Sunday 18 January 2009

On a disappearing dialect

Philip Holland has sent me a copy of his book Words of the White Peak. The subtitle explains: 'the disappearing dialect of a Derbyshire village'. I've talked about the importance of documenting dialects in this blog before, so I'm happy to bring it to the attention of readers.

The village is Earl Sterndale, just south of Buxton, in the Peak District. He was a dairy and sheep farmer for some 40 years, but the book describes him as many other things besides - hotelier, pianist, poet, and now lexicographer. The present collection came out of a three-year course in creative writing as a mature student at the Devonshire campus of Derby University in Buxton. It's never too late to become a lexicographer!

Dialect studies always start small and then grow fast. In the end Philip interviewed over 150 people to get all the words and phrases which form his dictionary. But, as he says in his introduction, it's more than a dictionary: it's also a memoir of his life and work on his farm. Many of the words are local farming words, such as beldering, for the bellowing of a bull, or blareting, for the bleating of a sheep. But there are also several general words, such as crozzled 'dried-out, burnt up, withered', and discourse phrases, such as choose 'ow (i.e. 'how'), added to a sentence to reinforce inevitability - 'the outcome would be the same whatever you did'.

You have to be careful, when you're reading a dialect book about a particular area. The words it contains simply illustrate what is used in that area. It doesn't mean that they're all unique to that area. Several of the words used in Earl Sterndale are found in other dialects of the British Isles, such as cack-handed 'clumsy', chuntering 'mumbling disagreeably', and nous, 'common sense'.

Dialects always overlap in this way. What we see in Earl Sterndale is a unique constellation of usages, some local to the area and some part of a wider dialect community. Every village would probably have its own voiceprint. The pity is that so few have been studied. Philip Holland's book shows what can be done.

You can find the book through Derbyshire bookshope, including shops on the Charsworth Estate and the Farming Life Centre in Blackwell, near Buxton, price £8.95. Also via the publisher, Anecdotes Publishing (


Ipmilat said...

Some of these are familiar to me from the dialect of Huddersfield where I grew up. Bacon was always 'crozzled' because as a kid I liked it that way. 'Choose how' was usually pronounced 'chuzz air'.

baralbion said...

This is indeed an impressive achievement. I hope I won’t be taken as belittling it if I say that I was a little confused at the idea of a Devonshire campus of Derby University in Buxton. I had imagined some kind of extended village hall in Brixham, but I see from the university’s website that it is, quite properly, in Derbyshire.

DC said...

Indeed. Chatsworth is the home of the Dukes of Devonshire. Nobody's quite sure how the name got there. Some people think it was a spelling error in the letters patent for the original earldom, but there's no clear evidence.

ms_well.words said...

Crozzled - yes, applies to most of my cooking!

I went to boarding school in Matlock and every Sunday I was one of a small group of choristers who would be driven in the choir master's old white Escort up to King Sterndale (a hamlet on the other side of main trunk road from Earl Sterndale), where would would sing Evensong in the tiny draughty church, where a lady who looked like Noggin the Nog (created by the late great Oliver Postgate) would pump the organ-bellows.

Your post has brought back some happy memories on this, the most miserable day of the year (allegedly). So thanks for that David.

"Devonshire" campus so-called because of the connection with local gentry - Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, whose family seat, Chatsworth, is about 10 miles away (though they owned practically all the land for miles around).

DC said...

Interestingly - though this is off-topic a bit - Philip has a poem in a privately published collection of his called Fourth in Line with the title "The village organist'. The description is of a man, in this case, but the sentiment is universal.

ms_well.words said...

Our weekly outing was filling in for the organist. Don't know who it should have been, male or female. The lady who pumped the bellows did not play the music. Our organist/choir master was a young chap (then) only about 25 yrs old.
Off topic, yes, but happy memories.

tmg said...

I do hope you intend to do an analysis of Obama's inauguration speech. I very much enjoyed your analysis of his acceptance speech back in November.

DC said...

This is off the present topic - but I've added a comment at the Obama post.

Anonymous said...

Totally off subject or almost.

This post reminded me of the work done at my old university with the North Carolina Language and Life Project, led by Dr. Walt Wolfram, a leading researcher in sociolinguistics.

They do a lot of research recording and describing old dialects of English in the small coastal towns and other local variants that are slowly disappearing.

They have a quiz with audio clips and historical explanations that may be interesting, even if you ain't got no cotton-pickin' idea of which is which.

KateGladstone said...


"'Choose how' was usually pronounced 'chuzz air'." --

-- would "air" there have an actual /r/ consonant at the end, or not?

DC said...

No, this part of the country, as further north in Lancashire and Yorkshire, is on the whole non-rhotic.

Ed said...

''-- would "air" there have an actual /r/ consonant at the end, or not?''

Huddersfield is not rhotic now, but it might have been until fairly recently. See this recording from Golcar in Huddersfield in 1974 This is fully rhotic. However, I find that how would be pronounced /æ:/