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DISCUSS: Dialect Diversity 002

From:Barbara Barrett <barbarabarrett@...>
Date:Monday, April 19, 2004, 8:42
This is the 2nd of three articles; the first two suggesting that dialect
diversity in the UK is actually increasing contrary to expectations, and the
third that the various Yorkshire accents/dialects are flattening out to a
kind of omni-yorkshire

Sound archive draws on century of northern voices

Martin Wainwright
Wednesday February 11, 2004
The Guardian

Hundreds of tedious jokes about people from the north can finally be nailed
from today with the help of an internet archive which also offers a handy
guide for nervous visitors to the region.

The biggest compilation of authentic northern speech ever compiled has been
posted on the internet by the British Library, drawing from thousands of
hours of recordings going back to 19th-century cylinder dictaphones.

Samples of football fans in Burnley, bakers in North Yorkshire and farmers
slaughtering pigs in Northumberland are included in an 11-hour sampler to
test the world's taste for northern idiom.

"Regional accents are back in fashion and spoken with pride," said Jonathan
Robinson, curator of English accents and dialects at the British Library
Sound Archive, even as Ant and Dec's jungle Geordie faded from the country's
TV screens.

The north was chosen for a pilot project for what will eventually be an
enormous audio record of Britain's many voices, because of the "particularly
rich" assortment of accents.

Slow and laconic Yorkshire conversation, in which prolonged silence plays an
important tactical role, merges into the sing-song of the north-east and
Lancashire's rising tone, which has been adopted, in part, by young people.

Cliches such as "gradely" and "nobbut" - the stuff of Hovis advertisements
and stand-up comedians - do feature, but the breadth of vocabulary and use
of emphasis is remarkable, according to the library.

The north was also chosen because of its historic role in the collection of
recordings, with pioneering work done at Leeds University.

Led by dialect specialists Harold Orton and Eugen Dieth, teams of recorders
visited 313 localities in the 1950s and grilled more than 1,000 people with
"with good mouths, teeth and hearing".

The patient victims of the survey, still the only systematic study of
Britain's dialects, were asked 1,300 questions "designed to elicit responses
that would best illustrate the lexical, phonological and morphological
diversity of spoken English".

The website has plundered not only the Orton-Dieth initiative but also more
recent attempts to record the different way that we - and especially
northerners - speak.

To mark the millennium, all 40 BBC local radio stations interviewed 5,249
people, aged between five and 107, for individual minidiscs and 640
half-hour radio documentaries.

"Visitors to the site can listen to an incredible variety of spoken English
in the north," said Colin Beesley of the British Library at Boston Spa, West
Yorkshire, where much of the material is stored.

"The words in each recording are explained so that users know what a bleb
is, what bonny naught means, what luck money is, and what to do with

The internet archive, which will build up during 2004 to 11 hours of audio
from all of England's regions, was built partly on one of the 20th century's
great misconceptions. This was the belief that "BBC English" and the
supposed value of strangled vowels and a clipped tone in getting a proper
job would destroy variety.

"To some extent, the opposite has happened," said Mr Robinson.

"The way people speak in northern England has changed over the last
half-century, but there is an incredible amount of regional diversity."

Middens, clags and layhouses

1952 Jim Edin, a retired sadler in Bedale, North Yorkshire, uses 10 unusual
grammatical constructions peppered with thee- and thou-ing and a good joke
about a balloon in a midden (an outdoor lavatory)

1974 Herbert Hodgson in Durham recalls his mining career, using interesting
verbal inflection, dropping some hs and adding others, with a wealth of
technical terms such as "offtakes", "layhouse" and "clag"

1999 Five pupils from Appleby-in-Westmoreland, Cumbria demonstrate
T-glottaling and TH-fronting in a discussion about pocket money-note
invasion of international argot word "like".

2002 Prison inmate David Downs from Featherstone, West Yorkshire, uses
"were" instead of "was", skips the definite article (and its northern
variant "t") and shows the resilience of words such as "thisen" and "bits
and bats"