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Manchester Voices launch celebrates accents, dialects and people of Greater Manchester

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By Emily Oldfield

A celebration of the accents, dialects and people of Greater Manchester is the focus of Manchester Voices – a project which celebrated a launch evening on 22nd June at Manchester Central Library.

The launch marked the opening to the public of various installations and exhibitions in the library where people can engage with accent in an interactive way. This followed a tour by the Manchester Voices team in a specially-designed Accents Van around ten boroughs in Greater Manchester, gathering public perceptions.

Manchester Voices is not just a physical exhibit, but an ongoing project which can be visited online and involves gathering public perceptions of accent, dialect and language change. People were encouraged to engage with social media over the course of the evening under the hashtag #MCRVoices.

The launch evening began with a wine reception in the library’s performance space and a line-up of guest speakers up until the official opening of the exhibition area at 7pm.

There was a special appearance from Lord Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham early in the evening. Andy emphasized the positivity of the project and also discussed his own accent and involvement:

“It’s not always popular here to say that yes, I was born in Liverpool,” he laughed. He also mentioned that as the family moved nearer to Manchester due to his father’s job, his accent changed – and it is the changeability of accent which was a key theme of the evening.

Introducing the project itself were Dr Rob Drummond and Dr Erin Carrie, two sociolinguists from Manchester Metropolitan University.  As organisers, they explained the motivation for Manchester Voices, including their interest in language change and the prejudices people have about accents. They also discussed the process of talking to the general public in the Accent Vans.

The Accent Vans involved inviting members of the public inside in various locations in the boroughs and asking them questions regarding perception of accents.

They also thanked the number of people and organisations who have made the ongoing nature of the project possible – including the staff at Manchester Libraries and in the Archives team, the researchers and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The academic context was followed with three speakers, all who celebrated dialect through poetry in very different ways. First to the public stage of the performance space was Jardel Rodrigues, a dub-poet from the Old Trafford area who delivered fast-paced spoken word inspired by rap and grime music. One of his pieces paid homage to this, in the form of ‘Grimeaholic’ – and he outlined themes of difficult childhoods, frustration and our ability to rise above.

Rodrigues was followed by Sid Calderbank who read a range of traditional dialect poetry, some dating back to the 19th century which Drummond introduced as: “And now for something completely different!”

Calderbank performed a number of pieces from the Rochdale-born poet Edwin Waugh, explaining that this man allowed himself both to become ‘a student and master of traditional dialect’ and included traditional Lancashire verses such as ‘Come whoam to thi childer an’ me’.

Headliner ‘Argh Kid’ followed, a Manchester poet making an impression on an international scale. Delivering poetry he has described as ‘Pub-Toilet Sink Realism’, he treated the audience to a selection of Manchester-influenced verses, including the poet’s own reflection on his childhood in Longsight and growing up in the area. He also talked about his connections to Christopher Eccleston, work with Manchester Tourist Board and new role as Poet Laureate at Kendal Calling 2017 – highlighting the growing popularity of spoken-word poetry.

The rousing performance from ‘Argh Kid’ was received with great warmth by the audience and was followed by Dr Drummond and Dr Carrie giving thanks and declaring the ‘Manchester Voices’ exhibition officially open to the public.

Attendees were then invited to interact with the exhibition, located in the library’s ground floor main exhibition space – containing video and audio clips in the ‘pod’ areas, providing documentary footage of public interaction with the Accent Vans. These interactions were gathered as the Manchester Voices team visited all ten Greater Manchester boroughs between 27th August and 1st September 2016.

Also on display via a digital board was a large interactive dialect map, created after locals were invited to draw shapes on a map of the region representing where they thought people spoke differently from each other. They were asked to describe the dialects with words and sounds that characterised them. This was also displayed in banner-form, with the boroughs outlined and the responses given.

‘Argh Kid’ said after his performance, “It was a great thing to be part of.” He also commented that delivering poetry in dialect was “the way it should be done, people respond to it.” Poet Jardell also remarked that he wanted to show that poetry could be “Cool… not just a boring activity associated with rich white men.”

The Manchester Voices exhibition is set to be open free to the public throughout the Summer and includes the opportunity for people to add their own views and experiences to the project. There was a book for people to leave their additions on launch night and also headphones so they could listen to audio feedback of others. Visitors are also encouraged to visit the website for more information on when the researchers themselves will be available to speak to in the library regarding the project, with dates to be announced.

You can find out more about Manchester Voices here and view our full gallery of images from the event below.

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