Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
Don’t you find regional variations in language interesting? Dave and I certainly do, and from the frequent exchanges on the BE Forum it seems we’re far from alone in this.
When I was growing up the language most people spoke at home was called Doric. Most outsiders (even other Scots) couldn’t understand even one word of what was being said – it’s as far removed from English as that. Bits of it sound more German or Danish than English! At one stage some council or other (I think it was Moray) started making some of their publications available in Doric as well as English, and I believe you can now take evening classes in some places.
Of course, promoting minority languages happens elsewhere in the UK. (Only in recent years, mind you. I well remember that we were all forbidden to speak Doric at school, and in years gone by some schools used to impose quite shocking punishments on pupils who were caught speaking their native tongue instead of English.) You can’t go far in Wales without seeing plenty of evidence of the Welsh language (it even got its own television channel in 1982 with the creation of Sianel 4 Cymru). And the same has happened – to a lesser extent – with Scots Gaelic in the Highlands, particularly in the Western Isles. They’ve even started putting Gaelic street names up in Inverness, although I can’t imagine there are many Gaelic speakers living there.
But more recently this promotion has extended to variations of English. Various councils in Scotland have started including Lallans in their letterheads, and in Northern Ireland I gather you can now see the same thing happening with Ulster Scots (and Irish). I’m not sure whether anywhere in England has gone as far as this, though it seems doubtful.
So why are we looking at language this week? Well, our pal Jayne recently posted on the BE Forum about a Doric poetry website she’d found. The BE Forum seems to have become a haven for Doric speakers – there are a good half-dozen or more who either speak it, or can at least understand it. Anyway, in the course of the discussion Jayne also posted some extracts of writing in Middle English (English as it was written and spoken round about the 13th century) and Old English (about the 7th-8th century). It’s a stretch to understand the Middle English – it’s well nigh impossible to make any sense at all of the Old English (Dave had a real struggle, even after having studied Old High German and Old Icelandic at university).
In the meantime we’ve been watching The Forsyte Saga on video. Some of the language used there is quite jarring to the contemporary ear – for instance, literature with explicit sexual content is described as “advanced” rather than “adult”. (Calling it “adult” is a personal bugbear of mine – I think “adult” should simply mean “for grown-ups”.) It’s funny how even apparently well-established words have changed their meanings over the years. “Gay” is an obvious example. But a couple of hundred years ago “nice” was a rather insulting word meaning “nit-picking” (as in a “nice distinction”) and “silly” was a perfectly inoffensive word meaning “innocent”!
Did you grow up speaking something other than “standard” English? Why not comment and tell us about it?
The British Library have an interesting collection of soundfiles of dialects going back to the early 1950s. Unfortunately it only covers England and one or two Isle of Man speakers.
British Library – English Dialects
To redress the balance a bit (at least as far as Scots is concerned) here’s a link to Wir Ain Leid, an online introduction to Modern Scots:
Wir Ain Leid
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
Till next time…
British Expat Magazine
“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright (1856-1950), in the preface to Pygmalion (1912)
Noddy Holder goes into a tailor’s to be fitted for a new outfit.
After decking him out in the finest velvet suit with wide lapels and windjammer flares, the tailor asks him, “How would Sir like a nice kipper tie?”
“Ar, goo on,” Noddy replies. “Milk and two sugars, please.”
Kay has been an expat for 25 years. She set up the British Expat website more than 15 years ago, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)