For those who fear that the great Northern dialects are about to be overwhelmed by a tide of Estuary English – that words such as mebbies, bleb and gan will soon be as rare as proper mushy peas – comes comforting news.
Yesterday, the British Library unveiled a new website intended to preserve for all time the language and accents of the North, saving them for the day when its inhabitants will know it only as the Norf.
The site contains more than 11 hours of recordings made during two surveys carried out in 1950 and 1999, and provides an insight into the changes that have overtaken dialects in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland in the past half century.
Needless to say, standard English has been advancing at the expense of regionalisms:
Take Jim Eden and Catrina Dougal, both natives of Bedale, North Yorks. When Mr Eden, a sadler, was interviewed in 1950 at the age of 65 by researchers from Leeds University, he related a joke about a man who thinks he has passed a balloon while sitting in an earth closet.
His language is scattered with words such as midden (dunghill), frae (from) and naught (nothing).
But when Miss Dougal, a sixth form student, was interviewed in 1999 at the age of 18, only the accent remained, and that much reduced. The one remarkable feature was her use of an Essex-style glottal stop.
Jonathan Robinson, the curator of English accents and dialects at the British Library, said levelling appeared to result from greater geographical and social mobility, better education and a universal pop culture…
“The outer regions tend to adopt the language emanating from the centre which, in the case of England is the South-East. The effect can also be seen regionally. Take Liverpool: its accent has gradually expanded into areas of south Lancashire.”…
Later in the year, recordings from all parts of England will be added to the Northern archive, providing a definitive portrait of changes in accent and dialect over 50 years.