An accent’s worth a thousand words

Megan Petersen ’15Copy Editor

He is probably most famous on campus for his “Ulysses” Core II, his love of the Oxford English Dictionary, and his two adorable children whom he brings to Wednesday Tea each week. But Tony Crowley is less known for one of his most important characteristics: he’s from Liverpool.

The Scripps College Hartley Burr Alexander Chair in the Humanities recently penned and published a book that is, in some ways, as much about himself as it is about his hometown. “Scouse: A Social and Cultural History,” which was released this fall in Europe and will come out sometime next year in the U.S., is a history of the city in the context of its dialect.

Liverpool English, called Scouse, has its own unique history. “There’s no accent like it. There’s no dialect like it,” Crowley said, explaining how Scouse has been influenced by immigrants from Ireland and other places over the years, and includes words not used outside of Liverpool. The book is about words (which is no surprise, if you ever have taken a class with Crowley), but he also problematizes the urban legends and stories he grew up with, sometimes proving them, sometimes disproving them.

“I miss Liverpool a lot,” said Crowley, who grew up in the Dingle area of the city and left at the age of 17 to study at Oxford. He said he hasn’t lived in the city full-time since then, and this has given him a critical distance from which to analyze his hometown. “I never would have written the book if I’d lived in Liverpool.”

Liverpool was a major port for Britain during the colonial era, and within a century became one of the poorest cities in Europe. Since Scouse is directly associated with Liverpool, the dialect is also associated with working-class people and is sometimes looked down upon in Britain. Crowley said that, according to studies, Britons tend to look less kindly upon people with Scouse accents in the hiring process, but are more likely to describe “Scousers” as friendly and kind. But that’s a fairly recent development, he added. Liverpool was the center of popular culture just 50 years ago, with many artists and famous musicians (like The Beatles) located in Liverpool, so Scouse was a much more popular dialect to speak.

In spite of some prejudice its citizens face, Liverpool is rich in culture and tradition. “People have a very strong sense of being from Liverpool and being proud of being from Liverpool,” Crowley said.

This pride can sometimes be problematic, though. “Nostalgia is often a form of misremembering,” he said. “If you look it up in the OED, there’s two forms of nostalgia....We think nostalgia means remembering a time, but the older sense of nostalgia means, actually, remembering a place.”

And would he like to instill the Liverpool identity in his kids? His book is dedicated to them, he said, in the hopes that they can read it and someday understand the city where he grew up. They wear Liverpool t-shirts and they watch Liverpool Football Club games as a family. But Crowley joked that he can’t get them to wear shoes, so they often don’t. “They’re California kids,” he said.