Burnley accent: Bernadette and Keelie discuss the difficulties associated with being single mothers



This recording is an example of a Burnley accent.

The Burnley accent

Bernadette and Keelie speak with a very distinctive Burnley accent. Listen particularly to the vowel sounds they use for words in the following four sets:

  1. phone, moment, lone, go, don’t, no, know, loans and home
  2. face, pay, save, away, birthdays, babies and wage
  3. twenty, money, babies and sixty
  4. out, pound, powder, down, anyhow

The vowel sounds they use in the first three sets are typical of many speakers across a large area of northern England stretching from Cumbria and North Yorkshire, down through Lancashire and into West and South Yorkshire and Humberside. The vowel sound Bernadette and Keelie use in the fourth set, however, is a very much more localised feature restricted to speakers in Burnley and other towns in the Central Lancashire belt.

Revealing grammar

Although we would not describe Bernadette and Keelie as dialect speakers, they do use a handful of words that are characteristic of popular speech in northern England, such as somewhat, aught and naught, meaning ‘something’, ‘anything’ and ‘nothing’ and a number of grammatical constructions that are quite revealing. Some regional aspects of our speech are incredibly subtle, but nonetheless indicative of a speaker’s background. Listen, for instance, to the way Keelie says so you’ve loans to come out of your money a week. For many speakers in other parts of the country, particularly younger speakers in the south of England, this statement would be more likely to surface as you’ve got loans to come out of your money a week. Use of the phrasal verb have got, as in Bernadette’s statement I’ve got two children here is nowadays arguably the unmarked alternative. The much older construction using have on its own is, on the other hand, far more likely to occur in the speech of older speakers or among speakers of all ages in the north, thus showing how dialects can reflect older, conservative forms of English, while the prestige standard language moves on.

Listen also to the way Keelie uses this northern version with a reduced form of the verb have elsewhere in the interview, such as in the statement you’ve to buy presents, you know, you’ve to save up for Christmas. In more mainstream dialects of English this is far more likely to occur with a fully articulated verb, as in you have to buy presents, you know, you have to save up for Christmas, or as a phrasal verb, as in you’ve got to buy presents, you know, you’ve got to save up for Christmas. As with the previous construction it appears Bernadette prefers the more mainstream alternative as she says, I’ve got to buy gas, I’ve got to buy electric, I’ve got to do washing.

About the speakers

Bernadette Monks (b.1975/09/24; female)

Keelie Goodman (b.1979/09/10; female)



Phil: When you had only twenty-five pounds a week, how do you manage to feed the children?

Bernadette: I didn't: I had to go out and borrow for that week. So then the following week, when I did receive this Income Support [1], I, like, owed the majority of it out and, just, like, goes on for weeks until you manage to sort yourself out. I mean, I were upset on the phone to them and I'm saying, “I've got two children here; I can't manage off twenty-five pound. I've got to buy gas, I've got to buy electric. I've got to do washing, I need washing powder, things like that and I need to feed them as well. How can I do this?" It weren't their fault, they said.

Phil: Do you feel very, how do you feel when you reach a situation like that with them?

Bernadette: I felt like if I were face-to-face to them I could've throttled them. It were horrible, it were. And I thought it were all wrong. That's what really got me. I thought, “Yeah, if I were sat here on drugs and things and I went down all, like, off my head and sort of, like, thing, they'd give me somewhat just to get rid of me”. I did, I thought it were really wrong, that.

Phil: Keelie, can I ask you how much you get to bring your two children up?

Keelie: At this moment?

Phil: Yeah.

Keelie: Uh, with my Income Support and my Lone Parent and my Fam, and my Family Allowance [2], uh, it comes to a-hundred-and-five pound.

Phil: And how do you manage off that?

Keelie: I'm all right up until when we get to the weekend and then we're right, but if I, I'm right, because, but you've to get, like, there's electric to buy, gas to buy, there's food to buy, there's phone to pay for, there's l, water to pay for. There's all your bills before you even start, before you can get your shopping, because otherwise you'll have naught on to cook it in or any light to sit in. So obviously you've to pay all your bills before you even get to your shopping lark. Uh, but you can't, it isn't as though you, you've got enough money to take the children out. You know, take them out for a day swimming, or, you know, take them to where you need money. You know, you, you either, you have to either borrow for it or save. You know, put a bit away each week to, to get to where you want to go. But you don't get no holidays or, where you could put bits of money away a week, to save up for an holiday, to take them on holiday in the summer or aught like that. That's, you know, it just gives you barely enough to live on. That's what it is.

Phil: And are you sometimes worried about whether you can afford to feed them?

Keelie: Yeah, I have been. Like, when, uh, you, when you get to Christmases and birthdays and things like that, where you've to buy presents. You know, you've to save up for Christmas. You end up getting loans out. So you've loans to come out of your money a week. And you've all sorts to come out, you know, because you've had to provide for them for Christmas, or for their birthdays or whatever. You know, you've, it's all coming out of, of your one week's money. You know, it's, it, it, I don't know, it's not fair, really, is it? There's, uh, but there again, you, I don't know. But I don't want to go out to work un, until the children are old enough, you know, not, like, I don't want to, I didn't want to be going out to work when they were babies. Cause I wanted to bring them up. They were my children, I and, I, I wanted to be there, to bring them up, to walk them, to talk them, to whatever them. Uh, so it isn't until they're going to get older anyhow before I go into work, where I know they can come home theirselves, you know. You, you go out and pay for a childminder, you can't, childminders, you, that'd be your wage gone. Cause they aren't, they, it is five pound an hour so I've been told, for a childminder. So if you went into eight hours a day work, it works out quite a bit for two children.

Phil: So do you get any help from others? Other people?

Keelie: Yeah, my mum helps. My mum's a good help.

Phil: So, she's around to?

Keelie: Yeah, she's always there, yeah. If I need aught, she's there.

Phil: What about help for you, Bernadette?

Bernadette: Yeah, I get help from my mum if I need it. But my mum's, like, she's sixty, you know, and she's brought all her children up. But she's there if I need her. She wouldn't turn me away; she's there to help me if she can.


[1] Income Support is a benefit paid by the government to people under 60 on low income and with limited savings.

[2] Family Allowance is a tax-free cash payment paid by the government to families with children. 

Burnley accent: Bernadette and Keelie discuss the difficulties associated with being single mothers
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