Tag Archives: dialect

Wise owls: dialects

There are many different Englishes – and there are Englishes within Englishes. The wise owls have turned their thoughts to their favourite features of dialects of England.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I’ve been a sucker for a flat northern vowel ever since I watched Coronation Street as a kid (long ousted for EastEnders, whose mockney lacks the same appeal). I’m a southerner by birth so when I moved to Leeds in the 1980s I was thrilled to be called ‘duck’ by the Loiners and hear them rhyme bath with math(s). I have an unconscious tendency to mimic other people’s accents, so it wasn’t long before I started flattening my own vowels when in the company of northerners. I quickly added owt, nowt and summat to my verbal repertoire, and have been using them ever since because, well, they are just so much more succinct.

What I also love about northern dialects is the rich vocabulary – I’ve been in Manchester for more than 12 years now and I’m still learning the lingo. Words like bobbins (rubbish) and brew (a cup of tea) roll off my tongue as easily as fookin’ hell (no one swears quite as awesomely northernly as Liam Gallagher), often shortened to ‘kinell. However, I doubt my stepson would approve if I called him ‘our kid’. My absolute favourite is ‘out out’, as in ‘Are we going out, or out out?’ This is Mancunian for deciding how dressed up you ought to be for a night on the tiles.

Obviously, I still get confused when Mancunians say dinner when they clearly mean lunch; I’ve had some awkward attempts to diarise meetings thanks to that. But when I turn up for lunch/dinner, I’m as likely to greet my companion with ‘Yallright?’ as I am to say hi. I’ve lived far longer in the north of England, or Oop North, as I call it, than I have anywhere else, so the accents and vocabulary have left a bigger imprint on my brain than those of all the other
cities and countries I’ve lived in. And that’s not bobbins. Maybe one day I’ll be taken to be proper Manc.

Hazel Bird

A variant of dialects that I find interesting is idiolects, which are
uses or coinages of words particular to individuals or small groups (such as friendship groups or families). They tend to grow organically out of day-to-day interactions, and unlike dialects they can be
cross-regional.

For example, I have just looked up the term ‘hoon’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and learned that it is an Aussie/Kiwi term for ‘behav[ing] in a loutish or irresponsible way; spec. to drive fast or recklessly’. However, by way of a link with rally car culture, my family has come to use it to refer to ruminant animals’ prancing across a landscape. Our definition is quite precise: sheep can hoon; cows, horses and such cannot.

We also use the word ‘puggle’ to refer to (1) the act of moving foodstuffs around a cooking pan to prevent them from adhering to the bottom or (2) fussing a cat. The OED has the meaning ‘to poke out’, which bears passing resemblance to (1) but not to (2). How we came to adopt these meanings is a mystery.

Another oddity is the spelling ‘baout’ (pronounced with extreme emphasis on each vowel) for ‘boat’. A baout can be a water-worthy object of any description, with the word denoting a sense of longing. However, like many dialect and idiolect words, it has a shared significance that is hard to put into words.

I often encounter dialect and idiolect words in my creative non-fiction editing work. When
used well, their effect can be powerful, conveying intimacy, alienation or a little of both.
They can make the reader the author’s closest confidante or deliberately shock them into
a new perspective.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

Nah then, mardy bum! There are often discussions in the CIEP forum about whether it’s permissible to quote song lyrics, but in this case the famous line is part of my childhood vernacular, and if you tell me I can’t write it, I’ll get a reyt face on.

One of the biggest thrills of my life was to hear that line sung at full throttle by the passengers on the crammed tram conveying myself and my (then) teenage son to hear Arctic Monkeys play in their (and my) home town: Sheffield.

Unlike the next-most-famous city band (the Human League) who adopted the ubiquitous
1980s musicians’ twang, Arctic Monkeys are proper tykes who know how to pronounce Beauchief (Beechiff) and will know that they need to pack their brollies if someone tells them
it’s silin’ it dahn.

Lots of people think they can ‘do’ a Yorkshire accent by splatterin’ apostrophes awl o’er t’ro-ad but Sheffieldish doesn’t work quite like that. Indeed, there are regional variations even within the city boundaries depending on whether the speaker hails from the northern or southern side – and it’s nothing to do with whether they support the Owls or the Blades.*

TV and radio programmes often fail to do the Sheffield accent justice: not all shows can afford Sean Bean (sadly!). But to hear a bit of authentic Sheffield banter, try Tom Wrigglesworth
and ‘family’
on BBC Radio 4. Every time I hear Tom’s fictitious dad answer the phone with ‘Sheffield 973629’ I am transported 150 miles north! (Why do my older northern relatives recite their number?)

I had the full force of my Sheffield accent elocutioned out of me, as a teenager, but my dad is an aficionado. This has been known to cause major confusion among his southern careworkers, but the fuss is usually somert and nowt, such as a mix-up between putting something o’r’ere or o’r theer.

To me, dialects are not just about words and pronunciation, but a way of life – some of which is sadly now dwindling.

Back in the day, my nannan used to gerron t’bus to go shoppin’ dah’n’t’cliff armed wi’a bag o’spice to share with the other passengers! She’d gerroff and buy some breadcakes, peys, a pound of tripe and a bottle of Hendo’s, then reverse the journey to be home in time for dinner.**

As I set off out to play, my mum might have told me not to get my clo’e’s loppy from scrawmin’ around in’t’ gennel; and if a friend later called round for me, the response would be ‘She in’t-in’.

Dialects can be problematic in formal writing and speaking, but they are a matter of great local pride and shouldn’t be regarded as a lesser form of English, in the right context. Nuff said?

Ah’ll si’thi’!

* Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United football teams

** My grandmother would get on the bus to go shopping at Attercliffe, carrying a bag of sweets … to purchase bread, peas, tripe and the local delicacy Henderson’s Relish [try it on pie!], and return in time for lunch.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

It is my abiding regret that I wasn’t born in my grandmothers’ generation so far as dialect goes, to hear their grandmothers speak. Alas, I am a child of the Fifties, by which time dialect was fading rapidly, and almost gone from my little corner of Hyde, a Pennine foothills mill town eight miles east of Manchester. We were in that select group of people that says scoan, not sconn (much smaller geographically than I ever imagined), and we had ginnels (though not as generally defined – ours were always covered). A buffet (pronounce that T!) was a broad, low wooden stool, an exceedingly useful article, especially for a tiny kid as, if you turned it upside down, you could sit on the underside, surrounded by rather solid framework, and pretend it was a rowing boat. I’m delighted to find it in Oxford Dictionaries at definition 3 (sans boat) and the etymology appears to be Old French into Middle English 600 years ago.

Mum kept an odd bit of grammar going well into the present century. She’d say ‘When I’m waken’ for ‘When I awoke’. And I distinctly recall a small schoolfriend (we must only have been six or seven) tell someone to ‘Stop thy skrikin’ ’ – a term that wasn’t  used in my house, a couple of hundred yards away (not metres, back then), but was easy enough to figure out (‘Cease that noisy crying, forthwith!’) and if you couldn’t, well, it’s in Collins. Its etymology is harder to find, but it looks like being Old Norse for, not very excitingly, to scream or cry. We were just within the Danelaw, back in the day, so that sounds about right. Of course, the people around me didn’t speak a dialect, just as we didn’t have an accent – we just spoke how we spoke, but we knew it wasn’t like those posh folk on the wireless or telly – unless it was for comic effect and Marriott Edgar was being recited (I gave this monologue at a school show, and that was accent, really, not dialect). I’ve been living away for too long now to retain any strong linguistic links to home, and though I do still rhyme grass with crass, and bath with math, I no longer rhyme book with souk. Thanks for a lovely nostalgia trip!


The wise owls pop up on the blog every couple of months to reflect on their experiences on various topics. All are Advanced Professional Members of the CIEP.


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator (who is quite a fan of bishy barnabees).

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Of Indian Englishes, eating heads and doing the needful

By Ayesha Chari

‘I can’t get it done on time if you eat my head from the morning!’ Words I said aloud to my other half just before sitting down to write this. (Unusual, given that I’m the one who’s generally doing the nagging.) I am glad no one asked me to prepone submission.

Indian Englishes are as diverse as the people who speak them, and the buildings those people inhabit.

Indian English, as is widely acknowledged, comes in as many colours and variations as people in the sub-continent. It is not the equivalent of Hinglish, not the sole domain of Bollywood, nor the caricatured ‘incorrectness’ painted eloquently in English language literature. It seeps effortlessly through urban, semi-urban and rural terrains in the spoken and the written, and is accepted as the glue binding the 22 constitutionally ‘scheduled’ Indian languages and hundreds of other language-dialects, recognised or otherwise. Not without contention, of course, perhaps highlighted most by the ‘non-native English speaker’ label forced on the nation’s people by bureaucratic forms in all fields and worldwide.

Historically, introduced to the Indian elite via the East India Company, the formal teaching of the English language was established with Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education and the English Education Act of 1835. Taking a shape of its own in post-colonial South Asia, ironically English became the tape for a linguistically and culturally fragmented nation and its Indian diaspora. Among the earliest documented works on the characteristics of Indian English is linguist Braj Kachru’s 1961/62 thesis, available from the University of Edinburgh Research Archive (Prof Kachru’s The Indianization of English and The Alchemy of English are widely used as references in the field). The controversial 2019 Draft National Education Policy re-emphasises the three-language formula first introduced in 1968, leading to questions on the role of English as a link-language for bilingual citizens of a multilingual nation.

A basic internet search on Indian English will throw up scores of researched articles and resources (old, not-so-recent and more recent) on:

  • the history: British, but also Portuguese and Dutch influences;
  • extent of use: exponentially growing, as I write;
  • characteristics:
    • British in formally taught style, grammar, spelling and punctuation – a legacy of colonisation
    • increasingly American in business, spoken and other forms of quick communication – the unquestionable influence of TV, social media and globalisation of the sub-continent’s ‘service face’
    • respectfully Indian in colloquial usage written and spoken – expansively mixed in idiomatic usage and everyday writings;
  • vocabulary, phrases, expressions, idioms and pronunciation: all distinctly Indian, reflective of regional vernaculars, all as diverse as the nation itself.

It won’t come as a surprise, then, if I say there are no standard resources, manuals, guides or websites to help editors edit.

For useful discussions on the myriad issues, pop in to the Facebook groups Indian Copyeditors Forum and the Editors’ Association of Earth. To keep up with contemporary urban lingo, bookmark Samosapedia. Interesting, informative reads include Kalpana Mohan’s An English Made in India (2019), Binoo K John’s Entry from Backside Only (2013) and the multi-authored Chutnefying English (2011).

And then there is the kaleidoscope of Indian English literature: from the traditionally recognised writings of Salman Rushdie, Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Anita Desai, Nirad C Chaudhuri and Vikram Seth to the engaging, controversial, academic, popular (yet, often, quieter, less talked-about) and/or award-winning literary works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kamala Markandaya, Arundhati Roy, Arvind Adiga, Vikram Chandra, Jeet Thayil, Amitav Ghosh, Nissim Ezekiel, Gieve Patel, Kamala Das, Anuja Chauhan and Chetan Bhagat, to those of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amit Chaudhuri, writing in English but not agreeing with the label of the genre, the list is endless and reveals there is no standard written form. And new tales continue to be embraced over chai and aadda.

Bottom line: Being aware of regional sensitivities, variations, expressions and context is key to recognising and understanding ‘Indian Englishes’ for their own sake. Because we are like this only.

Dear Ms Cathy,

Thank you to blog team for asking me to write up.
Please find herewith my draft blog contribution.
Please let me know if you wish to know any further. I will do the needful and revert back.

Sincerely,
Ayesha

Disclaimer: No offence is intended to native or non-native speakers of any language. All errors and inconsistencies are the author’s and the editor’s, who are both same-to-same.

Ayesha Chari is an Indian editor with ancestral, native and adopted linguistic roots in New Delhi, Benares and Lucknow (northern India), Behrampore, Dhanbad, Arrah and Calcutta (eastern India), Bombay (western India), and Madras, Madanapalle and Palakkad (southern India), not to leave out Rangoon (in now Myanmar) and Jessore (in now Bangladesh). Currently based in the UK, she has done the needful, sat on the computer and written – in true character of the topic – twice the number of words Catherine Tingle requested for this blog. When not doing timepass, she teaches her 2.5-year-old Indian English among other languages.


Lynne Murphy discusses a standard Global English and editing English for global audiences in a CIEP focus paper: In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes?


All illustrations by Ayesha Chari.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.