Lots of planets have a Middlesbrough

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A week ago, Bob Ladd pointed us to a Guardian story about British sociolinguistic prejudice ("Viewer offered BBC’s Steph McGovern £20 to 'correct' her northern accent", 11/25/2014). Steph McGovern is from Middlesbrough, and back in February of 2013 ITV News had one of its posher presenters trying to fix up Middlesbrough resident's pronunciation in real time:

Here's a BBC News piece from the same era,  about a local school's attempt at accent eradication:

And a less formal response from a couple of local residents:

Middlesbrough is in the North of England — but as Dr. Who tells us, "Lots of planets have a north":

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Rose: Mickey! I'll have to tell his mother he's dead, and you just went and forgot him, again! You were right. You ARE alien.
The_Doctor: Look, if I DID forget some kid called Mickey, …
Rose: Yeah, he's not a "kid"!
The_Doctor: … it's because I'm busy trying to save the life of every stupid ape blundering about on top on this planet. All right?
Rose: All right!?
The_Doctor: Yes. It is.
Rose: [pause] If you ARE an alien, how comes you sound like you're from the North?
The_Doctor: Lots of planets have a north!


[h/t Adam Rosenthal]


  1. Shubert said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 8:07 am

    Tomorrow's tommy never comes.

  2. Jon said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 8:10 am

    What a lovely couple of kids in that last clip.
    My wife comes from the North, though the other side of the country. Many of the usages are the same – her brother is always 'Our Martin'. When I worked up North it took me a while to realise that 'Our lass' could mean either 'my wife' or 'my daughter'.
    In the last bit of dialect, 'placky-baggin', the 'placky' is a slang/jokey version of plastic. I associate the putting of y on the ends of words more with Scotland (sweety, ciggy) or Australia.

  3. Tim said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 8:58 am

    – "… ITV News, Middlesbruh"
    – "You mean Middles-BRO?"
    – "That's just how it's pronounced."
    – "Well, then…"

  4. chips mackinolty said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 9:11 am

    Yeah the kids were all right! The nicest bit picked up was in relation to the word "mooch", it seems as the Middlesbrough version of la passeggiata, but described by the young woman also as a "Dora", as in Dora the Explorer". It's the lot really: cultural and linguistic appropriation, rhyming slang.

    [(myl) They offer an interesting difference in emotional valence compared with the OED's gloss "To loaf, to skulk, to sneak. Now esp.: to loiter aimlessly; to dawdle in a bored or listless manner; to slouch. Freq. with about, along, around, off. I wonder whether that's a regional difference or a class-attitude difference…]

    "Placky bag" has long been in use in Australia, by the way.

  5. S. Norman said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 10:03 am


    [(myl) The focus on differences in perceived rhythms is typical of British phonetics in the first half of the twentieth century. But it appears to be almost entirely hallucinatory, in the sense that dozens of disparate attempts to make quantititive sense of it have all failed.

    It's certainly true that there are differences between language-varieties in the statistics of phonetic segment sequences and timing patterns. But the ideas about "syllable timing" vs. "stress timing" and the like appear to be false to fact.

    The lower-jaw business seems to be a reference to another old-fashioned phonetic trope, "articulatory setting", for which it has been even more difficult to provide any empirical foundation.]

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 10:55 am

    @S. Norman

    That's hilarious! Thank you so much for that video. In my efforts to help nonnative speakers improve their English, I never realized that attention to sheer rhythmics could be so helpful. And that led me to think of the name of the British group who call themselves the "Eurythmics".

    Incidentally, note that the sign on the door of the language coach is "Phonics".

  7. S. Norman said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    Actually, it does read 'Phonetics'. I wish my office had a door that big.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

    @S. Norman

    Right. I just glanced at it quickly on the first viewing and didn't go back and check before writing my comment.

    I also think that I was influenced by phonics as a teaching method as opposed to phonetics as a branch of linguistics.



    One other thing that struck me is that the language instructor's office is in the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London. I know the place well, since I have a B.A. and an advanced degree from there, though it was called SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at that time, and still is. I do not recall that there was an office or department of phonetics when I was enrolled (late 60s), though there may have been one that I was unaware of.

  9. RP said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

    @Tim – good one! I have never heard a British person from any region pronounce a "-brough" or "-borough" placename (nor the word "borough") with "oh" at the end – although such pronunciations seem common in the US.

    @Jon – my mum's parents lived in Sheffield and always used "our" that way, and although my mum (having moved to the Midlands) never used "our" that way in normal conversation, she did use it when she was talking to her parents or other members of her family who still lived up north. I must admit I didn't come across "our lass" meaning "wife", as far as I recall – I would have assumed it was a reference to one's daughter. Could "our lass" refer to one's wife regardless of her age? Would "our lad" ever refer to one's husband, or is the usage asymmetric?

  10. Ken said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

    @RP, speaking as a US citizen, you should ignore our pronunciations of British place names. I have heard Edinburgh (to pick something in the "-borough" family) pronounced as it's spelled, with a hard G at the end.

    However, I think that's not specific to the US, but an issue with place-names. They often aren't pronounced as they're spelled, and you have to learn each special case. For example Cairo in Illinois is not pronounced like Cairo in Egypt. There's also Arkansas and Kansas, which do not rhyme.

  11. Ken said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

    Clarifying my previous comment: The person who pronounced Edinburgh with a G was referring to the one in Scotland. It would not surprise me to learn that there's a town in the US named Edinburgh, where the correct pronunciation has the G – to rhyme with Pittsburgh.

  12. David B Solnit said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

    Then there's Embro, Ontario. But maybe they pronounce it /ˈedɪnbɚg/.

  13. Nathan said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

    Ken, the town you're not surprised to learn about is Edinburgh, Indiana.

  14. Jon said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

    @RP – I was working as a dairy hand near Lancaster, out in the wilds where the accents were broad. All my workmates were men, so I don't know if the women used 'our lad' for 'my husband'. The people I knew in town didn't use 'our lass' for daughter or wife, but 'our Fred/Mary/etc' was normal, like for the Middlesbrough kids.

  15. Jon said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    @RP – forgot to mention, these were men in their 40s and 50s, in the 1970s.

  16. Brett said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    @Nathan: I've been to Edinburgh, Indiana many times and driven through even more (including twice last week, travelling to and from Thanksgiving). It had never occurred to me to pronounce it differently from the city in Scotland. However, I suppose I never really thought of it as much of a place at all. It's more just an exit of the interstate—the locality within the Columbus area where the outlet mall is located.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 3:41 am

    It's certainly true that there are differences between language-varieties in the statistics of phonetic segment sequences and timing patterns. But the ideas about "syllable timing" vs. "stress timing" and the like appear to be false to fact.

    What would be a modern view of the reasons why English-language poetry is governed more by placement and count of stressed syllables and, say, Japanese poetry might weight all morae equally? How much of that is true?

    In this post ( http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001172.html ) there's some support to be drawn for the conclusion that you can happily (and without drawing objections from the audience) shoehorn two unstressed syllables into a verse where only one is called for; in classical Greek and Latin poetry something similar applies with reference to syllable "length" instead of stress; and, as I understand Japanese haiku, exactly one mora must appear where one mora is called for. Mightn't this difference in, in the words of the post, "basic poetic stuff" reflect a real difference in the perception (and production?) of "basic phonological stuff" in the host language? Does the earlier summary "English word-stress organizes the rhythm of English speech in a way that Greek accent did not" stand?

    [(myl) There are certainly real typological differences in prosody among languages, and these do affect how words are set to music and how metered verse works, as well as how people talk in everyday life.

    But there are several problems with the idea of stress-timing vs. syllable-timing.

    British (and some other anglophone) phoneticians of the early 20th century, on impressionistic grounds, asserted first that the relevant units were objectively isochronous, or at least nearly so; and then when this was shown to be false, backed off to the idea that speakers adjusted the units somewhat in the direction of isochrony — which also turns out to be false. Various attempts to rescue the idea by re-defining what is measured (e.g. "p-centers") have not changed this result.

    The next fall-back position is that the distinction is a cognitive or perceptual one, without any (simple) implications for instrumental measurements of timing. This is plausible, except that a binary typological opposition is (in my opinion) simplistic. It's easy to tick off a list of relevant phonological, phonetic, and musicological dimensions that define a multi-dimensional space in which languages don't cluster into just two groups.]

  18. Michael Watts said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 4:03 am

    Actually, to be fair to Latin, the only meter in which I remember free variation between one (long) or two (short) syllables being legal was dactylic hexameter (maaaybe also dactylic pentameter?), which it's reasonable to suspect of being borrowed from Greek. In all the other meters, you put a syllable of the specified type at the specified location.

    [(myl) In fact, "resolution" (where two short syllables are substituted for a long one) is common in pretty much all varieties of Latin quantitative verse. Here's a schematic for the senarius, according to Ramsay's A Manual of Latin Prosody, p. 192:


    I've never studied Greek poetry, so can't provide anything further about that.

  19. Stuart Brown said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    On "mooch" Mark wonders whether the difference between the kids' explanation or the OED definition is down to regional or class differences. Afraid I can't really answer that, but this middle-class, Northern-born Englishman might well say: "I think I'll have a mooch around the shops", which certainly doesn't imply skulking, sneaking, slouching etc., but rather walking round without a specific purpose.

    What incidentally are the implications in Duke Ellington's "The Mooche" or Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher"?

    [(myl) I always assumed — without any more specific information — that "Minnie the Moocher" involved the common American definition of mooch, e.g. from the American Heritage Dictionary

    transitive v. To obtain or try to obtain by begging; cadge.
    transitive v. To steal; filch.
    intransitive v. To get or try to get something free of charge; sponge: lived by mooching off friends.
    n. One who begs or cadges; a sponge.

    For moucher the Century Dictionary has the charming definition

    n. One who lives a semi-vagabond life, selling water-cresses, wild flowers, blackberries, and other things that may be obtained in country places for the gathering.

    So maybe Minnie, the "low down hoochie coocher" (= erotic dancer) was a sort of urban version of this — or more likely, just a plain old moocher, as in these entries from (the 1864 edition of) John Camden Hotten's The slang dictionary; or, the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and "Fast" Expressions of High and Low Society:

    Green' Dictionary of Slang gives mooch v. the senses "to pilfer, to steal"; "to walk, to go, to amble along"; "to beg, to sponge, to cadge"; "to loaf around"; "to live as a tramp"; "to take"; "to enter surreptitiously".

    There's a lot of drug-related slang in "Minnie", as this page explains; but I haven't found any explanation of "moocher" in such discussions.

    I think that these various meanings are all related — some alleged etymologies:

    Middle English mowchen, probably from Old French muchier, to hide, skulk. (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

    From Middle English moochen, mouchen, michen ("to pretend poverty"), from Old French muchier, mucier, mucer ("to skulk, hide, conceal"), from Old Frankish *mukjan ("to hide, conceal oneself"), from Proto-Germanic *mukjanan, *mukōnan (“to hide, ambush”), from Proto-Indo-European *meug-, *meuk- (“to slip, slide”). Cognate with Old High German mūhhōn ("to store, cache, plunder"), Middle High German muchen, mucken ("to hide, stash"). (Wiktionary)

    There's also Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche".]

  20. Michael Watts said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    Thanks, that was quite interesting.

  21. Mike Briggs said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

    The Indiana city is probably Eedenburg. Incidentally, why is it Eddenbruh in Scotland but Duneeden?

  22. chips mackinolty said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    @ Stuart and @ MYL.

    Although pretty dated, older Australians would understand the "cadging" notion of "mooch", as in "mooching a cigarette"; far more likely these days would be the term to "bludge" a cigarette, that is to take a smoke from someone without any necessary intention to repay the favour. It's not necessarily an adverse notion: "Can I bludge a smoke from you?" is an entirely affectionate and casual question, even between strangers, and certainly more honest than the egregious "can I borrow a cigarette?".

    However, the term "bludger" is an unrelievedly negative one, as in "dole bludger", "he's a bludger at work", for example.

  23. Eric P Smith said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    @Mike Briggs: As an Edinburgh (Scotland) man, I would encourage the pronunciation /ˈɛdɪnˌbʌrʌ/ rather than /ˈɛdɪnˌbrʌ/. The speech sample at Wikipedia, Edinburgh, is in a Scottish, possibly Edinburgh, voice. The speaker pronounces the /d/ with a nasal release, which is quite usual.

  24. RobertL said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    The use of the term "our kid" is confusing too, because it always refers to the youngest of the family, no matter who is using it.

    For example, I once heard Noel Gallagher of Oasis talking about "our kid" and had to explain to my wife that he meant his younger brother (and band mate) Liam – not his own child.

  25. John Swindle said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 10:08 pm

    Edinburg , Texas, is said to have been named in honor of a local resident who came from Scotland.

  26. Alan Palmer said,

    December 8, 2014 @ 10:56 am

    I agree with Stuart Brown's statement that 'mooch' can mean to wander about without a particular purpose. I've heard it used in that way, and quite likely have used it myself. I don't know if it's a specifically Northern thing, though. I'm a middle-class Londoner, born and bred.

    When I first listened to Cab Calloway's 'Minnie the Moocher' I assumed that this was the meaning and it was about a woman who wandered aimlessly, a sort of hobo.

  27. Stan Carey said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    Dr Katie Edwards has an article in the UK Telegraph today about being ridiculed in academia for her Mexborough accent.

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