Somerset English

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Somerset English

Postby Gormur » 2005-11-10, 22:30

I've recently heard about this particular dialect of English that is the basis for "Pirate English".

I found this on Wiki -

The West Country dialects, or West Country accents, are generic terms applied to any of several English dialects or accents used by much of the indigenous population of the south western part of England, the area popularly known as the West Country. This is the region centred on the traditional counties of Devon (Devun), Cornwall (Corrnwahll) and Somerset (Zummerzet), amd to a lesser extent on Wiltshire, parts of Gloucestershire (Glahstershire), Oxfordshire (Ahxforrdshire) and Dorset (Darrzut); the eastern and north eastern boundaries of the West Country are disputed. Immigration to the towns from other regions means that the dialects are now only commonly encountered in rural areas.

In the neighbouring counties of Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, it was possible to encounter comparable accents and, indeed, distinct local dialects until perhaps the 1960s. Although natives of such locations, especially in western parts, can still have West Country influences in their speech this is less than in the true West Country counties. The increased mobility and urbanisation of the population have meant that local Berkshire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight dialects (as opposed to accents) are today essentially extinct.

Strong West Country accents can still be difficult for speakers of Standard English to understand. Although popularly considered to be only accents, academically the regional variations are considered to be dialect forms. These are dialects of English and should not be confused with Cornish, which is a Celtic language related to Welsh, and more closely to Breton.

In literary terms, most of the usage has been in either poetry, or dialogue, to add "local colour". It has rarely been used for serious prose in recent times, but was used much more extensively in the 19th century.

Early period
Beowulf appears to have been written in Late West Saxon (c. between 700-1000 AD), .
Judith a poem, written in the Middle Ages is from this region.

19th Century
The Dorset dialect poetry of William Barnes(1801-1886).
Anthony Trollope's (1815–1882) series of books Chronicles of Barsetshire (1855-1867) also use some in dialogue. "Barsetshire" is thinly disguised Dorset.
The novels of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) often use the dialect in dialogue, notably Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891).
Wiltshire Rhymes and Tales in the Wiltshire Dialect (1894) containing The Wiltshire Moonrakers by Edward Slow, available online here

20th century
A Glastonbury Romance (1933) by John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) ISBN 0879512822 / ISBN 087951681X contains dialogue written in imitation of the local Somerset dialect.
Laurie Lee's (1914-1997), works Cider with Rosie (1959) etc, portray a somewhat idealised Gloucestershire childhood in the Five Valleys area.
John Fowles's Daniel Martin, which features the title character's girlfriend's dialect, and which has sometimes been criticised for being too stereotyped.

History and origins
Until the 19th century the West Country and its dialects were largely protected from outside influences due to its relative geographical isolation. The West Country dialects derive not from a corrupted form of modern English, but reflect the historical origins of the English language and its historical pronunciation, in particular Late West Saxon, which formed one of the earliest English language standards.

The dialects have their origins in the expansion of Anglo-Saxon into the west of modern day England, where the kingdom of Wessex (West-Saxons) was founded. From Wessex, Anglo-Saxon spread into the Celtic regions of Dumnonia. Penetration of the English language into Cornwall took centuries more; during the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, which centred on Devon and Cornwall, many of the Cornish objected to the Prayer Book on the basis that many Cornish could not speak English. The last monoglot Cornish speaker is believed to have been Chesten Marchant, who died in 1676 at Gwithian. In recent years, the traffic has reversed, with the revived "Modern Cornish" variety reclaiming many Celtic words from the local dialect into its lexicon.

It is thought that the various local dialects may reflect the territories of various Saxon clans (who had their own dialects of Saxon), while the progress of their occupation explains the greater dominance of a more Germanic accent in the earlier and more heavily occupied eastern parts of the region, while the slower and lower density Saxon infiltration into Devon enabled more of a Celtic accent to be retained.

As Lt-Col. J.A. Garton observed in 1971 [1], traditional Somerset English has a venerable, and respectable origin, and is not a mere "debasement" of Standard English:

"The dialect is not, as some people suppose, English spoken in a slovenly and ignorant way. It is the remains of a language - the court language of King Alfred. Many words, thought to be wrongly pronounced by the countryman, are actually correct, and it is the accepted pronunciation which is wrong. English pronounces W-A-R-M worm, and W-O-R-M wyrm; in the dialect W-A-R-M is pronounced as it is spelt, Anglo-Saxon W-E-A-R-M. The Anglo-Saxon for worm is W-Y-R-M. Polite English pronounces W-A-S-P wosp; the Anglo-Saxon word is W-O-P-S and a Somerset man still says WOPSE. The verb To Be is used in the old form, I be, Thee bist, He be, We be, Thee 'rt, They be. 'Had I known I wouldn't have gone', is 'If I'd a-know'd I 'ooden never a-went'; 'A' is the old way of denoting the past tense, and went is from the verb to wend (Anglo-Saxon wendan)."
In some cases, many of these forms are closer to Standard German than Standard British English is, e.g.

Standard German Somerset Standard British English
Ich bin I be/A be I am

Du bist Thee bist You are (arch. "Thou beest")
Er ist He be He is

The use of male (rather than neutral) gender with nouns, and sometimes female, also parallels German, which unlike English retains grammatical genders. The pronunciation of "s" as "z" is also similar to German.

In more recent times, West Country dialects have been treated with some derision, which has led many local speakers to abandon them or water them down. In particular it is British comedy which has brought them to the fore outside their native regions, and paradoxically groups such as The Wurzels, a comic North Somerset/Bristol band from whom the term Scrumpy and Western music originated, have both popularised and made fun of them simultaneously. In an unusual regional breakout the Wurzels' song Combine Harvester reached the top of the UK charts in 1976, where it did absolutely nothing to dispel the "simple farmer" stereotype of Somerset folk. It and all their songs are sung entirely in a local version of the dialect, which is somewhat exaggerated and distorted.

Celtic language influence
As previously stated, Brythonic languages have had a long term influence on the West Country dialects. There is evidence of some minor Irish settlement in the coastal areas, especially Somerset, but the colonies here were not as successful as in Scotland, or even north west England.

The Cornish dialect has the most substantial Celtic language influence, because many western parts were non-English speaking, even into the early modern period. In places such as Mousehole, Newlyn and St Ives, fragments of Cornish survived in English even into the 20th century, e.g. some numerals (esp. for counting fish) and the Lord's Prayer were noted by WD Watson in 1925, Edwin Norris collected the Creed in 1860, and JH Nankivel also recorded numerals in 1865.

In other areas, Celtic vocabulary is less common, but it is notable that "coombe", cognate with Welsh cwm is common in placenames east of the Tamar, especially Devon. Some examples of Brythonic words surviving in Devon dialect include:

Blooth - A blossom (Welsh blodyn)
Goco - A bluebell
Jonnick - Pleasant, agreeable
The characteristic features of the accent of the region include:

A slower, drawling manner of speech, with lengthened vowel sounds (this is less pronounced among the Cornish and Bristolians, who actually speak quite rapidly).
The initial "s" is pronounced as "z".
"r"s are pronounced far more prominently than in Standard English.
An initial "f" may become pronounced "v", as in varmer Joe
In the Bristol area a terminal "a" is often followed by an intrusive "l". Hence the old joke about the three Bristolian sisters Evil, Idle and Normal — i.e., Eva, Ida, and Norma. Also the name "Bristol" itself (originally Bridgestowe, variously spelt).
In various districts there are also distinct grammatical and syntactical differences in the dialect:

The second person singular thee (or ye in parts of Devon) and thou forms used, thee often contracted to ee.
Bist may be used instead of are e.g. ow bist? = "how are you?" This is the form adopted as standard in German.
Use of male (rather than neutral) gender with nouns; put he over there = put it over there.
An a prefix may be used to denote the past tense; a-went = gone.
Use of they rather than them or those; they shoes be mine = those shoes are mine. This is also used in Lowland Scots except that in Scots they are two different words, thae (from Anglo-Saxon ðà) the plural form of that and they (from Anglo-Saxon þà) the plural form of he, she and it.
Am used exclusively in the present tense, usually contracted to 'm; you'm = you am = you are.
In other areas, be may be used exclusively in the present tense, often in the present continuous; Where you be going to? = Where are you going?
West country accents also share certain characteristics with the accents of other isolated rural areas, for example those in parts of East Anglia. There is a popular prejudice that stereotypes speakers as unsophisticated and even backward, due possibly to the deliberate and lengthened nature of the accent. This can work to the West Country speaker's advantage, however: recent studies of how trustworthy Britons find their fellows based on their regional accents put the West Country accent high up, under southern Scottish English but a long way above Cockney and Scouse. Presumably anyone who sounds like a simple farmer is thought to be incapable of guile!

The West Country accent is probably most identified in American English as "pirate speech" — cartoon-like "Ooh arr, me 'earties! Sploice the mainbrace!" talk is very similar. This may be a result of the strong seafaring tradition of the West Country, both legal and outlaw. Edward Teach (Blackbeard) was a native of Bristol, and privateer and English hero Francis Drake hailed from Tavistock in Devon.

Additional selected vocabulary
Some of these terms are obsolete, but some are in current use.

"Allernbatch" (Devon) - old sore
"Benny" (Bristol)- to lose your temper
"Blad" (Bristol) - idiot
"Blether" (Dorset) - bleat (also used in Lowland Scots)
"Doattie" (Devon) - nod off
"Grockle" - tourist or visitor
"Hinkypunk" - Will o' the wisp
"Janner" (Devon, esp Plymouth) - a term with various meanings, normally associated with Devon, and so called Chav culture.
"Keendle teening" (Cornwall) - candle lighting
"Kimberlin" (Portland) - someone from Weymouth
"Love", "My Love", "Luvver" - terms of endearment. Even used by heterosexual men to one another.
"Maggoty" (Dorset) - fanciful
"Mang" (Devon) - to mix
"Pummy" (Dorset) - Apple pumace from the cider-wring (either from "pumace" or French "pomme" meaning apple)
"Snags" (Dorset) - sloes
"Zat" (Devon) - soft

Also, I was just listening to 1566AM BBC Somerset Sound (the local BBC station there) and indeed the accent is a bit "piraty" to my ears. I had quite a time trying to understand some of the phrases. Interesting. :o

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Postby Gormur » 2005-11-10, 22:41

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Postby Kirk » 2005-11-11, 1:22

Interesting article, tho comments like this make its credibility somewhat suspect. I realize it was quoting someone but it didn't comment on them, either:

Many words, thought to be wrongly pronounced by the countryman, are actually correct, and it is the accepted pronunciation which is wrong

Puh-leez J.A. Garton :roll: :roll: If they're native speakers no one is pronouncing them wrong.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

I eat prescriptivists for breakfast.

maɪ nemz kʰɜ˞kʰ n̩ aɪ laɪk̚ fɨˈnɛ̞ɾɪ̞ks

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Postby Mabz » 2005-11-16, 16:51

The regional dialect that is Somerset is in reality much milder. If you spoke to an old person who had lived in Somerset all their life they may indeed sound somewhat like a pirate, although I never thought of comparing them to one until i read this post.
The strong Somerset accent has all but died out. I can safely say this because having lived in Somerset all of my life I have met only a handful of people who speak with 'pirate-ish qualities'- so the Somerset stereotype does not really apply. The Somerset accent most people speak with is slightly rhotic, but nothing like a pirate.

The accent varies depending on different parts of the county - for instance nearer Bristol many people have the unfortunate quality of sounding like Vicky Pollard (a character from a show called Little Britain)

*and out of all the list of slang words given for westcountry speakers, I have only heard of 2, and i use the term grockle, but shortened to 'grocks'

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Postby charlotteh » 2005-12-24, 15:08

I was brought up in Somerset.... ooo arrr, oi've got a braand new comboin 'arvesterrr

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