Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 03:43:41 -0400

From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM


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

in Grantham.

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

to occur."

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

East Anglia.

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.

Just Cornish.