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The Routes of English - BBC Radio 4
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Melvyn Bragg


Melvyn Bragg goes back to his home town of Wigton in Cumbria to see how English is developing - and how dialects are still spoken. He meets townspeople from all generations and walks of life, from octogenarian horse dealer Tommy Miller to local poet Mary Haslam.

Wigton, home to 5000 people, is about ten miles south of Carlisle. It's surrounded by farms and is still essentially part of the farming landscape that has been its destiny for a thousand years or more. Over those thousand years, Wigton has soaked up the talk of invaders, settlers and travellers to produce a rich loam of local language - as you can hear in the sound clips below.

You may need to download the free Real Player to hear the clips.

'Talking broad'
Tommy Miller, 83, a horse dealer and a true Wigtonian, discusses the way the locals speak. audio clip

The Northern way
Professor of Modern English at the University of Leeds and a specialist in the dialectal history of England, Katie Wales talks about the history of northern dialects. audio clip

A Nordic influence
The spoken English of Wigton is directly related to Old Norse, says Dr William Rollinson, lecturer at Liverpool Institute of Continuing Education and author of The Cumbrian Dictionary. audio clip

Generation game
George Johnston has been selling shoes in King Street for as long as most Wigtonians can remember (and his father before him)and now his own son George also serves behind the counter of the busy shop. Here they consider the generational differences in the way they speak. audio clip

The dialect remains today
Down at the UCB plastics factory, the idea of 'belonging' and 'home' embraces factories across Europe and the world. For these men on the line, to talk broad is old-fashioned, but notice how they still quite unselfconsciously say 'till' for 'to' - 'when they're talking till each other'. audio clip

Proud of my accent
Mary Heslam is a sheep farmer, with her husband William, on the edge of Wigton. Mary is another language enthusiast from the town and in her spare time she likes to write a regular column for the local newspaper and the occasional poem. She was stirred to compose this one by someone she met who thought the way Wigton people speak was - well - rather quaint. audio clip


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