Sound and vision blog

05 May 2016

Jamie Vardy: I bet he ain't mardy ... dilly dong dilly dong

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

In the immediate aftermath of Leicester City's incredible achievement in securing their first Premier League title, I thought of this BBC Voices Recording with Foxes fans in 2004. This conversation will underline to all football fans quite what Leicester City have achieved, but equally importantly it celebrates another previously underestimated East Midland cultural phenomenon: the Leicester dialect. In what has been rightly acknowledged as a concerted team effort, Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kanté have nonetheless been singled out for special praise. By way of tribute I'd like to select 3 items of Leicester dialect from this recording for the British Library's dialect team of the season:

  1. the word mardy [= 'moody, sullen, grumpy, spoilt, esp. of  child']
  2. the local pronunciation of the word Leicester (and other words ending in <-er>)
  3. the bare infinitive (e.g. do you want  _ play football)

The sheer number of contributors who wanted to ensure mardy was included in the British Library's WordBank - a user generated audio archive of vernacular English - testifies to the continued vitality of this much-loved dialect term. Recorded in the OED from 1874 and categorised as 'regional, chiefly north', several contributors claimed it is exclusively a Leicester word, but it actually occurs over a wide area of the North and Midlands. As a Sheffield lad I suspect it will be extremely familiar to Jamie Vardy and, as you now hear youngsters all over the world singing along to Arctic Monkeys’ 2004 single ‘Mardy Bum’, this nineteenth-century dialect word now probably enjoys international currency. Nonetheless its heartland is the East Midlands as confirmed by this WordBank contributor, who describes wonderfully how much the word epitomises her Leicester identity:

C1442X2502 MARDY

An instantly recognisable feature of the Leicester accent is the tendency to use a much stronger vowel - almost like the <o> sound in the word lot - on words that end in <-a> such as comma or <-er> such as letter. This is a highly distinctive pronunciation that provides a clear contrast with broad local speech in the West Midlands where such words are typically realised with a final <a> sound – thus better ('betta') in Birmingham but better ('betto') in Leicester. Indeed locals are often caricatured as referring to their home town as e.g. Loughborough ('lufbro') or Leicester ('lesto') as demonstrated convincingly by a contributor to the British Library's VoiceBank - a collection of recordings created by visitors to the Library’s ‘Evolving English’ exhibition in 2010/11. Prompted to provide detailed information about where his accent came from one contributor simply supplied the response Leicester:

C1442Xuncatalogued Leicester

Finally, in Standard English modal verbs combine with a bare infinitive to create an infinitive phrase – e.g. I can read and we might come. This also applies to a small set of verbs (e.g. feel, hear, help, let, make, see and watch) when combined with a direct object – she watched him fall or we heard them shout, but other verbs and adjectives require a to-infinitive – e.g. she decided to drive or we are happy to help. In East Midlands English bare infinitives extend to all environments and are especially common with use [= ‘be accustomed’] and want, as in I used _ think we'd lose. By extension many speakers also favour zero habitual to - i.e. the preposition to is deleted with common destinations such as I'm gonna go _ King Power. There are numerous examples in this BBC Voices Recording with Leicester fans, including:

they kept us inside for fifteen minutes after the game and all we want _ do was go to the coaches which were right over the road

there’s a lot more women who go _ football now I mean I think women know more about football than men anyway

As a Sky Blues fan this is something I never thought I'd hear myself saying, but hats off to Leicester City and, more especially, to Leicester English: dilly dong dilly dong, as they may well say in Leicester for many years to come.