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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday January 17, 2005


Demystifying dialect - can you understand the local twang?

"Ey up mi duck" is a popular greeting in the East Midlands. But talking to native East Midlanders in their distinctive dialect can be a mesmerising experience for outsiders.

It's often hard to pick up the twang in the voice or that strange turn of phrase.

But the East Midlands takes great pride in its distinctive dialect as Inside Out finds out on a linguistic tour of the region.

Ey up mi duck!

The East Midlands is renowned for its distinctive dialects from the Derbyshire drawl to Nottingham's no-nonsense style of talking.

East Midlands Dialect

Test your knowledge of Midlands dialect:

  • Ay (or ey) up mi duck - hello there!
  • Aya gorra weeya? - is the wife with you?
  • It's black uvver Bill's mother's - it looks like rain
  • Coggie - swimming costume
  • Croaker - doctor
  • Duck's necks - bottle of lemonade
  • Gorra bag on - in a bad mood
  • Laropped - drunk
  • Nesh - cold
  • Old cock - friend or mate
  • Page owl - single woman out alone at night
  • Skants - pants
  • The rally - the railway line
  • Thiz summat up wee im - I think he may be ill
  • Who's mashing? - who's making the cups of tea

Despite the fading of old traditions and huge shifts in how we communicate globally, it appears that dialect and accents are still going strong in the East Midlands.

Much of the dialect developed in rural communities and in the industrial heartlands of the region.

Mining communities in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire were renowned for their use of dialect.

At a time when regions are losing some of their traditional dialect, the East Midlands is keen to retain its cultural identity and linguistic style.

Although some words are dying out, East Midlanders are keen to celebrate their local language.

Proud and loud

In Lincolnshire local people are going back to the classroom to reclaim their linguistic roots.

Women chatting
Read my lips... students grapple with Lincolnshire words

Wragby Community Centre runs weekly classes where students learn to speak in the true Lincolnshire tongue.

Words like "sneck" (a metal hook), "blather" (mud on clothing) and "dowking" (wilting vegetation) were dying out, but not now.

Loretta Rivett has a life-long passion for the Lincolnshire Wolds and its language.

She runs the ten week course and makes audio recordings of quirky Lincolnshire terms, such as "wozzle" (root vegetable), "noggin'" (lump of land) and "gimmer" (a ewe which has never given birth).

Lost for words?

Rivett partly blames tractors and modern farm machines for the demise of the Lincolnshire dialect.

When the machines replaced horses, many words and terms associated with the animals became redundant.

It's also a distinctive dialect, "The accent is different to the East Midlands generally. The Lincolnshire accent can be divided into four areas that local folk would know if they heard you."

Old tractor
New farming methods have led to the loss of dialect

She also blames the moving population and "frim folk" (people from other areas) who have come into the county.

This has resulted in a mixture of voices and the dilution of the Lincolnshire dialect.

The course encourages the enjoyment of the local Lincolnshire dialect by looking at dialect poems and tales, reminiscing, and examining the changes that take place in a language.

By the end of the course you'll know where you would find a "corsie", an "uneppen owd boy" and "some reasty baacon".

Read all about it

Loretta Rivett is joined in her campaign by staff at Lincolnshire Life magazine who print a story in dialect every month.

Although incomprehensible to outsiders, the articles aim to encourage local people to retain their interest in a distinctive way of speaking.

Judy Theobald, the Editor of the magazine, believes it is important to celebrate the local dialect.

"The dialect is as much part of the County's heritage as its geography, its architecture and its wildlife," she says.

Derbyshire dialect delight

The farmers of Derbyshire are proud of retaining their heritage, and are keen to preserve their local dialect.

At the weekly cattle market in Bakewell the local dialect is kept going largely as a result of the town's isolation from big city living.

Dennis Skinner
Derbyshire's Dennis Skinner MP is proud of his accent

But there are considerable local differences in dialect and accent across Derbyshire.

John Titford, a language expert points to the subtle variations, "As you get up to Sheffield, people sound more like Yorkshire.

"As you get across to New Mills and Glossop and Buxton, they sound more like Lancashire," says Titford.

Other features of Derbyshire dialect are:

  • the use of words like "thee" and "thou"'

  • the shortening of words for more economical speech

  • the use of very unusual words like "scratin'" (crying) deriving from old Norse or Viking

But employers aren't always as keen on dialect as the Derbyshire folk.

MP Dennis Skinner is proud of his accent, even though it may have cost him a job.

"I'm sure that I might have got into the Cabinet or whatever, but there again I would have had to have sold out in order to do that.

"I don't think that dialect is as important as what you stand for," says Skinner.

Centre of the English language?

The English written and spoken today owes its origins to a mix of the East Midlands and London dialects.

The East Midlands dialect was important because it came from the centre of the country and was intelligible to most people.

Great numbers of traders, pilgrims and others passed through towns such as Leicester and Nottingham.

Richard Attenborough
Leicester born Attenborough speaks standard English

During the 13th and 14th centuries, large numbers of East Midlanders migrated to London, in turn influencing the standard form of English.

The East Midlands dialect was a mixture of English and Scandinavian, with a smattering of French.

The impact of the Vikings can still be seen today in our version of English that was born on the borders of Mercia and Danelaw.

As Dr Elaine Treharne from Leicester University points out, "It is fair to say that the Queen's English has its roots in the towns of the Midlands as much as the palaces of Whitehall!"

Leicester's legacy

Leicester was recently declared the birthplace of modern standard English by some language experts.

Academics claim that the culturally diverse mix of settlers to the East Midland a thousand years ago helped to shape the future of the English language.

Anglo Saxons and Vikings lived side by side, sharing their customs and languages.

Gary Lineker
Leicester's famous Son Gary Lineker speaks for all of us

Today Leicester has one of the most culturally diverse populations in the country, with Asian and Afro-Caribbean influences now filtering through.

At the City of Leicester School the pupils of all backgrounds find themselves using Leicester dialect.

Traditional words like "my yard" (my house) and "chuddie" (pants) are in common usage, together with new expressions like "24/7" derived from popular culture.

This is then combined with words and expressions picked up from American culture and rap artists such as Eminen.

One student points to how each generation develops language, taking it on to the next stage, "You have to change with people. You have to change as your generation does."

Another student explains the range of influences for today's teenagers, "After you listen to the hip hop music, you just start using the language all the time."

Language of Lawrence

Nottingham is also renowned for its dialect and accent, and foreign nurses at the city's hospitals have trouble grappling with 'mi duck' and other expressions like "corshucan" (of course you can).

But the county has a long tradition of celebrating its dialect, especially in its literature.

Lady Chatterley scene
Lawrence's dialect shows class divides in Lady Chatterley's Lover

The great author DH Lawrence grew up in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, and is well known for his poems and writings which use local dialect.

DH Lawrence's Dialect Poems use the local lingo to give the reader a good picture of the local scene.

His poem The Drained Cup starts with the line "T' snow is witherin' off 'n th' gress", and ends with the observation, "Ay, it's a rum un!".

Many of Lawrence's novels use dialect. In his short story The Sick Collier he uses dialect to give the reader a better understanding of the industrial setting and the miner's social class.

Today Nottinghamshire folk still retain their distinctive dialect, although some traditional words are dying out.

Living voices

The BBC is carrying out a huge survey of how we speak, and how we react to different accents and phrases.

Called Voices, it involves a major survey of regional accents.

If you'd like to get involved click on the website or call our freephone number 0800 056 6787 for more information about how you can become part of history.

What is the most unusual word that you've been heard on the streets of the East Midlands?

Tell us some of your favourite words and phrases by responding on the form below. We'll publish a selection of your comments.

See also ...

Inside Out: East Midlands
Raleigh Bikes

On the rest of Inside Out
Geordie dialect
South East voices
Geordie Dialect
West dialect
Comedy accents

Devon dialect

Leicester's Legacy to the world?
Farm dialect under threat
Ay up me duck
Legacy of the Vikings

On the rest of the web
The English Association
Plain English Campaign
Universal Teacher
Whoo Hoo Translator
Language Varieties
Lincolnshire Life
Wragby and District Resource Centre

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

simon wilson
in west midalnds, quit ya belly-aching means stop moaning

Wilf Webster
Oo-woshi-wi, woshi wiyim or woshi wier sen? Who accompanied the lady in question? Was she with her marital partner or was she alone? Shin tin! The lady of the house is not at home! Gie ovver blartin! Please stop crying! Thart gooin rahnd Wahsup to get ter Mansfild! The route which you are proposing is somewhat circuitous! Put wood in thole! Please close the door! (please note that "the" is aspirate and implied and should not be abbreviated to the Yorkshire style of "t'". The extended version of the last example above is put (the) wood in (the) hole) Joe cum frum Bozer? Are you a resident of the constituency of Mr. Dennis Skinner? Nerw, am frum 'Eath! No, My member of parliament is Mr. Harry Barnes! Joe cum frum Wahsup? It seems that you are in the habit of leaving doors open. Giz a chew a yer sprigger. I would appreciate a piece of your spearmint chewing gum.

i think accents r cool and a good way to tell where people come from. i'm from London. i have a very clear london accent i've lived there all my life. now when i go into a shoop i's more likely to have people not from London with London accents. i think London is losing it's accents.

Bev Blackman
In Manchester, as a child I was used to hearing people refer to someone as 'mard' or mardy if they were soft or daft. My husband who is from London had never heard of this. Something good was often 'beltin' and my Gran called her dustbin a 'midden'. After tea was over we would 'side' the table (clear things away).

Ken Hopkins. Morley, Derby
I publish a small twice-yearly magazine for the former students of Heanor Grammar School (established 1893). The magazine goes around the world and has a circulation of four hundred copies. We have a regular feature 'Ey-up Mi-duck' and old students send in recollections of the dialect referred to in your programme Inside Out. "Gerront causey" (get on the pavement), Shurrup scratin yer mardarse" (Stop crying you baby) being two recent examples which came from an 'Old Heanorian', resident in Spain, who remembers the language from his schooldays sixty years ago. The dialect was, in my opinion, nowhere more in use than in the then mining village of Horsley Woodhouse (Ossly Wuduss), near Heanor (Ayna)in the nineteen hundreds, although with the influx of 'outsiders' it is becoming diluted. I have always associated the dialect with the coal mining industry, particularly along the Derbyshire/ Nottinghamshire border, and I also have come across it in mining areas in other parts of the country, brought about, I assume, by the migration of coal miners. We have a thriving Old Students Association, the best in the country it has been said! For many years twice yearly reunion lunches have been held in Heanor, and are still, with demand often exceeding the available two hundred places available.. We have recently been allowed the use of the old school hall, which really brings the memories flooding back. The former Grammar School is now part of the South East Derbyshire College of Further Education, but the layout of the school has changed very little since it was rebuilt in 1912. The first School Magazine was published in 1909 and I have a copy of every issue up to the last one which was 1974 when the school ceased to be a Grammar School. The only time that it wasn't produced was in the years between 1914 and 1918. The Heanorian, which I now edit, is a clone of the old school magazines and students who contributed to those, many years ago, now contribute to the new one. Only today I have received an article from a lady who was at the school between 1923 and 1928. (she is 93 years old!). The new magazine began life three and a half years ago and Issue No. 7 is due back from the printers this week. It has bought former students back in touch with each other, sometimes after a period of fifty and more years and as its reputation has spread. not only has the circulation increased, but the amount of material (articles, photographs, programmes etc from the old days) which comes to me out of the blue has similarly multiplied. As a medium term project we are also planning to produce a history of the school from its beginning in 1893 up to recent times. Ah'll sithee agen. Ken Hopkins

Roy Fletcher
In Nottingham a swimming costume has always been known as a COSSIE and not a coggie. Another well known saying ia "stop yer mythering" meaning - stop whingeing or complaining.

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