Released: October 2015
Publisher: Bradwell Books
Size: 180 x 110mm
Author: Diane Davies
This book will help you understand the unique and ancient Leicestershire dialect and have you talking like a native in no time. The book includes a superb introduction, a dictionary to help you develop an altogether new vocabulary, plus a wonderful collection of tales and anecdotes, all chosen to illustrate different aspects of the delightful local dialect.
Although not from Leicestershire myself, I lived in the county for eleven years from 2001 to 2012 while
working as a lecturer at the University of Leicester. My interest in the regional dialect began almost as soon as I had moved to the area and started to notice things about the accents and expressions of people born and bred in the locality. It wasn’t long before I heard the word mardy and the address form me duck in Leicester market, and passing some window cleaners heard one of them refer to uz ladders. Some time later I started to use examples of recorded Leicestershire speech in my teaching of sociolinguistics, and this led to an opportunity to do some research on the East Midlands dialect and, more specifically, the Leicestershire variety. One project I undertook, called Village Voices, involved collaboration with some of the county’s Heritage Wardens to record the speech of people of different generations who had spent all or most of their lives in the same Leicestershire villages.
We tend to take the variety of English we speak for granted most of the time, but when we meet people from other areas of the country we quickly notice the subtle differences between varieties or dialects. A female resident of Thringstone interviewed for the Village Voices study said: I am really not aware of my accent, but when you visit other districts/areas, other people know I am from Leicestershire.
Another interviewee from the same village, aged 75, came to the even more precise conclusion: I do think in a lot of respects I’m broad Thringstone. Those participating were asked to write down any local words or phrases they might use to express particular meanings on a list. For the meaning ‘ask someone to wait’ a 38-year-old wrote ode on (‘hold on’), his deliberately creative spelling reflecting how the ‘l’ in that position is sometimes dropped in a Leicestershire accent. For the same reason he also wrote cowd to represent his way of pronouncing ‘cold’. This feature is often seen in written representations of the dialect of the East Midlands.
Some often-referred-to terms associated with different areas of the country (not restricted to a single county) include words for a path or alleyway between houses, for being left-handed, and for actions such as avoiding school (mitching, bunking off, skiving, etc.). These seem quite resilient across different generations, with both older and younger people saying they use the terms jitty, caggy-handed or bunk off, for example. However, it will come as no surprise, I’m sure, that words for many other things are subject to fashion and can differ markedly between generations. For the concept of ‘attractive (person)’, for instance, older respondents suggested they might say stunning, while the words used by younger people from the same villages included fit and peng.
The participants in our study said they were proud of their regional accent and of the villages they came from. Some bemoaned the erosion of the close-knit rural communities they remembered from their youth, but they also appreciated the way village halls and a range of local societies could still bring people together and build a sense of local identity. They felt the Leicestershire dialect was still alive and kicking, despite the fact that a sense of shared community was, in some places at least, less tangible than it used to be.
The ‘prestige’ variety or dialect we call Standard English had its roots in the East Midlands dialect of Middle English. Today it is an international variety taught in our schools and across the world, the recognised norm in both writing and speech for educated users of English.
In the Middle English period it is generally agreed there were four main dialect areas: Northern (extending southwards to the Humber), East Midland, West Midland and Southern (south of the Thames together with Gloucestershire and parts of Hereford and Worcester). The East and West Midland dialects covered the area between the Humber and the Thames, but by this time they were distinct from each other because only the East Midland dialect area had previously been subject to Danish (Viking) rule within the territory of the Danelaw. This had of course brought many Scandinavian words into the English of the East Midland area, seen in place names and some everyday vocabulary, for example the many words with an ‘sk’ sound, like sky, bask, skirt and skill. By the late 14th century, the East Midland dialect area was the most populous and had more valuable agricultural land than the north and west at the time, so wealthy merchants from this part of the country became influential in London, now the centre of power. As an intermediate dialect between northern and southern, it was also more comprehensible to all at a time when people from areas far apart had considerable difficulty in understanding each other.
Today accent is often the first clue we have to someone’s regional background. We might guess whether they come from the ‘north’ or the ‘south’ of England, for instance, by the way they pronounce words like laugh, class or pub. But what about the way they say make, school, town or few? And how do they say isn’t? Sometimes the most helpful clues to regional dialect are found in the less obvious features.
One thing worth remembering is that, even though it is possible to talk about ‘Leicestershire dialect’, it is at the same time the East Midlands dialect, having much in common with that of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire (allowing for some differences between them, of course!). Regional dialects do not simply follow county boundaries on the map. Their range is shaped more by historical borders such as the main travel routes, rivers and hill ranges or by the location of important centres for trade. Where there has been much commerce between two neighbouring regions, their dialects can shade into each other, but where contact has been infrequent we find more marked differences between the two dialects. County boundaries are, in any case, unreliable in another way: their exact position is sometimes changed at the whim of governments. Leicestershire and Rutland exemplify this quite well.
Today we might assume that regional dialects are dying out because we move around the country (and world) much more than in the past, we’re connected through 24-hour media wherever we live, and because the traditional rural way of life is fast disappearing. Certainly, some of the older dialect words and expressions collected for this book are no longer in use. Nevertheless, there are still words, expressions and accents that are instantly associated with different regions. Just as a living language is always in a state of flux, so its regional dialects change too, abandoning certain words, using others in new ways, and absorbing new elements with every generation.
I hope this little book will make you more aware of and interested in Leicestershire dialect, past and present, whether you are from the county, a new resident, or a visitor. The dialect dictionary has terms from a range of sources to give a flavour, mainly, of the traditional dialect. A few items are not, strictly, dialect words but are included simply to represent the local accent through non-standard spelling. I have avoided, though, the kind of condensed spelling sometimes found in lists of dialect phrases intended as puzzles or jokes about accent, such as Supwiyo for ‘What’s up with you?’ – these can be pretty baffling if you’re not an insider! The topics and anecdotes that follow the dictionary are an eclectic mix of information from a range of sources and include some transcribed extracts from speech recorded in more recent times in different parts of Leicestershire.