Sound and vision blog

44 posts categorized "Voices of the UK"

23 October 2015

Is Derbyshire 'the best of all dialects'?

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Burton upon Trent, Belper, Two Dales, Heanor and Swadlincote. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Derby. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Two Dales, Heanor and Swadlincote also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

These linguistic descriptions, created by researchers in the Library’s Voices of the UK project, identify and celebrate the fascinating combination of local, vernacular and archaic vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar that make up our regional accents and dialects. The following passage, recorded in Swadlincote, illustrates a number of intriguing features of broad dialect:

and that’s why I cudna spell at school they said teacher used say to me sound it and write it how you sound it well (so we did) if I was if I was calling my next door a gel and I’d got write girl I cudna write ’cause hoo were a gel to me so I wrote G E L gel (gel gel) so I cudna spell never could spell and I canna now cause I were always taught the wrong teacher used tell me off for not not sounding it and when I sounded it I sounded it as I said it (yeah) and I were wrong (that’s right) so whichever road I did it I were wrong

There are a number of grammatical constructions here that are typical of speech in the area. Firstly, the speaker forms negative statements by adding the suffix <na> to the verb rather than the more common variant <n’t> that occurs in most parts of England. In an area centred on the Peak District and the Potteries some speakers say, for instance, dunna for ‘don’t/doesn’t’; inna for ‘isn’t’; anna for ‘hasn’t/haven’t’ ; and adna for hadn’t and – as here – canna and cudna for ‘can’t’ and ‘couldn’t’ respectively. Derbyshire dialect also exhibits the so-called bare infinitive – that is the word ‘to’ is omitted with verbs such as ‘want to’, ‘have to’ and – as here – got write [= ‘got to write’] and used say [= ‘used to say’]. This construction occurs more widely in dialects across the East Midlands and North West England and crops up regularly, for instance, in the dialogue of the BBC sitcom Peter Kay’s Car Share. In the final episode (22 May 2015) John, played by Bolton’s Peter Kay, presents Kayleigh with a novelty lamp to mark their last car-share trip together, explaining how he’d struggled to find one but ‘I managed _ track one down in Preston’.

Perhaps the most intriguing item here, though, is this speaker’s use of the feminine pronoun hoo [= ‘she’] (like many speakers in England he drops the initial <h> sound so it sounds like he says ‘oo were a gel’). Research carried out for the Survey of English Dialects in the 1950s uncovered a handful of examples of ‘hoo’ in a similar area of the North West Midlands. An extraordinary example of the survival of the Old English pronoun ‘heo’, it was considered extremely rare even then and most observers expected it to disappear within a generation. Yet here we are at the start of the 21st century and a Derbyshire dialect speaker is using a historic form perfectly naturally and spontaneously.

Maybe Mrs. Gardiner was right when reassuring Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that ‘Derbyshire is the best of all counties.’

09 September 2015

Listening Project Workshop

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Holly Gilbert writes:

Join us on Monday 12 October at the British Library Conference Centre to reflect on the first three years of the Listening Project: an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC in which people are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative.

These one-to-one conversations, modelled on the US StoryCorps project, last up to an hour and take a topic of the speakers' choice, collectively forming a picture of our lives and relationships today. The conversations so far gathered cover a huge range of life experiences told from the perspective of the people who have lived them, from birth to death and everything in between. The collection currently consists of 650 conversations made by contributors from 7 to 101 years old, recorded in all four corners of the UK and includes people who have moved here from across the globe.

The conversations can be listened to in full on the Library's Sounds website while the edited BBC radio programmes are available on the BBC Listening Project website.

The event includes a panel discussion chaired by presenter Fi Glover in which BBC producers reflect on the process of making the recordings and the impact of broadcasting excerpts, Listening Project participants discuss their experience of contributing to the collection and library curators and researchers explore the potential for using the online Listening Project archive for a variety of research purposes as it continues to grow.

The Listening Project booth will be making a stop at the Library especially for the event as part of its nationwide tour.

Listening Project booth

Tickets are free and can be booked via the British Library Box Office.

Workshop Programme

Monday 12 October 2015, British Library Conference Centre

10:30               Arrival: tea & coffee

11:00 – 11:20  Welcome & Introduction

11:20 – 12:45  Using the Listening Project Archive

  • Professor Joanna Bornat (Faculty of Health & Social Care, Open University and an editor of Oral History Journal)
  • Dr Natalie Braber (Department of English, Culture & Media, Nottingham Trent University)
  • Linda Ingham (Visual Artist-Curator, Conversations with my Mother, a book-work installation as part of the Shifting Subjects exhibition)

12:45               Lunch (not provided)

14:00 - 15:00 Creating the Listening Project Archive

  • Panel discussion with BBC Listening Project producers chaired by Fi Glover

15:00 - 15:30   Tea & coffee

15:30 - 16.30   Taking part in the Listening Project

  • Panel discussion with Listening Project participants chaired by Fi Glover

16:30                           Close

28 May 2015

It'll not take you long for to learn a lile bit Cumbrian dialect grammar

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Barrow-in-Furness, Brampton, Kirkoswald, Sedbergh and Workington. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cumbria. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Barrow, Sedbergh and Workington also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

Most of us are immediately struck by an unfamiliar dialect word - like the stereotypical use of lile [= 'little'] by speakers in Workington here or hadder [= 'to rain lightly'] in Kirkoswald. We also instantly recognise differences in pronunciation and as these recordings show Cumbria has a particularly diverse range of accents - listen, for instance, to the recordings in Barrow-in-Furness and Workington. Grammatical differences between dialects, however, are often overlooked or - in many cases - dismissed as somehow 'wrong'. Consider, though, the following negative constructions:

0:41:25 they're not getting taught at home properly (Sedbergh)

0:07:20 we're not gonna talk right neither (Workington)

1:03:02 it's not really a life-changing thing (Barrow)

In the examples above the negative particle, not, remains intact while the verb in each case is reduced. This type of construction - known as 'auxiliary contraction' - tends to occur more frequently in northern dialects and in Scotland; elsewhere these statements would be more likely to surface as they aren't, we aren't and it isn't - i.e. the verb remains intact and not is contracted. In northern English you'll hear forms like you'll not [= 'you won't'], I've not [= 'I haven't'] and she'd not [= 'she hadn't'] and the process can also extend to negative questions such as did you not [= 'didn't you'] and have they not [= 'haven't they'] as in the example below:

0:06:25 can you not sort of speak a bit more proper (Workington)

Some speakers in Cumbria and much of northern England also use a distinctive form of the verb have:

0:26:00 we had a lot of connections with people in Liverpool because I've relatives there (Sedbergh)

1:00:50 I never got married and I've no children (Workington)

Many speakers elsewhere in the UK would insert got here, as in I've got relatives and I've got no children (or even more likely I haven't got any children). Not only do some northerners use have as a finite verb in such cases, they also frequently produce a contracted form (e.g. in the second example I've relatives there is more marked than I've got relatives there or I have relatives there). This tendency to reduce have also produces idiosyncratic forms in northern English when have to is used in the sense of 'must'. A speaker in Sedbergh comments: he'd to walk it in them days (Sedbergh, 1:03:47) which would more commonly be expressed as he had to walk it in the south of England.

Clearly neither the use of a contracted form of have as a full verb nor the preference for auxiliary contraction can in any way be interpreted as 'wrong' so let's start celebrating our dialect grammar as we do our regional vocabulary and accents.

On 29 June 2015 the British Library is hosting English Grammar Day in which leading language authorities will reflect on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar and vocabulary. Our new programme for 2015 includes talks by university linguists, Jenny Cheshire and Charlotte Brewer; journalist and author, Harry Ritchie; teachers, Dan Clayton and Amanda Redfearn and dialect curator, Jonnie Robinson and an opportunity to put your questions about English grammar to our panel of experts. A perfect opportunity for us to enjoy those wonderful North West infinitive variants - the 'for to infinitive':

0:46:24 they just let us use whichever hand come natural for to write with (Workington)

and the 'bare infinitive', as demonstrated repeatedly in the excellent sit-com, Car Share, such as in the poignant scene at the end of this week's final episode when John (played by Peter Kay) gave Kayleigh a novelty heart lamp she thought had sold out, proudly telling her 'I managed _ track one down in Preston'.

02 March 2015

Chacking to hear some Cornish dialects?

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Warleggan, Penzance, Mawla, St Feock and Truro. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cornwall. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Mawla, St Feock and Truro, also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

St Feock Methodist Church
St Feock Methodist Church

A distinctive feature of established accents in Cornwall is rhoticity - that is speakers pronounce the <r> sound after a vowel in words like better, hard and first. This was at one time a feature of speech throughout the UK and indeed, until relatively recently was still widely heard across much of southern England. Nowadays it is most commonly associated with speech in the West Country and South West, a small area of Lancashire and most of Scotland and Northern Ireland. All five recordings here include speakers who are rhotic to varying degrees, although it is immediately apparent that the speakers in Warleggan, Penzance, Mawla and St Feock are much more consistent in their use of 'postvocalic R' than their younger counterparts in Truro, whose speech is predominantly non-rhotic except for a few isolated examples.

You can also hear several examples of the distinctive Cornish dialect pronoun system:

Mawla - [0:31:00] adder'll bite you even if he's in a good mood, won't her, if you step on he he'll bite you

St Feock - [0:16:47] if they're lying prostrate, need a operation, don't them

Penzance - give en a clout; Warleggan - give en a good hiding [= 'to hit hard']

The form of the pronoun contrasts here with Standard English conventions for subject and object position - a phenomenon known as pronoun exchange - and some speakers also use an archaic form en, a reflex of the Old English masculine object pronoun hine. Individual speakers vary in terms of the frequency with which they use these dialectal grammatical features, and they are absent from the younger contributors from Truro.

Mawla Methodist Church
Mawla Methodist Church

It would be wrong, though, to conclude that the younger speakers in Truro sound in any way less Cornish. They use a number of local vowel sounds and occasional 'broader' dialectal pronunciations, such as idn [= isn't] and, like the speakers in the other recordings, offer several local dialect words like teasy [= 'moody'], and enting down [= 'raining heavily']. One young Truro hairdresser even supplies the historic Cornish term old Tuss (a local form of address) and admits she often says she's chacking for a piss [= 'dying to go to the toilet']. No lesser authority than the English Dialect Dictionary (1898-1905) records the verb chack, including a citation from Cornwall in 1808: I'm chacking with hunger.

This evidence of older and present-day Cornish dialect continuity and change is one of a number of unique audio collections held at the British Library. Through the Library's Save Our Sounds programme, you can help us preserve the nation's sound heritage.

21 November 2014

Jolly chuffed to spend a very hockey sticks weekend in Dulwich village

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 Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

Last weekend I went to Dulwich to watch my daughter play hockey, which gave me the opportunity of exploring Dulwich village for the first time. The highlight of a thoroughly pleasant stroll was stumbling across a rather intriguing use of the word chuffed [= ‘pleased’] – a term used by millions of speakers of British English on a regular basis. Chalked up on a blackboard inside a wonderful artisan baker’s was a sign thanking customers for nominating the proprietors for a local trade award (I hope they win: the bacon bap I had was delicious). The sign declared that the owners were very chuffed to be nominated; an expression that immediately struck me as slightly odd - do people actually say very chuffed? Isn’t very somehow just too mainstream to combine with a word like chuffed? Aren’t more colloquial intensifiers like really, pretty and so or vernacular forms such as dead chuffed, proper chuffed and well chuffed more natural?

Very chuffed

A quick glance at several authoritative reference works seems to confirm my hunch. The entry for chuffed in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition) includes six citations - the earliest from 1957 - and two examples each of chuffed, pretty chuffed and dead chuffed.  The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2014) agrees with the OED's dating and also includes the following observation:

originally northern English dialect […], adopted by military, then wider society […] often qualified by intensifiers DEAD, REAL, WELL

Both dictionaries include the antonym dischuffed – presumably formed by analogy with pleased/displeased rather than happy/unhappy – and the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (2014) provides further support for Partridge stating that chuffed:

probably originates in northern English dialect […] and is still most frequently heard in the North and Midlands [...] embellished forms are ‘dead chuffed’, ‘chuffed pink’ and ‘chuffed to arseholes’

In 2004/5 the BBC Voices survey investigated the words we use for 40 everyday concepts, including the notion PLEASED. Researchers in the British Library’s Voices of the UK project are currently compiling an inventory of the terms captured in the study and have thus far catalogued over 100 variants for PLEASED. Apart from pleased itself, chuffed was by far the most common response and certainly seems to have been taken up enthusiastically outside its northern and midland heartland, but as far as I’m aware we haven’t encountered many – if indeed any – examples of very chuffed. Plenty of contributors supplied dead chuffed, well chuffed, chuffed to bits, chuffed to naffy break (also in Partridge) and even chuffed to buggery, but not very chuffed. And yet, by extraordinary coincidence this week a contestant on the BBC quiz show Only Connect said he had been very chuffed with his team's performance in the previous round. I dunno - you wait for ages for a very chuffed and all of a sudden two come along at once.

If you'd like to hear any of the numerous  variants for PLEASED just listen to one of the 300 BBC Voices Recordings. From thrilled, delighted, tickled pink, cock-a-hoop and on cloud nine to made-up, thrimmed, over the moon, baktalo (Anglo-Romani for ‘happy/lucky’) and stoked each gives subtle clues to a speaker’s geographic background, age, ethnicity and/or social status.

My daughter’s team lost by the way, although in scoring her first goal of the season I suspect she was chuffed and dischuffed in equal measure, but – all things considered –  probably not very chuffed.

21 July 2014

The shifting sand(-shoes) of linguistic identity in Teesside

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Coxhoe, Hartlepool and three discussions in Middlesbrough (one with a group of young friends, one with rival football fans and one with three generations from the same family). Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cleveland. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Coxhoe and the friends in Middlesbrough, also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

Teesside was the focus of considerable linguistic debate last summer when BBC business correspondent, Sophie McGovern, revealed she received regular complaints from viewers about her Middlesbrough accent. This followed reports earlier the same year that a Middlesbrough primary school had solicited parental support in addressing teachers' concerns that local dialect features were compromising children's formal written English. Personally I've always enjoyed the accents and dialects of the region and local celebrities such as Bob Mortimer (from Acklam, Middlesbrough), Vic Reeves (from Darlington, County Durham) and Mark Benton (from Guisborough, North Yorkshire) are extremely popular figures whose speech patterns are, I sense, an integral part of their appeal.

The backgrounds of these three entertainers hints at the competing cultural and linguistic influences in the area as Teesside straddles the historic counties of Durham and North Yorkshire - Middlesbrough itself was historically in North Yorkshire. Successive changes in administrative nomenclature (North Riding, North Yorkshire, Teesside, Cleveland) have been hotly contested locally as confirmed by this Middlesbrough family and this repeated upheaval underpins the study of Middlesbrough dialect by academic linguist, Carmen Llamas, who explores how local linguistic features reflect speaker identities across generations.

Intriguingly the Middlesbrough accent is frequently confused with accents further up the east coast in Newcastle upon Tyne and, perhaps more surprisingly, on the west coast in Liverpool. Similarity with speakers in Tyneside is most apparent in a shared tendency to glottalise the sounds <p>, <t> and <k> between vowels in words like happy, better and lucky. This distinctive pronunciation is a recent innovation on Teesside thought to be influenced by increasing identification - especially among younger speakers - with the North East. The equally striking pronunciation of word final <t> in words like it and that (pronounced as if it were a <h> sound) and the vowel sound used in words like first, bird and turn is probably more widely associated with English on Merseyside and thought to reflect the earlier influence of large-scale migration from Ireland to Teesside - and Merseyside - in the nineteenth century. All three phenomena can be heard frequently in the recording with former Middlesbrough schoolfriends.

What is also clear from this set of recordings is that the area remains lexically distinctive with examples of 'pan-northern' vocabulary (e.g. lass [= 'girl']), words shared with the North East (e.g. netty [= 'toilet'] and cuddy-wifter [= 'left-handed']) and with Yorkshire (e.g. mafted [= 'hot']) and iconic Teesside items (e.g. nick off [= 'to play truant']). The emergence in Middlesbrough of a second person plural form yous is also shared with other northern cities (notably Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow), while the recording in Coxhoe is particularly rich in typical local discourse markers:

0:07:31 by you're all proper from Cassop man

0:17:34 saying that mind [...] they certainly have interest when it comes round to the presentation evenings

0:19:56 you used to get great crack to them how but

0:35:33 that's just as old-fashioned as the hills like

0:36:48 why let them start their own clubs

23 May 2014

How about a bit of PR for RP?

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Cambridge (one with two young hip-hop artists and one with regulars at a pub), Ely, Peterborough and Wisbech. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cambridge. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Ely, also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

Unlike previous dialect surveys, the Voices project intentionally targeted speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and these five recordings from Cambridgeshire represent a particularly diverse set of speaker groups. In Wisbech you can hear localised pronunciation features such as yod-dropping on commuters ['kuhmooters'] and stupid ['stoopid'] and dialect words such as docky [= packed lunch]. Two young Cambridge musicians provide examples of multi-ethnic urban youth slang such as spar [= friend], safe [= great, excellent] and crisp biscuit [= attractive], while elsewhere in Cambridge we hear evidence of polari expressions in bona capella [= nice hat] and I'm gonna get me riah [= hair] done. There's also insight in Peterborough into the code-switching that's typical of bilingual British Asians in forms like khabbu [= left-handed] and the list of pairs used to distinguish between paternal and maternal grandmother such as dadi and nani.

The Voices archive also includes a number of speakers of Received Pronunciation (RP) - the middle-class, geographically neutral accent of England and, to a lesser extent, other parts of the British Isles. Contrary to much recent popular and media opinion RP is neither out of date nor disappearing and has in fact always encompassed a range of speech types. The Voices data set includes examples of upper-class RP in recordings with an aristocratic family in Ingatestone and members of the Arnesby Hunt. RP as manifested in the Armed Forces is captured in Worston, while typical middle-class RP is represented by a group of female golfers in Sevenoaks and a recording with three generations of a long-established family of Devon landowners in Newton St Cyres. Or you can explore Public School RP by comparing former boarding school female friends in Clapham with young students here in Ely.

In common with all accents RP is changing. The recording in Ely, for instance, shows clear evidence of change on one feature - the pronunciation of the <t> sound between vowels.  As young speakers of British English it's not surprising to hear several examples of glottal stops, but pronunciations with a <d> sound occur pretty frequently too - the word little, for instance, occurs both with a glottal stop and with <d>. Although a pronunciation with <d> is  perhaps more readily associated with speech in the USA, it's actually a long-established feature of  RP and other British accents and the presence of both alternatives here shows how adolescent speakers fluctuate between a more 'conservative' <d> and  the innovative variant with a glottal stop.

27 March 2014

Bristol L - what a wonderfa ideal

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bristol, Knowle West, Dulverton, Ilminster and Wellington. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Somerset Sound. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Knowle West and Dulverton, also include detailed descriptions of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

A unique feature of Bristol dialect is 'parasitic L' (or 'Bristol L' as it's often called in popular descriptions). This refers to the process whereby a word that in most accents ends in a weak vowel - e.g. area, idea and cinema - is pronounced in Bristol dialect with a word final <l> - i.e. to sound like 'areal', 'ideal' and 'cinemal'. This feature is often caricatured in stereotypical portrayals of Bristolian speech, but it's likely very few people have heard an authentic example. You can hear several spontaneous examples in the conversation in Knowle West here, including:

0:41:11 I can remember the first time I had a bananal [= 'banana']

0:41:45 I know at one time he came home ... and our ma was stood at the living room windle [= 'window']

The second example above is particularly striking as it reveals a two-step phonological rule: firstly the final syllable of window is interpreted as containing an underlying weak vowel - i.e. 'winda'. This is a pretty widespread phenomenon in speech across the UK (and elsewhere) as confirmed by common pronunciations like 'fella' [= fellow], 'borra' [= borrow] and 'marra' [= marrow, friend]. There's a platform announcer at Kings Cross underground station in London, for instance, who on a daily basis alerts passengers to Metropolitan Line trains stopping all stations to 'arra' [= Harrow-on-the-Hill]. In Bristol this process creates an environment where parasitic L can occur - hence window > winda > windle. You might think, therefore, that pairs like idea and ideal or area and aerial are indistinguishable in Bristol dialect, but in fact speakers who use Bristol L invariably convert word final <l> to a weak vowel so that aerial is pronounced 'area' thus maintaining the distinction. Again you can hear evidence of this in the conversation in Knowle West such as: 

0:03:26 I lived at where the old origina Whitfield tabernaca was

Indeed the name Bristol itself (historically Bristow but re-interpreted locally and subsequently nationally as Bristol) is a tribute to this wonderfa loca feature that in my humba opinion makes Brista my ideal of an idea dialect areal.