Sound and vision blog

64 posts categorized "Collection"

18 November 2021

Introducing the Collections in Dialogue commission with Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence.

I am an artist based in Leeds working across sculpture, writing, installation, drawing and print and I’ve been selected as the artist in residency for Collections in Dialogue, a co-commission project by the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery. The project brief particularly interested me because it focused on cultural identity which is one of my central artistic concerns, particularly the representation of working-class people in Northern England and lesser-heard voices that would otherwise be lost or overlooked. This opportunity has been incredibly timely, enabling me to develop these interests through researching the Library’s and Leeds Art Gallery’s digitised collections. My research will culminate in an exhibition of new artwork at Leeds Art Gallery next year.

I am exploring specific areas of the two collections; World & Traditional Music and Accents and Dialects collections in the British Library’s sound archive and Works on Paper at Leeds Art Gallery. As both collections are vast – 6.5 million recordings in the sound archive, and over 10,000 works on paper – I established key themes to direct my research. As an artist working in the city, I chose to explore how people in the Leeds region have represented themselves and others in the two collections. Where there are gaps in representation in one collection, particularly of people traditionally underrepresented in the arts, I plan to bring them into conversation with representations in the other collection through my work.

Following meetings with British Library Curators Jonnie Robinson and Andrea Zarza and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team, I have been searching the Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue to identify relevant recordings.

The Opie Collection of Children’s Games & Songs fascinates me because rhymes passed down by word of mouth tell collective stories about society. Rowland Kellet was a folklorist born in Leeds, who I learned about from this collection. Kellet collected children’s games, songs and jingles from across the UK, including variations of the same song in different parts of Leeds. Although many different versions of folk songs exist, each version is unique to the performer. These communal songs share a relationship with work songs and folk songs, which connect with Leeds’ industrial history.

Kellett comments on the timelessness of these songs in his interview with Iona Opie, saying, ‘There is no life, there’s no deaths of these songs. To me they are eternal. You can’t kill them because, because if you try to kill it you bring a different variant of it.’ I have been fortunate to view some of Kellet’s paper archives held at Leeds Central Library, and will be listening to folk songs performed by Kellet, recently catalogued as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Leeds is a city that has thrived due to the diversity of its population. In recordings like 'Conversation in Leeds about accent, dialect and attitudes to language', part of BBC Voices, six interviewees from Moortown, Leeds, talk about their own accents, Yorkshire dialect and the Punjabi language – one interviewee recognises both regions as being rooted in common industrial identities, saying, ‘you could say they were twin cities basically, twin states Yorkshire and Punjab.’

In 'Leeds - Millennium Memory Bank' six teenagers from South Leeds talk about being proud of working-class, with one explaining, ‘Even when my dad gives me pocket money I don’t like it, because you know like I ending washing up for him or something, because I like earning money because then I know I’ve worked for it.’ This same work ethic in 1999 connects with lines from folk song The Maid’s Lament, performed by Mrs Johnstone and recorded in 1967, by Fred Hamer.

Excerpt of The Maid's Lament sung by Mrs Johnstone [BL REF C433/7]

At Leeds Art Gallery, I chose to focus on the works on paper collection due to its range – from sketches to finished compositions; watercolours to photography; large quantity and conservation considerations that have meant some works have never been on display.

Works of art on paper spread out across a wooden table.            Selection of works on paper that I viewed in person at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

I met with Assistant Curator Laura Claveria to discuss key words and themes, including working-class culture, women, children and Leeds-related artists, from which Laura sent an initial longlist of relevant works from the collection. From this, I made a shortlist to view in person. It was fantastic to see the works up close, where intricacies and details conveying the hand of the artist often jump out more directly than in digital form.

Artist sitting at a wooden table consulting paper files and writing with pencil in notebook.                 Researching Edna Lumb’s artist file archive at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

So far I have discovered a number of artists unknown to me, including Edna Lumb (1931-1992) and Effie Hummerston (1891-1982). Both artists were born and studied in Leeds and went on to capture some of the area’s male-dominated industrial landscapes in their paintings. Edna Lumb’s work achieved national recognition during her lifetime. This is reflected in the large amount of material in Lumb’s artist file. However, critics noted that it was the scientific community, rather than artistic, who more frequently celebrated the work due to its realist depiction of industrial technology.

Painting of Tingley Gas Works in the distant horizon above green fields.                Edna Lumb, Tingley Gas Works, oil on canvas, 1964. © Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Another fascinating part of the collection are works on paper by seven artists that were ideas for a mural scheme for Leeds Town Hall, a commission in 1920 led by Michael Sadler, which was also intended as a commemorative response to the First World War. Artists selected were local and national including Percy Hague Jowett, Jacob Kramer and Albert Rutherston. The mural designs took into account the architecture of the Town Hall, with features such as doorways represented by blank spaces. The majority of the works feature industrial or pastoral scenes of Leeds, including woollen mills, the canal and Kirkstall Abbey. Perhaps this is how the artists thought the people of Leeds would want their city represented, however the designs were heavily criticised and the murals were never realised, providing an insight into the politics of that time.

My first few weeks of research have unearthed an abundance of stories, which I am now responding to through initial sketches and writing of my own. This will further direct my ongoing research and inform my final proposal at the start of next year for the exhibition in spring.

Collections in Dialogue

Collections in Dialogue is a new artist co-commission project between Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library.

It is formed around the commissioning an artist based in the North of England to work with collections at both institutions as a catalyst to produce new work that creates a dialogue between them. Following a recruitment process, the commission was awarded to Jill McKnight in summer 2021. The work Jill creates will be exhibited at Leeds Art Gallery from March – October 2022 with some digital elements shown online.

Collections in Dialogue is part of the British Library’s growing culture programme in Leeds and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

18 October 2021

Recording of the week: Family mealtimes

This week's selection comes from Dr Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

One way or another, food is at the heart of everyday life for almost everyone on the planet. We plan our days around it, share it with friends, watch TV shows about it, and food – or sometimes, intentional abstinence from food – is central to many religious, cultural and familial celebrations. Our relationship to food – whether it is we eat, where we eat it, or who we eat it with – is a reflection of who we are, shaped as it is by the traditions we inherit from our families, cultural expectations, our social circumstances and other aspects of our day-to-day lives.

Food on a table being served

                                                                                                                                                        Image: Anadolu Agency / Contributor via Getty Images (1212156867)

When interviewers ask people to describe what mealtimes look like for them, they are asking about more than just how people sustain themselves. In this clip, Kuli Padan interviewed in 1999 for the Millennium Memory Bank, describes a typical family mealtime in her home, and in doing so reveals much about her family dynamics and cultural heritage.

At the end she reflects on the ‘sad’ fact that the television is the focal point of her family now, and an enduring presence at her family’s mealtimes in particular.

Kuli Padan family cooking and eating [BL REF C900/17597]

Download Transcript

Listening to this clip brought to mind conversations I’ve had with my own family recently on how our mealtimes have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. Growing up, family mealtimes at the dinner table every evening – without any technology – was one thing my parents insisted on. It was important to them that we spent that time together, catching up and sharing what we’d been up to each day.

When lockdown happened and we suddenly found ourselves spending all our time together – all working in the same space as we were living, our hobbies and social lives brought to an abrupt stop – we suddenly found ourselves short on things to talk about at mealtimes. Gradually, for the first time in my life, family mealtimes moved to in front of the TV where a programme (usually a quiz show of sorts) could take the place of conversation. I don’t lament this development in the same way Kuli Padan does, because it feels less like a loss and more like a reaction to a world that changed in ways that were beyond our control. It does raise some interesting questions about why we eat in the ways that we do and our emotional relationship to those moments in our lives, though.

Of course, these experiences are very personal and individual. The pandemic, for example, may have changed other people’s eating habits in ways vastly different to my own: perhaps working from home presented some families with an opportunity to share mealtimes that they never had before, or enabled someone to find time to learn to cook from scratch. Over time, children grow into adults and the responsibilities for cooking and feeding in the home change and shift, as do food preferences, the schedules for mealtimes, and exposure to new foods and ways of eating. Kuli Padan was interviewed in 1999; I wonder how mealtimes may have changed for her in the years since she gave her interview?

The nature of the life history approach, which informs many of the interviews in the British Library’s oral history archive, combined with the sheer size and thematic scope of the collections means our archive contains a wealth of material on people’s eating habits and their relationship to food. This particular extract is featured in If Homes Had Ears, a website which showcases the sounds of domestic life, by exploring five spaces in the home: the bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and garden. Each space highlights intriguing audio clips from the diverse collections in the British Library Sound Archive, covering the timespan of recorded sound and featuring many of the rich cultures that make up the UK.

Kuli Padan was interviewed by Eka Morgan in 1999 for the Millennium Memory Bank, the largest recording project in the history of British radio. It ran from 1998-99, capturing the pulse of the century through the voices of thousands of people from all walks of life.

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

09 August 2021

Recording of the week: Memories of a theatregoer

This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

In the last year of closed performance venues, we have almost forgotten what it means to go to the theatre.

Alessia-chinazzo (576 pizel wide) Photo by Alessia Chinazzo on Unsplash

In this interview from 2008, recorded as part of the Theatre Archive Project, Barbara Silcock shares her memories as a theatregoer back in the Seventies.

From her recollections of attending pantomimes as a child to being in the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, she speaks about experiencing the theatre as sort of escapism filled with euphoria; the theatre as a place for empathy.

With the melancholic tinge of a distant memory, she recounts the wonders of being backstage at the Lyceum Theatre and the distinctive smell of theatres.

Excerpt of Barbara Silcock interview [BL REF C1142/222]

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The smells we experience play a crucial role in our lives: it is through smell that our memory can vivdly bring back feelings and experiences.

Her words remind me of the pure joy of going to a theatre performance, the passive-active role of being in a live audience.

It is hard not to admit that after a year of virtual performances, what I’ve missed is precisely that familiar ‘dump’ smell she speaks of.

The Theatre Archive Project investigated British theatre history from 1945 to 1968, from the perspectives of both theatre-goers and practitioners. The project was a collaboration between the British Library and De Montfort University, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

04 May 2021

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the Earth': revisiting a Buddhist temple in Fukushima

This week (29 April – 5 May) in Japan welcomes the arrival of a cluster of national holidays known as Golden Week. Today (4 May) is celebrated as Greenery Day or Midori-no-hi (みどりの日). This is a day that encourages the people of Japan to embrace the environment and take a moment to reconnect with the natural world.

Dokeiji Temple entrance
'May Peace Prevail On Earth' - An inscription written in both Japanese and English on a sekitō (石塔), a stone pagoda that welcomes visitors at the entrance of Dokeiji Temple, a Buddhist temple located in Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth', says Tokuun Tanaka – head priest of Dokeiji Temple, an 800-year old Sōtō Zen temple situated in the Odaka district of Minamisōma, roughly 20km from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the north eastern coast of Japan. After the Tōhoku earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, the tsunami and nuclear disaster which followed devastated this region.

A 30km mandatory evacuation zone left many residents with no choice but to leave immediately. Their homes, their communities and their environment were all damaged irreparably. The evacuation order was lifted in 2016 but there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the long-term effects of the radiation damage there, much of which is still present in the towns and villages surrounding Fukushima, as well as in the marine and forest environments. The forests occupy 75% of the fallout zone and are still considered too dangerous to begin the process of decontamination. What is certain is that it could take many years, if not generations, before the regenerative healing powers of nature begin to take effect.

Tokuun Tanaka - Buddha's Word [BL REF C1872/48/1]

With this humble song, titled Itsukushimi (慈しみ) - a word that can be interpreted as compassion, love and mercy - Tokuun brings together Buddhist scripture from the Sutta Nipata, an ancient text considered to be over 2500 years old, with the modern stylings of folk spirituals on his acoustic guitar. 'The singer-songwriter is Buddha' he tells me in a friendly, jovial tone whilst seated on the tatami floor of Dokeiji temple’s Butsu-dō (main hall). It is a song that Tokuun sings alone at night, surrounded by a gentle chorus of night crickets on this particular late summer evening of 5 September 2019.

I had the opportunity to visit Tokuun and make this recording whilst doing field work supported by the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library Sound Archive. The resulting recordings can now be browsed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue as the Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872)

Slowly, the members of this temple community are returning, some after many years of having been displaced, but sadly there are also those who will never return. Every month, Tokuun welcomes visitors to Dokeiji Temple, inviting them to sing together with him this song of compassion, love and healing.

In Tokuun’s own words: 'Our way of life is being challenged. From growth to maturity, let us be part of the change. Let us take the right path without concern for profit or loss. It is time for the whole of humanity to evolve based on solidarity and harmony beyond self and society.'

Written by Mat Eric Hart

The Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872) explores contemporary practices and rituals of spiritual Japanese individuals and communities, and further aims to examine, from a sonic and artistic perspective, the relationship that exists between nature and spirituality within Japanese culture. The collection includes field recordings of both traditional, contemporary and classical Japanese and Ainu music, Buddhist chants, Shinto rituals, Shugendo and Yamabushi ceremonies. These recordings were made between August and November 2019 at various locations across Japan and her islands.

04 January 2021

Recording of the week: Happy New Year!

This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Centre label of African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania  Zambia & Zaire
'Bonne Année' was released on the album African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania, Zambia & Zaire by record label Original Music

In this recording made by John Low, three boys in their late teens perform a song called 'Bonne Année' (which means Happy New Year in French) that they composed for the New Year celebrations of 1979.

Bonne Année recorded by John Low (BL C27/5 S1 C9)

Singing are Mukuna, Chola Piana and Soki Nambi, who also plays the guitar. Normally they would have played together in their electric guitar band, Orchestre Makosso (possibly named after another band that was famous in the 1970s) but on the night of the recording, they borrowed the recordist’s guitar.

John Low had been staying in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to study the guitar music of Jean-Bosco Mwenda. While he was there, Bosco arranged for Low to go to Likasi, where Bosco was brought up, with a Cultural Officer called Tshibuyi Katina. This was to see more of the region, and record there if possible. Likasi is in the Katanga copper belt, and it was in a neighbourhood called Zone Mpanda that Low and Katina unexpectedly met the three boys.

In John Low's forthcoming book ‘Two Guitars to Katanga’, he describes this moment with beautiful clarity –

Perhaps the best things in life are always unexpected. What followed was a performance of rare beauty. Soki picked intricate and varying patterns on the guitar, full of melodic interest. The boys sang in three parts: low tenor, high tenor and falsetto. Their young voices blended perfectly and the vocal lines soared and floated unhurriedly above the more urgent, choppy rhythms of Soki’s guitar work. The relationship of the vocal parts to the guitar patterns was very complex, yet Soki played and sang effortlessly. He was supremely talented.

These teenagers would have honed their musical skills already as young boys, almost certainly by playing in banjo groups like Yumba and his friends who we’d recorded earlier on. But now they’d moved up into a different league, and were avidly absorbing the idioms of modern Congolese dance music. Their first song, the more beautiful of the two I recorded, was called Bonne Année, and had been composed for the New Year celebrations that year.

The song, in Kikongo language, was published  on the album 'African Acoustic Vol. 1 - Guitar Songs from Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire' on John Storm Roberts' record label Original Music. In fact, all the tracks on that album are field recordings made by John Low and these, and many more, are available to listen to at the British Library as part of the John Low Collection (C27).

Thanks to John Low for allowing me to feature his recording and for his generous correspondence over email, which I've paraphrased in this post.

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

28 December 2020

Recording of the week: Sámi Yoik; evoking reindeer, the wind and 'wind nose'

This week's selection comes from Finlay McIntosh, World & Traditional Rights intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Although in the UK, reindeer are associated with Christmas and winter wonderlands, for Europe’s only recognized indigenous community, the Sámi, they are a part of everyday life.

A herd of reindeer
A herd of reindeer at Jukkasjärvi in Lapland. Man in a Sami costume. Courtesy of Swedish National Heritage Board

The Sámi inhabit Sápmi—a territory stretching from the northern areas of Norway, through Sweden and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in Russia—and their livelihoods traditionally revolved around reindeer herding. This way of life has largely changed throughout decades of modernization and cultural assimilation into nation-states but the reindeer has remained central to Sámi culture and identity.

We see this strong bond between the Sámi and their animals in these examples of traditional yoik or joik, recorded by Maggie Hamilton in 1997, in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

Yoiking is an age-old Sámi tradition that can have many functions. In the past, some yoiks were used in shamanistic rituals to contact the spirit world, whereas nowadays some tell epic narratives and stories for entertainment. Some yoiks can be extremely personal and are used to evoke an ancestor or friend, whereas others can act as a personal signature, which if performed, can be seen by others as boastful. Sámi parents can yoik their children to sleep like a lullaby or even drown out a baby’s crying with their powerful performances.

A yoik is a direct reflection of its subject, which can be anything from a person, place or landscape to an animal, including, of course, the reindeer. Through performance, the yoiker tries to express the soul of what is being yoiked, and in effect, yoiks the subject into being. This is why it is often said that a yoik is not about something; it is that thing.

This also brings up interesting questions about musical ownership. As a World and Traditional Music Rights Intern, I spend a lot of my time contacting rights holders, who we consider the owners of the recordings in our collections. Whereas we may think the creator or performer of a piece of music is its owner, the Sámi hold a different view: as yoiking attempts to evoke the subject into being, it is thought that the subject owns the yoik, rather than the performer.

This is certainly the case when yoiking people but perhaps yoiking reindeer is another matter. Needless to say, I have not asked any reindeer for their permission to use these recordings!

In this first example, the performer yoiks an adult reindeer, which he describes as heargi, or a big and strong reindeer. This is just one of the hundreds of different and often poetic descriptive words the Sámi reindeer herders use to differentiate the reindeer in their herds. The Sámi language’s extensive reindeer-related vocabulary describes every possible size, shape, colouring, temperament and antler position of the animal. We can hear how the performer evokes this heargi reindeer bull with his rich, deep voice.

Adult reindeer yoik (BL REF C1650/73 BD 4)

In this second example, the performer yoiks the wind. Introducing the yoik, he tells us how the wind helps the reindeer herders to navigate vast expanses of tundra and locate their herds. He says that because reindeer often run face-first into the strong-blowing north wind, the wind tells the herders which way the reindeer are travelling – North. This also helps the herders to find their animals easily.

Wind yoik (BL REF C1650/73 BD 5)

This is a fascinating example of how yoiks can contain and transmit knowledge specific to the Sámi lifestyle. They can pass on knowledge about reindeer management practices and navigation as well as expressing the close connection between animal and environment.

In this final example, the performer yoiks biegganjunit, or wind nose, which is a very specific metaphor embedded in Sámi culture that conjures up the image of the reindeer as they are running against the blowing wind with the ice-cold air rushing up their noses. The performer tells us that although this yoik contains few actual words, it depicts the scene of these reindeer as they run, smelling for the scent of wolves and other predators that are being carried in the wind.

Wind nose yoik (C1650/73 BD 6)

Again, this shows that the meaning of a yoik does not just come from the lyrics. In fact, some yoik do not have any words at all. Yoiks can express a meaning that goes beyond words but this can only be understood when the performer and their audience are closely connected.

Yoiking and other elements of Sámi culture were repressed throughout periods of Christianization and state assimilation efforts. However, since the 1960s, it has experienced a revival. Sámi yoik has been incorporated into a variety of popular music genres and has gained more visibility on the international stage—it even made an appearance at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with Norway’s entry “Spirit in the Sky,” performed by Keiino. By continuing to yoik throughout history, the Sámi manage to maintain their cultural identity and now the tradition is thought to be one of the oldest continuous musical practices in Europe.

However, yoiking is an oral tradition at its core and some have questioned the value of documenting it in archives. As these recordings show, much of a yoik’s meaning is created between the yoiker, what is being yoiked and an initiated audience who can construct meaning by connecting the dots. When yoiks have such a strong attachment to a specific place, people and environment, some argue that if removed from that context, written down, recorded or translated, yoiks lose their complex layers of meaning and feeling. How can they mean anything to people who are not Sámi and do not know the specific contexts from which they come from? Despite this, without archives, many of these traditional yoiks—untouched by folklorizations and Eurovision song contest sparkle—would have been forgotten and not passed onto the younger generation of Sámi.

If you want to learn more about the yoik recordings in the Maggie Hamilton Collection, you can read the catalogue entries in our Sound and Moving Image catalogue. There are examples of yoik evoking bears, moose, mountains, the performer’s grandfather and even Christianized yoik, with the performer providing fascinating information about the tradition, its history and meanings.

These sound recordings were donated by Maggie Hamilton to the British Library and have been digitised as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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21 December 2020

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

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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30 November 2020

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

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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