A Telegraph story by Neil Tweedie reports on a new online repository:

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.



  1. Cor blime matey, no more “geordie” wot a blooming shame. Yer toffs didit, It must be the loss of the pitts[coal] and yerds[Ship building]
    Oh! dear, no more see coales, thats wot dun it.

  2. You are Dick van Dyke’s Cockerny Chimleysweep in Mary Poppins and I claim my five pounds!

  3. All is not lost. I know a lot of young people from Sunderland who are completely incomprehensible to standard English speakers. I also know a 29 year old Yorkshire man who has difficulty not using dialect words.

  4. Go a bit further Norf. It’ll take a while before Glaswegian loses its incomprehensibility, if Trainspotting‘s any indication…

  5. Trainspotting is of course set in Edinburgh, which’s dialect is much easier to get a handle on than Glasgow’s.
    But Estuary is certainly on the march – there’s plenty of it out here in Bristol (including me), which’s indigenous dialect and accent are very much in decline.

  6. Oh, so THAT’S what my Aberdeen colleague is speaking. (And e-mailing. Yes, he e-mails in Geordie.) I understand one out of eight words and guess the rest.

  7. I don’t agree that “standard English has been advancing at the expense of regionalisms”. On the contrary, Scouse and Geordie are more popular than ever, as defiant assertions of local identity. But as the article points out, the subtle variations within regional accents are disappearing, e.g. the Lancashire accent is being swallowed up by Liverpool (=Scouse), the County Durham accent is being swallowed up by Newcastle (=Geordie).
    There’s a fascinating essay by the writer/journalist Ian Jack, collected in Before The Oil Ran Out: Britain 1977-87, in which he compares the regional cultures of two industrial cities, Turin and Liverpool. He claims that in Turin, there is no such thing as a “working-class accent”. “I asked several people if they could identify the social positions of other Torinese by their accents, and none could or was even interested to try .. The regional dialects of the migrants from the south do provide a linguistic division in Turin, but they give no clue to social status. Doctors and computer programmers may speak that way as well as the man in the Fiat paint shop.” (Is this right? Any comments, anyone?) In Liverpool, on the other hand, Scouse is very much a working-class accent, not just a regional one. And it seems to have intensified in the last twenty years, as class divisions have sharpened.

  8. I wonder if the researchers/collecters will be factoring ‘class’ into their records. Uptown and downtown, rural workers and landowners – who may be living in overlapping territories but have a different relationship with the language through history, social standing and economic power.

  9. Accents versus acceptance: I knew a very Southern gent, who was extremely successful sales type, and on my first aquaintance was fooled {I easily so) but his clients were also enthralled with him too. After many years of rubbing shoulders, I found out that he was a true blue from Brooklyn. Accents are for acceptance, manhood, and many other survival techniques. In U.K. it established the pecking order in any community. Outsiders not welcome due to shortage of growth opportunities for many career paths. Like begets Like. Family or tribal instincts are at play. Too many qualified applicants for the position desired. ’tis incestuos but necessary to find a way to seperate the wheat from the chaff. As family requirements vs monies available become scarce, there be many new devices[i.e. going back to language variation] to seperate and get the upper edge besides the basic B.A. to get on to the fast track. Sorry just tort. Words used to include or exclude ’tis why language is interesting, its about eating,sleeping clothing , housing and getting an advantage in the race to the pyramid. At the moment the fast track is the MBA and Whartons, next year ?

  10. What’s startling to me is how quickly this has happened. I’m originally from south Manchester and grew up reading the novels of Cheshire author Alan Garner who once said in an interview (scroll to near bottom) how shocked he was when he realised his father spoke in a dialect that was recognisably the same as the one that Gawain was written in. That would have been in the ’50s I imagine, and yet that is pretty much entirely gone now.

  11. Despite what many Yorkshire folk will have you know, that so-called Essex-style glo?al stop has been a standard feature in parts of Yorkshire for many a long year; I remember hearing it in my childhood in the Seventies/early Eighties, at least. Not that I’m saying there isn’t influence from a rising tide of Estuary English, but rather that in analysing its influence we first need an honest description of the, cough, ‘victim’ accents/dialects. But what else would you expect from a newspaper story?!!

  12. The “Boston accent” is slowly being pushed into the harbor. My grandparents (Somerville and Watertown) call sodas “tonics”, but only East Boston kids still call them that. Gravy for marinara sauce and Bubbler for a water fountain are almost gone as well. At least sneakers and faceclothes seem relatively safe.

  13. It seems that the only place that it is fashionable to speak with a regional dialect in the UK these days is if you work in the media. It is impossible to turn on the radio without hearing a Geordie, Mancunian or Scouse accent.
    The problem seems to be not the March of Estuary English but the loss of regional words. In my childhood in Yorkshire I would walk down a Ginnel (Pronounced jinal) which is an alleyway and I would play with Clinkies (Marbles)
    I have a friend from Cumbria who still uses Yan (one) Fit(What) and Gan(going),and I hope he passes these words on to his children.

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