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The Routes of English - BBC Radio 4
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Liver Building, Liverpool


Import/Export

Melvyn Bragg visits Liverpool, home of Scouse, an Irish-based variant of northern English made famous by the Beatles and countless comedians. By the mid nineteenth century the port of Liverpool ranked second to London and became home to immigrants from all over the world, who imported many new words into English.

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Irish origins
During the nineteenth century, merchants from Scandinavia, the Middle and Far East settled in Liverpool. But it was the Irish, fleeing the Famine in the mid nineteenth century, who proved the most influential linguistically. They brought with them the language of Ireland along with their love of poetry and music. These combined with the local version of English to form a Liverpool dialect of their own, known as Scouse, which has now become synonymous with the city as Dr Gerry Knowles of Lancaster University explains. Sound

Liverpool and the slavery triangle
Liverpool has one of the oldest black communities, dating back to the eighteenth century - a shameful chapter in the city's history. It was a leading port in the three-way trade exporting goods to West Africa for slaves, who were then shipped to the West Indies in return for sugar. In more recent times immigrants from West Africa and the Caribbean have chosen to settle in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, bringing new expressions with them. Lawrence Westgaph explained to Melvin Bragg that the black community is not always aware of the origins of these words. Sound

Asian influence
There is a well-established Chinese community in the city dating back to the last century, when merchants arrived from all over the Far East and the subcontinent. Many Indian words have entered English from the colonial era and now Asian immigrants to Britain have evolved their own form of English, popularly known as Binglish. This is explored in the works of Jatinder Verma, Artistic Director of the London-based Tara Arts, who sees it as a sign of vitality. Sound


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