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29 October 2014

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The Voices Recordings

About this interview
Travelling showmen and women Travelling show men and women talk about their own dialect, which they sometimes use to exclude others, as well as the word 'chav' which, to them, means a child.

Rebecca Scarrott, Mark Whayman, Jason Hill, Shadrack (Shady) Scarrott, Philip (Guy) Evans,

Click on names to find out more about the participants.

Relationship of interviewees: Members of travelling show community

Where: Talbot Green, Rhondda Cynon Taf

Language of interview: English
About this interview
Voice clip 1
The group talk about the showmen's language which is foreign to others, or people outside the business who are 'flatties'.

Voice clip 2
The showpeople's group discuss the word 'chav' - or 'chavvy' - which to them, means a child. They discuss the variations in language across the country or 'stage' dialect and how they use it some times so that others cannot understand them. They discuss 'It's nae', or 'nanty' which means 'don't do it'.

More clips from this interview

Rebecca Scarrott, Retired travelling show person
Rebecca says the showman's accent is mixed because they soak up all sorts of dialects and ways of speaking from all over the UK.

Philip (Guy) Evans, Travelling showman
Guy talks about the way he talks, which he thinks is a showman's accent, and how he communicates with other people in his line of business.
Interview's notes

Long description of interview: The interview took place in Becky and Shady Scarrott's caravan in Talbot Green. They are both from fairground showmen's families and have made Talbot Green their winter home for the last 50 years. They have been travelling showpeople all their lives, but are now in the 80s and have retired. They were joined by three young men - all members of the Showman's Guild and all from old travelling families and continue with that life themselves. Becky and Guy contributed the most, but the whole group were very responsive as a whole. They were interested in their own showmen's slang and gave many examples.

Recorded by: Anita Morgan, Radio Wales

Date of interview: 2005/01/24
Interview's notes

Jonnie Robinson, Curator, English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive, writes:

These speakers talk about the special language used among show folk. The use of seemingly mysterious secret languages, such as children's codes, theatre-speak, butcher's back-slang, polari (a language that was once extremely common among the gay population of the UK) and even Cockney Rhyming Slang in its original form illustrates the need among certain groups for a means of communication that sends out a strong signal of membership to the initiated, while excluding those outside the target group. Show folk with their strong historical links to the gypsy and traveller community often use words or expressions of Romany origin to communicate among themselves as confirmed here.

The Romany word chavi means child, but as Rebecca explains here it has more recently been adopted across the country to refer to young people who typically dress in tracksuit trousers, hooded tops, and checked baseball caps and are generally regarded with disapproval due to their perceived boisterous, disruptive behaviour and self-assured manner. In fact the word chav has been in use for some time in parts of the UK - most notably in the Medway towns in Kent - as a derogatory term for gypsy and as is quite common with terms of disapproval its meaning has been extended such that it's now more often applied to another group that's viewed with equal suspicion. The word has recently achieved national recognition in a remarkably short space of time, probably due to media interest and the emergence of a number of popular websites devoted to such light-hearted pursuits as 'celebrity chav-spotting'.

The other words cited here are also of Romany origin: kushti means good, fine or nice; nanti means don't, no or not; dik in the phrase dik at that means look; jaul means go and pogger as in pogger him means beat or break. As with the word chav, some of these words have been adopted into more mainstream slang - nanti is widely used in polari, for instance, and kushti, often anglicised in print to cushty is extremely widely used and has indeed been popularised by its use by such well-known figures as the character Del Boy Trotter in the BBC sit-com Only Fools and Horses and the celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver. It's not surprising, however, that words used among the traveller community have been absorbed into regional and national slang, as by definition they have a roaming presence across the UK and thus take their language with them wherever they go.

The grammar of several English dialects exhibits a number of non-standard features. The construction here if we was in company and, like, we was in a group with ourselves is unmarked for person. In many dialects across the UK speakers mark the past tense of to be by saying I was, you was, he, she and it was, we was and they was, whereas speakers of other dialects differentiate by using you were and we and they were. The non-standard pattern is in fact more regular and indeed mirrors the model for every other verb in English - consider I played, you played, I went, you went and so on. Finally the use of do in the statement it's just the way I do speak is a traditional feature of speech in parts of Wales and the English West Country. It's perhaps no longer as common among younger speakers, although it rather accurately expresses the idea of repeated or habitual action - something someone does on a regular basis.



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