THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

15 July 2013

TOWIE (talking of words in Essex)

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Tillingham, Ingatestone, Maldon (one with a group of schoolteachers, another with a group of bargemen) and Warley: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Essex. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a series of prompt words and in the case of Tillingham, Ingatestone and Maldon also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

The variety of voices belies the widely held, but frustratingly inaccurate, impression of uniform linguistic identity across the county. There are, perhaps inevitably, allusions to particular stereotypes, such as Essex man and Essex girl (both terms considered sufficiently established to warrant entries in the Oxford English Dictionary by the way) and to the spread of Estuary English but also - reflecting more accurately the true variety of arguably the most linguistically intriguing Home County - observations on the important distinction made by speakers in Tillingham between what they call London overspill [= urban Essex dialect] and carrot cruncher [= rural Essex dialect].

A brief selection of words and expressions clearly illustrates the geographical and sociolinguistic variation within the county. Compare a speaker in Tillingham recalling her father's phrase that's banging [= it's drizzling (the first syllable in banging rhymes with 'flange')] and a Maldon barge skipper acknowledging he's often fair shrammed [= cold] with the use by a speaker at Ingatestone Hall of expressions he ascribes to naval slang, such as Harry Redders [= hot], Harry Zonkers [= sleep] and Harry Roughers [= rough (weather)]. And how about the subtly different social signals captured in a Maldon schoolteacher's use of the modern all-purpose intensifier well [= very] in the phrase well chuffed, in contrast to an upper-class speaker's use in Ingatestone of  jolly [= very] in the phrase jolly damn close.

Underestimate Essex linguistically at your peril. As one lifelong resident of the Dengie hundred puts it:

0:52:02 everybody thinks that everyone if you live in Cornwall or Birmingham or Yorkshire you think that everybody who speaks in Essex we don't have any 'T's or aitches in our language which is a load of rubbish

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