There is an English mainstream which is understood throughout the world, with minor misunderstandings. Conservatism is found in low speech: sheep farmers, miners, children’s rhymes. Local agriculture-based dialects are now rare; the Survey of English Dialects in the 1930s (Leeds Uni) compiled numerous ways of describing the parts of a horse-drawn plough, such as swingle trees.
Some manufacturing processes such as charcoal making or glass blowing stayed the same over decades or centuries and developed their own vocabulary, though it may travel with them if they found new sources of raw materials.
The mainstream of Middle English came through Mercian and the East Midlands. Northumbrian English was never well integrated into Alfred’s kingdom, but is alive and well in Scots and various North-East dialects.
West Saxon disappears
The Winchester-based dialect disappeared after the Norman conquest. Rural West Country accents retain rhoticity and the beon form. Rhoticity persists in the USA but is retreating in England.
Modern Forest of Dean speech is noticeable for curious voicing “vorest”, “zandztoon”.
Forest consonants often leads to Malapropisms, according to Morgan:
“Im ‘ad ‘iz appendages removed – jus’ a’ter the General Erection it wer.”
“I be gwain to git Garge a pup ver ‘iz birthdoy, one o thoy zpotty damnations.”
Recall that /s/ & /z/, /f/ & /v/ were allophones in Old English but became phonemic in Middle English.
Coal mine conservatism
Mining developed for copper then tin. The miners on the Great Orme 3,00 years ago were five year olds! Collecting lumps of coal to heat a home was already established in the middle ages, long before it had any industrial value. In fact peasants were sometimes fined for gathering coal and disrupting the landlord’s crops. The development of energy-intensive processes such as glass-blowing and smelting was initially met by charcoal, as coal burnt at too low a temperature. Steel required great heat, which was met by coke. Here are some of the words used in coal mines.
gob mouth; from worked gap in coal-face; it had to be sealed- ‘shut the gob’.
butty workmate; this was used by Forest of Dean miners; later an unpowered canal barge
“Ow bist thee awld butty? Ow’s yer acker cuttin’?”
snap lunch; bait in the Lakes
vug a Cornish word for a fissure, used in Lakes slate quarries
Speech from traditional industries in the Potteries, Nottingham, Clee Hill, Cannock, Gloucester and Shropshire may have features which have disappeared from standard English
Children’s words can also preserve old forms. In San Francisco a skipping rhyme recalls the aviator Lincoln Beachey , an amazing pilot who pioneered recovery from a spiral nose dive. He met his end in 1915 when the wings fell off his plane. He is largely forgotten now, except when children sing this jump-rope rhyme :
Lincoln Beachey thought it was a dream
To go up to Heaven in a flying machine.
The machine broke down and down he fell.
Instead of going to Heaven he went to…
Potteries lore and language of school children is in these words recorded by Alan Povey.
bosted ugly, though means broken in neighbouring dialects
cob also ‘strop’; a tantrum or being in a bad mood
crogging to cheat at shotties by moving closer
peedy small marble
bucker a dare, usually jumping canals; buckered -to have failed a dare;
thadge a lot
smidge a little bit
fridging rubbing or causing you to itch
Persistence of thou
English used to have “thou” and “ye” pronouns as well as the general purpose “you”. This persisted longest in religious communities, but is still audible in Potteries speech.
dust do you want?
ow at ner how you doing?
dust ayer? Dost thou hear?
I cost, cost thay? I can, can thee?
dunna they be facey. Don’t be cheeky.
dunna fash thesen if thee conna.
costna kick a bo agen a wo an ed eet wiv yed and bost eet
can you kick a ball against the wall, and head it with your head and burst it
ow at – how are you
wot you on – what are you doing
arm as dry as a larm burner’s clog
Heavy Onset syllables
What is distinctive about Potteries speech? Alan Povey was insisting on its syllables when he used the title “Arfur Tow Crate in Staffy Cher”.
When transcribed phonetically, (ignoring “arfur”) it is: “tɔː kreɪt i stæf fiː tʃɜː”
Syllables are built around a vowel, called the nucleus. A variable number of consonants come before it, called the onset. Finally comes the coda, which tends to trail off and is often used for rhymes. The graphic shows these three parts.
The “maximal onset principle (Selkirk, 1982) says that any consonants in between vowels should be assigned to the following syllable. Povey is insisting that heavy onset is essential for Potteries speech, even if it means breaking up words in an unusual way. This is why his title is difficult to read for non-dialect speakers.
Black Country has a stress pattern that prefers to finish on a rising VC.
“School” becomes “skoo-ul” at the end of a sentence. Some accents of Eastern Australia also do this.
Elision in dialects
In rapid speech sounds may be dropped, making it difficult for outsiders to understand local dialects. French changed during the revolution to lower-class Parisian speech, wirh many endings elided.
h-dropping is usual in most low speech (though not in Geordie). In Black Country it is almost absent, unless the speaker has no choice, e.g. “ship ahoy”. This is a great contrast with Anglo-Saxon, We now find it hard o say an /h/ before another consonant, so Old English “hwat” and “hwere” are difficult, and the three /h/ sounds of PIE are really difficult. wom is easier to say than “‘home”
gorra laugh Changing /t/ to /r/ is very strong in Scouse, but is also found in the West Midlands.
jed “Dead” can be pronounced Jed”; the voiced stop /d/ becomes a voiced affricate)
worro bab, ah thowt yow wuz jed” is a Potteries and in this Black Country greeting
Shropshire contractions are some of the most extreme. Georgina Jackson in 1879) recorded “death” pronounced “jeth”, “scratch” collapsed into “scrat”, and “must not” collapses to “munna”. The village signposted as Ratlinghope is pronouced like “ratchup” locally.
Jackson gives a butcher showing agricultural implements, and a near-drowning:
“Yo seemen to know summat about ‘em Ma’am. I could sho yo a ‘noud-fashioned tool sich as I dar say yo never si’d afore”
“I eard a scrike ma’am an’ I run an’ theer I sid Frank ad pecked i’ the bruck an douked under an’ wuz drowndin’ an’ I jumped after ‘im an’ got out on ‘im an’ lugged ‘im on to the bonk all sludge an’ I got ‘im wham afore our Sam comen in.”