Eh up! How's Tha Doin'?
by Dawn Copeman
One advantage of holidaying in England is that you won't need a phrasebook to understand the locals, right? Wrong! Only 3-5% of the English population speak what is known as BBC English . There are approximately 200 different regional accents in England. These accents change at least every 30 miles, and in some parts of the country, such as Merseyside, they can change every nine miles. At first the changes are small, with slightly different pronunciations and a few new meanings, but as the distances increase, so do the language differences.
Hello, for instance is 'ey up!' in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, 'alright mate!' in the South East of England and also in Lincolnshire, and 'hi ya!' in East Yorkshire. Candy or sweets are spice in South and West Yorkshire, but goodies in East Yorkshire. Babies are bairns in Northumberland, bains in East Yorkshire and babbies in West Yorkshire. A chimney becomes a chimley in East Yorkshire, while a narrow lane between houses is known as a cutting, a ten-foot or a gennel, depending on your location.
Don't be surprised if a shopkeeper addresses you as 'love'. They aren't expressing romantic thoughts! 'Love', in Yorkshire, is just added on to the end of the sentence to show that the speaker is being friendly, as in 'Can I help you, love?' In Nottinghamshire, this becomes 'duck', in Merseyside, 'chuck', and in Tyneside it becomes 'man' when addressing a male or 'pet' when talking to a woman, as in the phrase 'why aye man!'. 'Shy aye!' means 'of course', of course!'
Sometimes the changes are to the meanings of words: crack in Northumberland means a chat, whereas in Yorkshire it means money, as in 'its good crack'. Screw in Yorkshire also means money earned as wages, as in 'he's on a good screw'. Across most of England 'screw' is also a term used for a prison guard. A dyke is a low earth wall to protect fields from flooding in Lincolnshire, and in Yorkshire it is also a small, conical stack of corn. Swill means animal food across most of England, but in Tyneside it means to wash. A footing is normally dug out of the ground to lay foundations for buildings, but in Lancashire it is a staff Christmas party. 'Made up' in Yorkshire doesn't mean 'imagined,' but 'very happy,' as in 'I'm made up!' Also in Yorkshire, appen doesn't mean happen, but perhaps. If you think this is confusing, then consider a recent debate raging in the letters page of the Daily Telegraph concerning the word 'bubblyjock' which so far has been given the definition of a turkey, a cry baby and a braggart.
It is Yorkshire, however, that presents the most obstacles to comprehension, for there, many Old English words are still in everyday use. Aye and nae, for example, are commonly used, even among the younger generation. And don't be surprised to hear thou and thee being used, although they are most commonly pronounced as thee and tha, as in 'tha knows' (meaning 'you know'). A wonderful song to listen to in order to get the feel of the Yorkshire accent is 'On Ilkley Moor bah t'hat!' (On Ilkley Moor Without a Hat). Women are addressed as lass and men as lad, regardless of their age.
In Yorkshire, you are almost travelling back in time with words such as 'yon' meaning over there, 'agin' meaning against, 'an all' meaning also, and 'owt or nowt', meaning anything or nothing. 'Our Dianne' means that Dianne is a member of the family, while, is used to mean until (as in 'we're open 9 while 5'), and if something is 'reet grand' it means it's very good. A lughole is an ear, whereas a cakehole, meaning mouth, has been traced to the Norwegian word for jaw (kake).
Children in South, West and North Yorkshire are 'laikin in t'park' whilst in East Yorkshire they're larkin, both mean playing and both derived from Viking words. People in Yorkshire get shut of things that are broken or unwanted, whilst we would get rid of them. If you're offered scran in East Yorkshire, this means food, and to accompany it you might want a bevvy, an alcoholic drink. Pop is a soft, carbonated drink, although if 'Our Ken's been on t' pops' he's been drinking heavily and 'his 'ed ul give him gip in the morning' or his head will hurt in the morning. Giving gip means pain or trouble across most of Yorkshire, but in Leeds gip means vomit.
Whilst you might derive from context what is being spoken about in the above examples, some aspects of regional accents are undecipherable without prior knowledge. 'Am gan yam,' for example is a Tyneside expression meaning 'I'm going home.' When I was younger and visited relatives in Sheffield I was told to 'put t'wood in t'oil', which means close the door -- literally 'put the wood in the hole!' And if someone in Yorkshire tells you they're 'not so green as cabbage looking' it means they're not as stupid as they look!
Some variations are specific to individual towns. In Hull in East Yorkshire, for example, 'doin me head in' means getting on my nerves and 'goin on road', means going shopping.
Some dialects, such as Cornish, are in fact a distinct language in their own right and totally incomprehensible to an outsider. Cornish is sadly dying out, with only its distinctive 'r' burr sounds remaining and most of the younger generation, like many across England are now speaking Estuary English (the English of London and the South East, also known as Mockney for mock cockney). In Mockney well is used to mean very, as in this article was 'well good'.
So in conclusion -- and I hope by now you can translate it -- I'd like to say, 'I hope tha has a reet grand trip and tha's made up with it. As for me, am gan yam.'
To listen to a variety of English regional accents visit the British Library Sound archives at http://www.collectbritain.co.uk/collections/dialects or listen to a programme about English accents at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/routesofenglish.
Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is
working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance
writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2005 Dawn Copeman