2 2 10-19 2016

“Whey Aye My Good Sir”: Has Cheryl Fernandez-Versini’s Accent Moved from Tyneside English to RP?

Victoria Wallace


This article analyses the speech of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (nee Tweedy, formerly Cole), henceforth “Cheryl” , who experienced rapid geographical and socioeconomic mobility between 2002 and 2014. In 2002, Cheryl was a working-class 19-year-old from Newcastle Upon Tyne, north-east England. Since then, she has risen to fame on the talent show Popstars: The Rivals , in the girl band Girls Aloud , through her marriage to footballer Ashley Cole, and through her work as a judge on The X Factor , among other things. This paper seeks to analyse the effect this has had on her accent.

Four recordings between 2002 and the present day are analysed to discuss changes to her original Tyneside English (TE) accent, specifically through the changing phonetics of the FACE  and the GOAT  vowels. These changes are discussed in terms of both the TE speech community and Cheryl’s personal experiences. The  two vowels have traditional diphthongs in TE which are different from the diphthongs in Received Pronunciation (RP). However, these vowels have been found to be undergoing dialect levelling, with many TE speakers producing them as the monophthongs found in the rest of the North (Watt 2000, 2002). The paper therefore investigates whether Cheryl follows the pattern of other TE speakers or moves towards RP.

The recordings used are taken from online videos of interviews. The first time point studied is 2002, when Cheryl first rose to fame through Popstars: The Rivals , in which her GOAT  and FACE  vowels are shown to be the Northern monophthongs which have resulted from dialect levelling in TE. The intermediate time points studied are 2006 and 2011. In 2006, Cheryl was engaged to Ashley Cole and had been living and working in the south of England for 4 years. Both vowels move closer to RP in position but remain monophthongal. The 2011 recording is an interview in the US, during Cheryl’s brief career on American X Factor. The data for this time point are particularly interesting as the position of the vowels varies more, and the average position of both vowels does not fit the pattern of change, indicating style-shifting. The 2014 recording was the most recent interview of substantial length which could be found at the time of data collection. The analysis shows that Cheryl’s GOAT  vowel is significantly closer to RP than it was in 2002, despite remaining a monophthong, while her FACE  vowel appears to have become a diphthong as in RP.

The results show that Cheryl does undergo lifespan change in these two vowels, being closer to RP at the time of writing than in 2002. However, the two intermediate time points studied show that these vowels do not change in parallel, as predicted by Watt (2000). The intermediate time points, in particular the 2011 data, give support to the conclusions of Rickford and Price (2013) and Bowie (2009) that in order to fully understand data on lifespan change, intermediate time points and factors other than age must be taken into account.


lifespan change; intraspeaker variation; sociophonetics, UK English

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