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expert Steve Birks.
(images courtesy of Past Track)
history of the Potteries dialectSteve
Birks, a Potter himself, and chronicler of the Stoke on Trent area, tells us about
the origins of the local dialect of North Staffordshire...
existence of dialects is not unique to the North Staffordshire area. In many areas
of the UK and indeed the world there are regional variations in the spoken word.
Listening to a broad Geordie, Liverpudlian or Potteries inhabitant will
leave the average eavesdropper baffled. In China the dialect spoken by those living
in Shanghai is almost impossible to understand by other Chinese speakers. The
Potteries way of talking is another such dialect.
language scholars say that the Potteries dialect derives down from Anglo-Saxon
For example the local word Nesh meaning soft, tender, or to easily
get cold is derived from the early English, nesc, nescenes. The local
word Slat meaning to throw, is from the old English slath,
Language, especially the spoken word, continually changes (hence the now annual
round of additional words to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary).
Ward, in his book The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent published in 1843,
recalls A Burslem Dialogue which took place in the market place in
1810. Although Ward wrote only some 30 odd years later he felt the need to explain
the meaning of such Potteries words as mewds (moulds), kale
(being called upon in order, first, second
.), heo (she), shippon
are even variations within a region, and it used to be that the dialect was broader
and more obvious in "Tunster" (Tunstall, the most northerly of the Six
Towns) and less pronounced in the more refined Neck End (Lane End or Longton,
the most southerly).
Pottery in Longton|
Its interesting as a sideline to note that in the six Potteries towns,
the broader the dialect - the coarser the product manufactured. For example, Tunstall
had a preponderance of brick manufacturers, the other towns largely produced earthenware
and stoneware; with Longton having the most china potworks.
that there used to be two main occupations in North Staffordshire the pits
or the pots meant that people of these specific social classes spent most
of their days in close proximity with people with the same way of speaking. This
helped to reinforce and preserve the dialect.
Where does 'duck' come
Firstly the word duck (a term of greeting, for
man or woman) has nothing at all to do with the winged bird of the same name!
said to find its origin in the Saxon word ducas which was meant as
a term of respect; similar to the Middle English duc, duk
which denotes a leader, commander; from which comes the title Duke
and the Old French word ducheé - the territory ruled by a Duke.
From these origins it became a greeting and then a term of endearment.
This use of duck as a greeting is not
restricted to the Potteries; although the use here is very common. It is still
used an many parts of what was Mercia.
Even though they have very different
dialects from the Potteries the greeting is used in the Black Country, in Derbyshire,
as far east as Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire. In Yorkshire the main term of
greeting is luv but in Sheffield, which is close to the Yorkshire
Derbyshire boarder the greeting Ey up mi duck can be heard.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare uses the phrase O dainty
Ducke: O Deere! as a term of endearment.
Many of the differences
of a dialect compared with standard English are to do with grammar and pronunciation.
Even though a dialect can be difficult to follow, with a little care and patient
the average person can work out what is being said.
However many dialects
have words that are unique to a particular area and the speaker would not know
what the word meant if used in isolation. The greeting duck is an
There are other words which are
unique to the Potteries and surrounding area such as:-
meaning friend as in Ay up surry, ars biznes?
Hello friend, hows business? - (as Arnold Bennett noted in his short story
His worship the goosedriver, in the Potteries business takes the place
of weather as a topic of salutation).
(also spelt sirrah or surrie) is derived from an obsolete form of sir used
as a form of greeting or address yes sir how are you,
sir it gained an extra syllable ah when spoken in general
conversation and became sirrah.
outside the Leopard pub in Burslem|
in That wer a farrantly mon - that was a good man. Farrantly means
good and amiable; a worthy person.
Brazzle as in Hard
as brazzle - either hard (as opposed to soft) or hard-faced. Brazzle were
hard iron pyrites nodules found during the mining of the Black bank Ironstone
Clemmed short of food, starving. Derived
from a Norse word meaning press, squeeze; then to
pinch as hunger or fasting does; to waste with hunger, starve. From these
origins it was used in general conversation to mean very hungry, just as people
today will say Im starving or Im famished.
As we enter the 21st Century, certainly the
use of a broad dialect is not heard amongst the general population of the area.
The ease of travel, the movement of people from one area to another, the
influence of "standard English" on radio and television and the uniformity
of teaching have all contributed to the dilution of dialects.
However visitors from outside immediately notice that Potteries folk do have a
different accent and a strange way of speaking; sometimes we have
to repeat our selves or speak slowly to be understood. This shows that the dialect
is still present in everyday conversation. There is also a growing interest in
preserving, reading about and speaking dialects.
John Ward, in his book, noted that the Potteries dialect was now almost
banished by the schoolmasters assiduous care. Well the dialect may have
softened and changed but it is still alive and kicking a bit like
th bo agin th wo.
What to listen for
presence of an accent and dialect can be seen by these three things:
Firstly a method of pronunciation which is unique to a restricted geographic area,
for example in the Potteries the vowel O followed by an L is pronounced OW
as in towd (told), owd (old), cowd (cold), gowd (gold).
Secondly a localised
difference in the intonation or meter of a sentence. Its difficult for the
person who lives in the locality to notice this because everyone speaks in the
same manner. However listen to the slow drawl of the Southern States of America
or the high-pitched twang of the Birmingham / Dudley area and you immediately
know what I mean.
Thirdly there are words that are particular to that
area, or sometimes a couple of areas. These words are not present in Standard
English, you can tell by spell checking them in a word processor.
example Sneap or sneep as in to snub or upset appears
to be local to the Potteries and a fried of mine from Sheffield, which has a dialect
all of its own, had no idea what I was talking about.
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