“Dialect” a wise man once said, “is the language of the defeated”. There is a lot of truth in this observation and often a dialect has achieved such a status purely because of its inferior societal relevance – itself often directly related to historical conflict of some nature. In truth, and despite common perceptions that dialects wholly exist as regional versions of an extant common language, the reality is far more complex. Take “Broad Yorkshire” for example. Although seen as an “English” dialect, most of its content far precedes English, or diverged at a point before English was actually a single language, and even has lexical roots in other languages entirely. A huge amount of vocabulary in both Yorkshire dialect and geographical nomenclature, for example, comes from the ancient Danish of the Vikings. However, with England being one of the world’s most aggressively centralised and regionally unsympathetic nations, the Yorkshire “language” lobby has never been able to make much headway – even though there are arguably greater differences between Broad Yorkshire and English than there are, for example, between Spanish and Portugese.
Nonetheless, Yorkshire dialect has the advantage of being one of the longest studied and hence best known. The Yorkshire dialect society, formed in the 19th century, is the world’s oldest and still does a huge amount of work in recording and promoting the use of Yorkshire dialect. It was this society which originally discovered that there were in fact not one but THREE Yorkshire dialects, based loosely upon the geography of the three Ridings – the North and East Ridings speaking an old Northumbrian tongue and the West speaking a form of Mercian. Even this division is not as clear cut as it sounds. In the deep south of Yorkshire, adjacent to Sheffield, there are places where people sound more Midlands than Yorkshire, and there are some old country towns in the Southern Pennines, west of Halifax and Bradford, that maintain the odd trace of the North Riding dialect.
One thing that needs to be made clear (as social media so often gets this kind of thing so wrong) is that dialect is not accent or slang. Accent is the way we speak. The way someone from Sheffield, for example will say the word bone the same as someone from the south of England would, i.e. “bown”, whereas most of the rest of Yorkshire will say it with a broad vowel and without the inferred “W”. Slang, on the other hand, is a word or phrase introduced in a modern context (and modern could mean fifty years ago, by the way!) often brought to life by youth culture or other sub-cultures. Generally speaking, dialect contains grammar, syntax, and vocabulary which has some genuinely identifiable pedigree and, as in the case of Yorkshire, often reflects cultural origins which lie outside the language to which that dialect is supposed to belong.
(Although Yorkshire dialect is the official historical tongue of the region, the Ridings of Jorvik Society with whom YIFA merged in 2019, did some interesting work on Old Norse and recreated a Yorkshire version thereof which they named “Jorska”. A blog entry on this work can be found through the following link. HERE)
The best place to get an understanding of Yorkshire dialect (for those not lucky enough to already speak it) is the Yorkshire Dialect Society itself. The website has a wealth of information on the subject, as well as recordings of people speaking dialect and new members are always welcome. YIFA will also contribute, albeit to a more modest extent, through regular blogs on Yorkshire dialect and any other related content.
EXAMPLES OF YORKSHIRE DIALECT
Eyup! – Hello!
Wheear’s ta bahn? – Where are you going?
Gang agate! – Go away
Etta doitin? – Are you mad?
Tha’s nobbut a bairn – You’re just a child
Ah’m fair stalled o’ yon bletherskite – I’m quite fed up with that person, they just talk rubbish!
Thi mam’s aht wi t’childer – Your mother has gone out with the children
Sithee nah…gi ovver laiking abaht! Listen here…you need to stop messing around!
Gi us a spog, ahm klemmed. Can I have one of your sweets please? I’m really hungry.
If ivver than mun do owt, onny ivver do it fer thissen. If ever you do anthing, only ever do it for yourself.