Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Liverpool accent


One of the things most migrants to Britain suffer from — regardless of whether English (of some flavour) is their native language — is a sort of dialect-colourblindness, the inability to recognise regional and class distinctions of accent and dialect. I can now more or less identify “northern” speakers, London working class, urban midlands dialects, and the accent that people refer to as “posh”, as distinct from the fairly neutral accent of BBC announcers, and I already knew the Scottish and Northern Irish accents before I came. I had to learn for my permanent residency “Life in the UK” test that the Liverpool dialect is called Scouse, while the Newcastle speech is Geordie, but I can’t recognise the difference between those and Manchester or Yorkshire speech respectively. And the important thing is, even if you can pick the right one out of a lineup, you don’t have the proper associations with them. Thus, I was completely unaware that northern accents are scorned, and many northerners are defensive about the way they are perceived. I’ve learned to recognise these accents, but the associations that British people bring to them are purely abstract facts to me. Similarly the various lower-class urban (see e.g. Scouse, above) and rural dialects.

All of this is prelude to an extraordinary comment that I came across in reading Mark Lewinsohn’s The Beatles: Tune In, the first volume of a projected 3-volume biography of The Beatles. It’s over 800 pages and takes us only through 1962, which sounds mad, but it’s actually riveting, even to a person like myself with an only slightly more than casual interest in the band. Much of the early material is actually just a portrait of working class life in Liverpool in the 1940s and 1950s, shading into a history of popular music in the 1950s and early 1960s. In the summer of 1961 The Beatles were just back from playing an insane schedule in Hamburg, which somehow tightened and trained them and transformed them from also-rans of the Liverpool rock scene into a blazing phenomenon with an enthusiastic following. In particular, three local young women decided to found a Beatles Fan Club, and ended up spending a lot of time hanging out with them at their various parents’ homes.

Maureen O’Shea tells the following:

George […] asked me out — he said, “Do you want a date with me?” — and I said no. I was very keen on him but knew I couldn’t possibly introduce him to my mother because of his Liverpool accent.

So here we have the secretary of the Beatles Fan Club — herself a Liverpool native — refusing a date with George Harrison because his Liverpool accent would simply be too embarrassing.

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