Tuesday, 29 March 2011

An exploration into the Yorkshire dialect

Flat caps, pints of bitter and roll-ups - what comes to mind? Yorkshire speakers have; ever since I can remember; been stereotyped in such a way that suggests country pubs, rolling hills and the villages of ‘God’s own country.’

Due to my proud heritage as a Yorkshireman, the county’s rich and diverse range of dialects greatly interest me. But how much truth can be taken from these stereotypical representations, and how is the mentality of the North encoded through speech?

‘Yorkshire wisdom’ is a term that continually crops up alongside the country’s perception of the Northern constituent. The idea that Yorkshire folk know best is all too common, leading to the suggestion that this wisdom is embedded in their unique phrases and idioms.

The wealth of this unique dialect is expressed predominantly through older generations, my Grandmother being a prime example of the Yorkshire wisdom. On visiting her, a whole host of rich dialect sayings are often exchanged - with most being truly fascinating. “He’ll stand ‘egg under ‘cap” is one of my personal favourites, meaning someone who is easily fooled. It almost denotes the fact that the subject in question would literally place an egg on their head if commanded to, due to their gullible nature - a wonderful idiom.

But what are the roots of these sayings? The environment of the Yorkshireman goes a long way in shaping many of the phrases that are found in the dialect. In regard to my Grandmother’s term, the idea of a ‘cap’ harks back to the traditional farmer’s flat cap. Connotations of the countryside are also drawn through ‘egg,’ bringing to mind the rural farmlands of the county. So embedded in Yorkshire terms, these environmental factors do seem to be key - another example being the humorous idiom “were you born in a field?”  As well as presenting the values of common sense that are etched into the Yorkshire way of thinking, this saying holds a subtle command to close a door that is left ajar. It also sarcastically hints at the fact the recipient of the utterance isn’t aware of the practise of closing doors.

The imbedded procedure of ellipsis (omission of words) and elision (omission of syllables) is also a fascinating implication of the Yorkshire dialect, with abbreviated utterance forms being the norm in local speech patterns. A common example of this being “I’m off t’ shop,” which replaces “to the” with one sharp syllable. It simultaneously combines both of the proposed dialect features, whilst still clearly conveying the intended information through an abbreviation. Speech such as this reinforces the ‘straight to the point’ attitude of Yorkshire speakers, bred from a more laconic lexicon where by a lot of information is expressed through very few words. This taciturnity is a great skill, yet a simple feature which helps form the identity of Yorkshire speakers - allowing for easier and snappier exchanges.

The modern media also shapes the perception of Yorkshire speakers as well as being a strong factor towards echoing their mentality. Comedic performances in sketch shows which instigate humour through the dialect and its unique features, such as Harry Enfield’s character George Integrity Whitebread, light heartedly mock ‘Yorkshire-isms’ whilst reinforcing the idea that the county’s residents have an honest and seemingly unchallengeable point of view. Whitebread’s catchphrase - “I say what I like, and I like what I bloody well say” doesn’t just represent Yorkshire dialect through the informal adjective ‘bloody,’ but raises the stereotypical assumptions that the folk up North know best… or at least we think we do.

In addition, advertising also plays a large part in emphasising this mentality with the likes of the Yorkshire based broadband company - Plusnet. Slogans at the end of each advert such as “a call centre down t’ road” and “good honest broadband from Yorkshire” once again channel typical Yorkshire dialect into the language, as well as suggesting a sense of pride about being from the region.

Although a proud heritage surrounds Yorkshire and its speakers, some linguists fear that as the modern age approaches, regional dialects may become increasingly diluted through the rise of ‘Standard English’. Martyn Wakelin, author of ‘discovering English dialects’, is among the sceptics who believe that local identities revolving around speech are dying out.

Wakelin stated that regional dialect “is being eroded” and “is best preserved within rural areas, particularly among older generations.” Does this mean then that when our most aged relatives (who hold this seemingly undying wisdom) depart this life, will Yorkshire and other English dialects slowly pass out of usage? I for one hope not, because dialect determines our identity and ultimately represents who we are. Or as my Grandmother would say, “we nowt wi’ out ‘r roots.” 

1 comment:

  1. Laconic lexicon is indeed a major feature of our Yorkshire dialect! I don't usually read articles like this; however, I thought I'd give it a go and... I loved it, you're a great writer Adam! Well done! :D