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137 posts categorized "Accents & dialects"

21 December 2020

Recording of the week: Sheffield’s pub carols, a secular tradition

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This week's selection comes from Andrew Ormsby, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Recorded by Ian Russell on Christmas Day 1974, in The Black Bull public house, Ecclesfield, Sheffield, this rousing rendition of ‘Six jolly miners’, followed by ‘Hark! Hark! What news’, captures the democratic and exuberant nature of the local ‘pub sing’, a tradition which goes back to the 19th century, and still thrives in certain pubs in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Map displaying view of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740
View of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740, taken from ‘The illustrated guide to Sheffield and the surrounding district etc.’, published Sheffield, 1879

The Sheffield carol tradition has its roots in reforms carried out by the Oxford Movement, an influential group of Victorian clergymen, whose attempts to make worship more serious resulted in a purge of certain carols, which were thought of as not really suitable for singing at Christmas. The village musicians, whose presence was no longer required in the west galleries of their parish churches, took the rejected carols to their local pubs, where they have remained ever since. The pub carols often feature different words and tunes to the more familiar Christmas repertoire, and there are variations from pub to pub and village to village. Each area is proud of its own tradition, and some have their own carols, often named after the location itself, such as ‘Stannington’, written in 1950 by Mina Dyson, who was the organist at the local church in that part of Sheffield.

Despite the subject matter, the fervour you can hear in these songs is really an expression of community spirit and uninhibited enjoyment, rather than an outpouring of religious feeling. In many of the recordings you can hear the clinking of glasses, the exchange of Christmas greetings, general pub chatter (including the odd swear word) and an atmosphere of communal enjoyment that rings out in every line. ‘Awake to joy and hail the morn’, sing the locals in the Black Bull, sounding like they’re about to raise the roof. It’s hard to listen without wanting to join in.

Recording of carol singing in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire 

Made by Ian Russell in 1974, as part of his research towards his Ph.D. thesis 'Traditional Singing in West Sheffield, 1970-1972', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute.

The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Ian Russell Collection (C331), documenting traditional English carol singing in the north of England from 1984, will also be digitised and readily available as part of this project.

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16 December 2020

British Library Sports Word of the Year 2020

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

In a move described as ‘unprecedented’ (a word we’re all too familiar with in 2020), the OED this year declined to nominate its Word of the Year choosing rather to provide a list of potential candidates. But, like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards (SPOTY), I shall adopt the principle of Dinner For One – a British film, barely known in the UK, but a much-loved New Year tradition in Germany – and follow the ‘same procedure as last year’ in selecting the unofficial British Library Sports Word of The Year (SWOTY). Although pandemic-inspired vocabulary dominated sports media coverage this year (I first spotted furlough in the Guardian Sports pages in March, biosecure bubble in June and Covid-ball in August, to name but a few), I’ve restricted this selection to terms that reflect sport’s more enduring appeal. So, here are the ten nominees for SWOTY 2020, selected from a review of words and phrases gleaned from mainstream broadcast and press coverage in the last twelve months:

January (Vic Marks of England batsman Dom Sibley, Guardian Sport): 'England fans do not wish to watch any more repeats of the Nicker of Sibley.'

January (David Conn on the increasing influence of betting companies in elite sport, Guardian Sport): 'Football supporters, including young people growing into their love of the sport and its heritage, now have gamblification intervowen with it.'

January (Jamie Jackson citing Kevin Parker’s frustrations at Manchester City supporters’ perceived indifference to the Champions League, Guardian Sport): 'He’s playing into the hands of the ‘Emptyhad’ critics.'

February (Pommie Mbangwa’s commentary as England reached a score against South Africa of 111-2, Sky Sports Cricket): 'Nelson for two.'

March (Tumaini Carayol of Brighton manager Graham Potter’s post-match reaction to securing a long-awaited point, Guardian Sport): 'I hope it’s the old ketchup effect.'

May (Andy Brassell on the resumption of Bundesliga fixtures, Guardian Sport): 'The phrase Geisterspielen (sic) is about to become part of international, rather than just German, football.'

June (Robert Kitson citing Lord Myner’s review of RFU plans to introduce a salary cap, Guardian Sport): 'I’m certainly not saying they fell at the Melling Road.'

June (Martin Tyler of some footballers reaction when presented with a goal-scoring opportunity, Sky Sports): '[like a] jigsaw he goes to pieces in the box.'

Photo of jigsaw puzzle in pieces
October (Jonathan Liew of the England men's manager’s attempts to boost player confidence, Guardian Sport): 'You can see why Southgate is so keen to pump their tyres.'

December (Vic Marks of own final game of golf before second UK-wide lockdown, Guardian Sport): 'For my last shot on a golf course for at least a month I was confronted with a Dennis Wise.'

Inevitably, this year’s list comes from a reduced set of sources compared with previous years. As virtually no sport was possible for several months from March, broadcasters had little to offer beyond highlights reels and review shows, while newspapers typically reduced their coverage from multi-page pull-outs to one or two pages devoted to speculation about when sport might return and how it might need to adapt. Rather frustratingly, this year’s list therefore only includes four sports: golf, cricket, football and rugby union, although one of the entries attributed to rugby is in fact a horse racing metaphor. More frustratingly, the nominations also reflect the precedence given by sporting bodies in this ‘unprecedented’ year to (a) elite professional sport – possibly justifiable – and (b) men’s sport – extremely contentious, if depressingly predictable. In a year when sportsmen and women have united impressively in taking the knee to condemn racial injustice and inequality, the Library’s current exhibition highlights how the fight for a level playing field for women in sport, despite notable successes against the odds, remains Unfinished Business.

As ever, this year’s selection illustrates a range of linguistic phenomena and includes dialect (i.e. localised variants, e.g. pump someone’s tyres), slang (i.e. informal forms, e.g. Emptyhad and Dennis Wise) and jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary, e.g. Nelson). Geisterspiele and ketchup effect offer a glimpse of the occasional welcome presence of languages other than English in British sporting discourse, while gamblification is a fascinating example of how we manipulate English grammar to create new words. The other three – Nicker of Sibley, fall at the Melling Road and jigsaw – are, I suspect, neologisms (i.e. unique expressions coined by the user for a one-off occasion), although fall at the Melling Road might enjoy wider currency. All ten demonstrate how sporting discourse in the press and broadcast media is a wonderful platform for exposing vernacular English to a mainstream audience.

The phrase pump someone’s tyres [= ‘to praise someone in order to boost their confidence’] might be unfamiliar to speakers of British English, but is common in Canadian sporting discourse, especially in relation to ice hockey, as confirmed by an entry at Wiktionary. Nelson [= (in cricket) ‘a score of 111’], originally an Australian dialect form according to the OED, is apparently a reference to Lord Nelson’s one eye, one arm and one leg (despite that not being an accurate reflection of his physical characteristics). As with many sporting terms it has gained wider currency and is now used throughout the cricketing world (i.e. parts of the Commonwealth) and a Nelson is considered, perhaps especially in England, an unlucky score.

As a former teacher of German, I’m always particularly excited to stumble across foreign words in English, hence the inclusion here of Geisterspiel [= ‘football match played without spectators’]. The word came to prominence in May when the German Bundesliga became the first major football league to resume competitive fixtures post-lockdown, albeit matches took place behind closed doors. Early reports of the phenomenon frequently include the original German word in italics or quotation marks, but a direct translation in the form of the calque, ghost-game, has now appeared twice in the Guardian this month alone. The fact it now appears in normal font suggests it has swiftly been absorbed into general sporting parlance, although a New Word submission to Collins suggests the Guardian’s use of a hyphen is not universal. Equally intriguing is ketchup effect [= ‘a period of minimal progress followed by a sudden wave of spectacular results’]. In Swedish, the expression ketchupeffkt is common in sporting circles to describe the conviction that a prolonged period of bad results or poor form can swiftly change to a period of sustained success, mirroring the frustration and anticipation we experience when pouring sauce from a bottle. It was even voted Swedish Word of the Day by The World News website in 2018.

Photo of ketchup bottle
Two forms, Emptyhad [= ‘Manchester City’s Etihad stadium’] and Dennis Wise [= (in golf) ‘deceptively awkward short putt’], capture the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek nature that often characterises sporting slang. Both require an intimate knowledge of recent sporting history and culture. Supporters of rival teams use the term Emptyhad to mock a perceived lack of atmosphere at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium for midweek Champions League fixtures, which are seldom as well-attended as one might anticipate, given the club’s fan base and recent dominance of English domestic football. Dennis Wise, on the other hand, is an ex-professional footballer, whose diminutive stature belied a skilful and combative talent, thus explaining the ironic nickname among golfers for a ‘tricky little five-footer’.

The neologisms, jigsaw [= (of footballer) ‘to display obvious signs of nervousness when close to goal’] and Nicker of Sibley [= humorous reference to the frequency with which England batsman Dom Sibley is dismissed caught behind the stumps], reveal a similar kind of linguistic playfulness. The image of a jigsaw puzzle ‘in pieces in the box’ is a wonderfully witty re-interpretation of the idiom ‘to go to pieces’, in the sense of to succumb to extreme nerves, in the corresponding box on a football pitch (i.e. the penalty box). In cricket, a ‘nick’ refers to a batsman making the briefest of contact with a ball, resulting in a simple catch to a wicket keeper or slip fielder. The fact one particular England batsman, Dom Sibley, became prone to ‘nicking off early’ explains the amusing allusion to the popular BBC sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley, which by strange coincidence reappeared on our screens this month. The other potential nonce-form, fall at The Melling Road [= ‘to fail at an early stage of an enterprise’] is an imaginative extension of the idiom ‘to fall at the first hurdle’. As all horse racing fans will know, the Melling Road crosses the Aintree Grand National course on the approach to the first hurdle, so to fall at the Melling Road is to fail both spectacularly early and embarrassingly incompetently.

Finally, disquiet at the increasingly close relationship between elite sport and betting companies is reflected in gamblification [= 'process by which gambling industry pervades sport']. Not yet sufficiently well established to merit an authorised dictionary entry, gamblification is included in the crowdsourced Macmillan Open Dictionary from January this year. Clearly a recent coinage, its pseudo root verb, gamblify, feels unnatural and is, I suspect, only really likely to occur in the passive – hence I’ve noted several examples of derived forms, such as gamblified and de-gamblified – but the noun, gamblification, is to date by far the most common.

Several of this year’s entries are captured in The British Library’s Newspaper and Contemporary British collections, making the Library an incomparable resource for monitoring vernacular language. As far as the winner is concerned, I’m extremely tempted by Geisterspiel, especially as it came a disappointing 8th in the Duden Wort des Jahres list (behind the rather predictable Coronapandemie), but I’m going to plump for ketchup effect. At the end of such an unprecedented year it seems to convey a refreshingly positive view of how the immediate future can improve beyond all recognition, contrary to evidence from the recent past. And ketchup is, after all, very much a seasonal colour!

Follow Spoken English collections at https://twitter.com/VoicesofEnglish

30 November 2020

Recording of the week: Baffies on St Andrew’s Day

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This week's selection comes from Harriet Roden, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

The British Library’s Sound Archive plays host to an extensive collection of recordings of English accents and dialects. They’re a great resource for academic linguists, school teachers and their students alike, as well as learners of English as a foreign language.

But on a personal note, when listening to them they do hold a certain joy. They invite you to consider why you say certain words, certain phrases. Raising questions like – what influences did your family, or hometown have on you? Do you have certain words that none of your friends use?

As today is St Andrew’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on what influence my Scottish relatives in the Highlands have had on the vocabulary I use. From the obvious: neeps and tatties – which were a staple part of my diet growing up. To the more playful (or insulting, depending on how you look at it): skinny-marrink to describe my childhood twig-like appearance.

And this influence can extend to the tips of your toes. What do you wear on your feet when you’re at home? Nothing? Socks? Shoes? – Or perhaps, like this anonymous speaker – baffies?

Baffies Wordbank (BL REF C1442/849)

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This term for slippers is thought to originate in the east coast of Scotland, in particular from Fife and Perthshire.

Close up photograph of a pair of hard-soled slippers on carpet
IHHEva047-Pixabay-slippers-2729401 | © Courtesy of Pixabay

The speaker in this clip hits on why we may choose to extend beyond Standard English – for the feeling of it! They describe the term baffies as having a warm, cosy feeling to it which is exactly the purpose to wearing a pair of slippers: to keep your toes toasty.

This recording comes from the Evolving English: VoiceBank, which is a celebration of English accents worldwide. The collection, created between November 2010 and April 2011 by visitors to the British Library exhibition ‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’, includes contributors of all ages and embraces varieties of English in the UK and overseas including non-native speakers.

Discover more familial words like baffies, wibbles or nautica on the British Library’s If Homes Had Ears website.

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02 November 2020

Recording of the week: The horrors of the long drop

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This week's recording of the week comes from Emma Burman, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

A photograph of Helena Street, Burnley, Lancashire, 1966-1974
Helena Street, Burnley, Lancashire, 1966-1974 © Heritage Images via Getty Images (1094419358)

As a 1990’s baby, I have had the pleasure of never experiencing an outdoor toilet, ‘long drop’ or ‘privy’. I have frequented many a bug filled campsite toilet but never the horror of a privy. A privy is described as a basic, outdoor toilet usually without a cover or running water. By the late 1800s, many workers’ homes in industrialised areas of Britain were built with outside toilets.

Here is a recording of six retired friends from Lancashire describing their awkward and humorous experiences of the privy growing up. It’s enough to make any millennial thank the heavens for growing up with indoor toilets! The ladies not only describe the windy, cold conditions of sitting on an outdoor toilet, but also the potential hazards of rats and even cats!

Burnley accent: A women's group debate the name of the toilet

Download trasncript for Burnley accent: A women's group debate the name of the toilet

It wasn’t until after the First World War had ended in 1918 that all new housing developments in the suburbs of London had to include an inside toilet. In fact it was well into the 20th century before indoor facilities were finally a familiar sight in houses.

However this didn’t necessarily mean the end of the outdoor toilet. Although new houses had to be built with an indoor toilet, there was nothing stopping occupants of old houses from keeping their outdoor toilet. So much so, that according to a Halifax housing survey, an estimated 40,000 homes in the UK still had an outdoor toilet in 2010.

And why not? Although the friends in this recording speak of the horrors of the privy; in today’s world, estate agents suggest a well-kept privy can take house sale prices above the local average (assuming there is an indoor WC as well!). In a modern world of outdoor BBQs and children with muddy shoes playing in gardens, an outdoor toilet could come in handy. So perhaps the days of the privy are not so outnumbered?

This recording is part of the BBC Voices project, and was recorded in 2004. The recordings are a series of guided conversations that follow a loose structure based on eliciting opinions about accents, dialects, the words we use and people's attitude to language.

Discover more sounds from our homes on the British Library’s If Homes Had Ears website.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

26 October 2020

Recording of the week: Go on then, tell me about the duppies

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This week's selection comes from Andrew Ormsby, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

‘Go on then, tell me about the duppies...’ Made in 1976, at Princess Junior School in Moss Side, Manchester, this recording captures a group of schoolboys talking about duppies, the malevolent ghosts of Caribbean folklore, or, as the boys put it: spirits of dead people that come alive at midnight.

Princess_Road_in_Moss_Side _Manchester
Princess Road in Moss Side, Manchester, showing Princess Road Park nearby where Princess Junior School was located.

The conversation begins in an atmosphere of lively, scary fun with plenty of laughter over stories about salt cellars moving without warning and unseen presences casting shadows on the wall. Gradually, as the boys open up, they begin to confide their real feelings, talking about fears of sleeping alone and the effects of watching too many scary films. As an afterthought, and a reminder that ghost stories are sometimes preferable to reality, one of them remarks that he doesn’t like watching the news ‘because you see too many horrible things’.

So what is a duppy? As one of the boys says ‘If a duppy catch you you’ll soon find out’.

Duppies (BL REF C1829/670 S2)

Download Transcript - 'Go on then tell me about the duppies'

Made by Ian Mulley in 1976 as part of his research towards his M.A. dissertation 'Aspects of the West Indian Culture and its Survival in an Urban English Environment - Manchester', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute. The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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06 October 2020

What if your home had ears?

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We have all spent much more time at home since coronavirus abruptly changed our daily lives this spring. Perhaps, like me, you’ve paid more attention to the sounds within your house - the whistle of the kettle, the clack of the keyboard, the grumble of bored children, the chirp of birds outside. I’ve also been contemplating how we occupy our domestic space: who cooks and washes up, where do children play, which creatures live in and near our home and how has this changed within our own lifetimes? For the new British Library web resource, If Homes Had Ears we have delved into the vast treasures of the Library’s Sound Archive to explore the sonic landscape of the home. Key to this resource are the voices and memories of people speaking about home life over the last 140 years. We invite you to open your ears, draw back the curtains, and listen, discuss and reflect upon what makes a home.

If Homes Had Ears is grouped into five areas found in most homes: the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and the garden. There are three discursive and thought-provoking articles for each space, and the web resource features over 70 fascinating audio clips to intrigue the listener. We hope the sound clips we will be a springboard for reflection and discussion and will provoke the listener to think of their own experiences.

Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list
Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list

No web resource on the home can ever cover all types of experience, but we have worked hard to try and ensure a variety of voices and sounds from different UK regions and nations, and stories from people who have migrated to the UK. We have included examples of different social-economic situations, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, genders and time periods. The oldest recording is a 1911 edition of the popular song ‘When Father Papered the Parlour’, but we also explore the memories of a Welsh seamstress recalling her childhood in the 1880s. The most recent material was recorded in spring 2020 on memories of gardening.

I love this clip of Marjorie Atkinson describing the scullery in her family’s home in the North East of England in the 1920s:

Marjorie Atkinson describes the scullery

Download Transcript – Marjorie Atkinson on the scullery in her childhood home

What would children today make of the scullery in Marjorie’s home? In contrast, what might be the reaction of listeners from older generations to sisters Yasmin and Lana speaking in 2015 about sharing a bedroom?

Yasmin and Lana on sharing a bedroom

Download Transcript – Yasmin and Lana Coe describe sharing a bedroom

In this extract Immunologist Dr Donald Palmer recalls the front room of his family’s home in London, a space of great importance to his parents who had migrated from Jamaica in the 1960s:

Donald Palmer describes the front room

Download Transcript – Donald Palmer describes the front room

For each room we have created a short montage of audio clips, brilliantly animated by students from the London College of Communication, who have responded to these audio soundscapes creatively and with sensitivity. Here is Jachym’s animation of the sounds of the kitchen:

Download Transcript – The Kitchen

There is plenty of family friendly material (my children have been singing ‘Beans, beans good for the heart’ for weeks!), but we have not shied away from difficult topics too – as the home is not always a place of happy memories. In this extract Tricia Thorpe describes an incident when she was resident in a psychiatric unit as a teenager in the 1980s:

Tricia Thorpe describes an incident in the psychiatric unit

Download Transcript – Tricia Thorpe's experience of living in High Royds Psychiatric Hospital

There are also clips discussing menstruation, abortion, aging, family structures in the LGTBQ communities and funeral rites. Where we feature this more challenging content, this is flagged in both the introduction to the clips and the audio item descriptions, so that listeners (and their teachers or caregivers) can decide whether listening is appropriate.

This resource has been over two years in the making and is part of the 5 year Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It has been a true collaboration led by Mary Stewart (Oral History), Holly Gilbert (Digital and Multimedia Collections), Harriet Roden and Charmaine Wong (both from the Learning Team) with invaluable input from Megan Steinberg (former Learning Assistant), Chandan Mahal (Learning Projects Manager) and latterly Yrja Thorsdottir (Learning Team). Enormous thanks to colleagues from all across the Sound Archive for content suggestions and the support of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Intellectual Property Team, Web and Learning Teams. The greatest thanks, as always, must go to the speakers, sound recordists, performers and musicians – as without them there would no sounds in our archive to unlock.

Blogpost by Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History.

05 October 2020

Recording of the week: We’re gonna be parents!

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

C1500 0776 David and Mairead

Husband and wife, David and Mairead, are expecting a baby any minute now! Mairead is already in labour and they came across the Listening Project booth while taking a stroll through a park near the hospital as a distraction from Mairead’s contractions. They decided to stop and record a conversation in this liminal moment while waiting for their baby to appear.

David and Mairead (BL REF C1550/776)

They reflect on their experience of pregnancy and look forward to being parents with both excitement and trepidation. They discuss which words they will use for ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, while referring to their baby as ‘cub’, and reflect on a future of feeling more and more out-of-date as their child grows up.

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between David and Mairead can be found on British Library Sounds.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

10 August 2020

Recording of the week: Do you know what a paternoster is?

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This week's recording of the week comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photograph of colleagues Sharon and Jonathan

Sharon and Jonathan are colleagues who work together in the Finance department of the British Library, based in Boston Spa in Yorkshire. Sharon has been employed by the library for 42 years whereas Jonathan is the newest member of the team. They discuss their experiences of work and how expectations and attitudes have changed over time. Sharon talks about what it was like to work for the British Library in the past and describes some of the old equipment that was used, including a paternoster. She also mentions the surprising lack of health and safety regulations back then which meant that employees were actually allowed to smoke inside the library buildings, something that Jonathan can’t even imagine happening now.

Sharon and Jonathan (BL REF C1500/845)

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Sharon and Jonathan can be found on British Library Sounds.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.