies," without his customary 'ahhh'.

That's because the Liverpudlian accent, made world-famous by Liverpool's most famous sons, has been changing through the years.

The way English is spoken in Liverpool, a port city in northwestern England, has always been rather different from the rest of the country.

Seasoned residents of this former industrial city call their accent "Scouse," an accent one Liverpudlian wit described as "one-third Irish, one-third Welsh and one-third catarrh."

Which is not far off the mark, according to Andrew Hamer, a regional accents expert at Liverpool University. "During the potato famines [in the mid-19th century] Irish immigrants moved to Liverpool, some of whom spoke Gaelic," said Hamer. "It was their children who first spoke with a distinctive accent that was a mix of Irish accents and the accent from neighboring Manchester."

Cleaning Up Their Accent Act

But over the years, Scouse has been changing in a variety of ways, and one of the unlikely suspects for the change has been the clean Liverpool air, which is quite new in these parts.

Fritz Spiegl, a local musician and author of Scouse International, believes a particular quality of Scouse, which sounds as if the speaker were talking through blocked respiratory tracts, has been disappearing as the Liverpudlian air has gotten cleaner.

"Years ago, the Liverpudlian was known by his dirty raincoat. Anyone in a clean coat was a visiting sailor," said Spiegl. But, he notes, the air around Liverpool, one of Britain's primary ports, has improved ever since England's economy started moving from an industrial to a service base and the old factories of Manchester the old industrial heartland of Britain began to close down.