Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 03:43:41 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: ATLAS OF ENGLISH DIALECTS
This is from the London Times, 6 Aug. 1996, pg. 6, cols. 7-8. The book
should be out now--anyone have it?
Nowt so queer as the words some folk use
by Joe Joseph
It's not because Cornishmen are inscrutable that they look at you in
that way. It's just that they can't understand half of what you're saying.
That is the message of a new ATLAS OF ENGLISH DIALECTS which finds that
regional speech patterns have survived relatively unscathed. The book
confounds linguists who predicted that dialects would die as BBC newsreaders
offered benchmarks for pukkah pronunciation, as television drama brought
every local accent into our sitting rooms (CORONATION STREET, SPENDER,
CROSSROADS), and as greater mobility made regional tongues obsolete.
Words retain a geographical reach beyond which they lose their punch.
It's not what you know or who you know that defines you, but what you say
and how you say it. Henry Higgins could still place you within yards of your
Today may be Tuesday to you, but it's Tyoozday in Cornwall, Toozday in
Devon and East Anglia, and Choozday in much of Merseyside. And if you don't
agree then you're just being silly, daft, addle-headed, cakey, soft, barmy or
gormless. Unless you're from the Middlesbrough area, in which case you're
plainly a little fond.
"Every time someone says that dialect has all gone, this is countered by
new evidence that it persists," says John Widdowson, co-author of the atlas
and Professor at Sheffield University's Centre for English Cultural
Whether you throw a ball, or fling, chuck, heave, hain, pelt, cob, clod,
hoy or yack it says more about you than cash ever can. Londoners have
workmates. Tynesiders have marrers; many people in Yorkshire spend their day
with a pal, and in Somerset with a butty, but the Home Counties prefer mates.
When they get home they might lay the table for tea down south, but more
likely set it further north, except for a few people in the northeast who
still like to fettle the tea, which is maybe what makes them seem quite so
Grammatically, there are just we two, but most of England prefers us
two, with pockets holding out for the two on us, the two of us, and thee and
me. Why? Because that's the way we are, we am, we be, us be, we bin, or we
am. Got that?
We can change our accents, but regional vocabulary is the slipping
petticoat that betrays us. Margaret Thatcher may speak Mayfair English now,
but when she called the Labour Party "frit" she was letting the world know
not only that the Opposition was frightened but that her tongue was tutored
The atlas, published later this month by Oxford University Press, is the
fruit of nearly 50 years of research. The Survey of English Dialects began
in 1948. Professor Widdowson and Dr. Clive Upton, his co-author and
colleague at Sheffield, attribute the rich variety of dialects largely "to
the simple fact that English has been spoken in the country for upwards of
1,500 years. Even in North America, where English has been in use for some
400 years, there has been insufficient time for fragmentation of the language
Women's names, for example, or words describing women, have often been
applied to cats, especially she-cats. "Tib," common in north Yorkshire, was
frequently used in the 16th and 17th centuries to describe any working-class
woman, from sweethearts to prostitutes. "Betty," for "female cat" lingers in
So if some stranger tells you that the ewe cat he bought off a didikoy
last week is thirl and a gooseogb just won't satisfy her, don't be frit.
He's only saying that the female cat that a gypsy sold him is so hungry that
it'll take more than a gooseberry to fill her up. The stranger's not cakey.