Northern dialects, including Yorkshire, are holding their own against Southern invaders, say University of York researchers.

They have been working with others from Lancaster University and New York University, studying 14,000 native English speakers and comparing how they talk with findings from similar studies 70 years ago.

The research by the University of York, Lancaster University and New York University involved surveying over 14,000 native English speakers and comparing how they speak today with findings from similar studies 70 years ago.

The survey looked at how people answered questions on how they spoke when they were aged 4-13, the age when we acquire language and develop how we talk.

The researchers found how we pronounce the vowel in ‘cut’ or ‘foot’ was changing, with people in the Midlands increasingly pronouncing it the southern way.

Furthermore, they also found a ‘surprising’ number of speakers now adopt a southern pronunciation of these words- possibly led by younger speakers who left the North to attend university.

The study also reveals that while southern dialects are generally becoming more widespread, a few northern pronunciations are also now spoken across a wider area than before.

Dr George Bailey, from the University of York’s Department of Language and Linguistic Science and one of the authors, said: “Dialect is a crucial part of people’s identity and although we are seeing some loss of distinctiveness, it’s unlikely to be lost completely, even as people become more mobile. In fact, the movement of some populations may underpin the spread of some dialect forms to new areas.”

In the 1950s, speakers for whom the words ‘fur’ and ‘bear’ rhyme were mainly found in Merseyside and in the Midlands. The new survey found that, while this form is no longer found in the Midlands, it persists in Merseyside and has also emerged around Hull and Hartlepool.

Whether speakers pronounce the ‘g’ in both ‘finger’ and ‘singer’ is another key dialect marker, with a silent ‘g’ in singer now the most common form. In the 1950s, speakers who articulated the ‘g’ in both words were mainly in the North West of England and the West Midlands. The new survey found that this pronunciation is spreading beyond its traditional limits, into Herefordshire, Preston, the Ribble Valley, and Nottinghamshire. 

Similarly, the survey found that the use of ‘lolly ice’ rather than ‘ice lolly’, thought to be exclusively found in Liverpool, is now common across North Wales as well.

Dr Bailey added: “Although there has been some loss of distinctive elements between different forms of English over the last 70 years, our research confirms that the UK has retained much of its rich variety of language. I don’t think there’s any risk of us all sounding the same any time soon.”

Earlier this summer, North Yorkshire libraries staged events on Yorkshire language and dialect across the county.