East Midlands English
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East Midlands English is a traditional dialect with modern local and social variations spoken in those parts of the Midlands loosely lying east of Watling Street[n 1] separating it from West Midlands English, north of a variable isogloss of the variant of Southern English of Oxfordshire and East Anglian English of Cambridgeshire and south of another that separates it from the Yorkshire dialect. This covers approximately the East Midlands of England (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland and Northamptonshire). In relation to other English dialects, there have been fewer studies investigating features of East Midlands English.
The Eastern English Midlands were incorporated in the Norse-controlled Danelaw in the late 9th century by Ivar the Boneless. With their conquest, the county towns of the East Midlands counties were converted into fortified, Viking city-states, known as the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. The region's dialect owes much of its grammar and vocabulary to the Nordic influences of its conquerors. For example, the East Midlands verb to scraight ('to cry') is thought to be derived from the Norse, skrike in modern Scandinavian, also meaning to cry.
East Midlands dialects in literature
The romantic novelist and East Midlander D. H. Lawrence was from the Nottinghamshire town of Eastwood and wrote in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Coalfield dialects in several poems as well as in his more famous works such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sons and Lovers.
Though spoken less commonly today, the dialect of the East Midlands has been investigated in texts such as the Ey Up Mi Duck series of books (and an LP) by Richard Scollins and John Titford. These books were originally intended as a study of Derbyshire Dialect, particularly the distinctive speech of Ilkeston and the Erewash valley, but later editions acknowledge similarities in vocabulary and grammar which unite the East Midlands dialects and broadened their appeal to the region as a whole.
"Ey up" (often spelt ayup / eyup) is a greeting thought to be of Old Norse origin (se upp) used widely throughout the North Midlands, North Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and "m' Duck" is thought to be derived from a respectful Anglo Saxon form of address, "Duka" (literally "duke"), and is unrelated to waterfowl. [n 2] Non-natives of the East Midlands and North Staffordshire are often surprised to hear men greet each other as "M' Duck".
Those who speak traditional regional dialects are not trying unsuccessfully to speak Standard English. East Midlands English follows a series of distinct grammatical rules. Some examples follow below.
Until the mid-20th century, it was not uncommon to hear the use of informal forms of address, thee and thou, as compared to the more formal you. Use of the informal form of address is now uncommon in modern speech.
Personal and possessive pronouns
Personal pronouns differ from standard English as follows:
Example: It eent theirn; it's ourn! (It isn't theirs; it's ours!)
Reflexive pronouns are characterised by the replacement of "self" with sen (from Middle English seluen)
- Y'usen – Yourself
- Mesen – Myself
- Thisens – Themselves/Yourselves
- Ussens – Ourselves
Example: We sh'll ay to do it ussens. (We shall have to do it ourselves.)
Humorous texts, such as Nottingham As it is Spoke, have used their phonetically spelled words to deliberately confuse non-natives of the region.
- Alrate youth?
- Are you alright young man? Here, ⟨alrate⟩ is a spelling designed to convey the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨right⟩, which is /riːt/, and a slight diphthonging of //.
- Avya gorra wi'ya?
- Is the wife with you? (lit. "Have you got her with you?) The pronunciation /wɪ jə/ with weak form WITH is alleged to be more common in Nottingham and the South East Midlands; pronunciations with th-fronting in WITH are alleged to be more common elsewhere. TH-fronting became a potential feature of the accents of the region in around 1960. The humorous spellings are designed to indicate H-dropping, the ’’Northern T-to-R rule’’ and /wi/, the non-Standard weakform of ⟨with⟩, which is common to many dialects in England.
- 'as any onya any onya?
- Here is an example of Belper, Derbyshire dialect when asking a group of people if any of them have any matches with which to light a pipe. Has any of you, got any (matches) on you?
- It's black ovver Bill's mother's
- It looks like rain. (lit. "It's black over Bill's Mother's.") – a common, if somewhat old-fashioned, Midlands expression implying impending bad weather. The spelling ⟨ovver⟩ chosen to indicate the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨over⟩: /ɒvɚ/. Derived from Kaiser Bill 
- Awont gunta worra
- I wasn't going to, was I? ⟨Awont⟩ , ⟨gunta⟩ and ⟨worra⟩ are blend words designed to convey the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨I wasn't⟩, ⟨going to⟩ and ⟨was I⟩.
- A fund im in cut
- I found him in the Canal, (lit. "I found him in the cut). Using the traditional and local word ⟨Cut⟩ for Canal. Canals were originally referred to as "Cuts" because during the industrial revolution canals or highways for transportation of goods were literally "cut" into the landscape and allowed to fill with water.
- Thez summat up wiv im
- I think he may be ill. (lit. "There's something up with him."). The spellings here chosen to indicate the ‘‘Northern’’ feature that /eə/ is a monophthong, the non-Standard English word //, which is historically found in many dialects across England (cf. its use by the London boatmen Gaffer and Riderhood in Our Mutual Friend and by the farmhands in Far from the Madding Crowd), the weakform of ⟨with⟩ previously mentioned and H-dropping.
- Yer norrayin no tuffees!
- You aren't having any toffees (sweets)! Humorous spellings here were chosen to indicate the Northern T-to-R rule and the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨have⟩, which is //.
However, there are many words in use in the traditional East Midlands Dialect which do not appear in standard English. The short list below is by no means exhaustive. More comprehensive glossaries exist within texts such as Ey Up Mi Duck by Richard Scollins and John Titford.
- naught /nəʊt/
- nothing (homographic with // the digit cypher, 0, and the (now only literary) naught // of General English; /nəʊt/ is a traditional dialect phonological specification and // is the regular development in General English).
- aught /əʊt/
- anything (homographic with the now literary General English //)
- a weak person, or one who feels the cold. Found in many parts of England, cf. its use in Hardy.
- easy job (used in certain coal-mining communities based on watching a conveyor belt)
- pavement ("causey" is an older word from which 'causeway' is derived.)
- a bread roll (bap), compare to a cob-loaf which is baker's term used across the UK for hemispherical loaf; (as verb:) to throw
- trousers (//, usually pronounced [klaːts]); (as verb:) hits something or someone.
- alleyway. Typically (but not exclusively) alleyways providing access to the rear of terraced housing.
- to cover with (usually a thick substance)
- mardy (or etymological marredy)
- grumpy, sulky (i.e. "She's a mardy one!")
- to make a pot of tea (i.e. "I'll go mash the tea.")
- to pick at a scab, spot or a skin irritation (i.e. "Stop piggling that scab!")
- intoxicated or stupid
- to pour out uncontrollably usually of smoke, steam or dust
- to cry/crying
- rain heavily
- snapin or snap
- lunch/food,tekken ta werk
- covered/infested, (DH Lawrence used the word 'Snied' in a description of an infestation of mice in Sons and Lovers.),
- fool (used across the East & West Midlands)
There are also word forms that occur in Standard English but which have additional meanings in some of the varieties considered here.
- In many dialects, this has the sense of ‘looking well’ often referring to a healthy plumpness. In Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, there still also exists a transferred sense of plump, robust, stout or overweight derived from this sense. Cf. Samuel Johnson’s comment that ‘‘It seems to be used in general conversation for plump’’ as cited in NED Bonny 2 b as (J.).
- stuck, caught (i.e. "Who's got a finger fast?")
- sweets, confectionery
- an (illegal) crossbar ride, "two-up" on the crossbar of a bicycle
- duck's necks
- bottle of lemonade
- an ad-hoc buffet or Potluck
- ice cream (common in Leicestershire) see Hokey cokey
- a plaster cast
- iced lolly
- to yank:In Leicester and Leicestershire to throw as in 'yack it away' or 'yack it to me'
- can you
The greeting 'now then' (as 'Nah theen') is still in use in Lincolnshire and North-East Derbyshire, used where other people might say "Hello". 'Nen mate' can also be heard instead of "now then mate".
Dialect variations within the political region
Northamptonshire is in the East Midlands region defined in the late 20th century, and has historically harboured its own dialect comparable to other forms of East Midlands English, particularly among the older generation. However, more recently its linguistic distinctiveness has significantly eroded due to influences from the western parts of East Anglia, the West Midlands, and the South as well as the 'Watford Gap isogloss', the demarcation line between southern and northern English accents.
The Danelaw split the present county into a Viking north and a Saxon south. This is quite plainly heard, with people in the south speaking more like people from Oxfordshire or Cambridgeshire and people in the north sounding more like people from Leicestershire.
Also of note is the anomalous dialect of Corbyite spoken around Corby in the north of Northamptonshire, which reflects the migration of large numbers of Scottish and Irish steelworkers to the town during the 20th century. The dialect is often compared to Glaswegian.
The dialect of Coalville in Leicestershire is said to resemble that of Derbyshire because many of the Coalville miners came from there. Coalville's name is still almost exclusive pronounced as "Co-ville" by its inhabitants. Neighbouring pit villages such as Whitwick ("Whittick") share the Coalville inflection as a result of the same huge influx of Derbyshire miners.
The city of Derby, as well as boroughs in the vicinity of the city such as Amber Valley and Erewash share a common Derby dialect, which sounds largely similar to other East Midlands dialects such as Nottingham and Leicester. However, many other dialects in the county are influenced by neighbouring areas and cities. For example, the dialect of Glossop in the High Peak borough is largely similar to the North West's Manchester dialect due to its close geographical position to Greater Manchester, while that of Chesterfield and Bolsover share commonalities with the South Yorkshire dialect owing to their proximity to Sheffield and Doncaster. In addition, the dialect of the Derbyshire Dales is near identical to that of the bordering North Staffordshire, mimicking dialects in and around Stoke-on-Trent, as well as that of Crewe in Cheshire, North West England.
Lincolnshire and East Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire has long been an economically relatively homogeneous, less industrial more heavily agricultural county and is in part naturally separated by the River Trent divorcing its largest market town, Gainsborough, Torksey & the City of Lincoln from Nottinghamshire. East of the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the southern part of the county, the Lincolnshire dialect is closely linked to The Fens and East Anglia where East Anglian English is spoken, and, in the northern areas of the county, the local speech has characteristics in common with the speech of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is largely due to the fact that the majority of the land area of Lincolnshire was surrounded by sea, the Humber, marshland, and the Wolds; these geographical circumstances permitted little linguistic interference from the East Midlands dialects until the nineteenth century when canal and rail routes penetrated the eastern heartland of the country.
Minor variations still endure between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Though all native speakers sound similar, there are noticeable differences between the accents of residents of, for example, Nottingham and Derby, or Mansfield and Bolsover which is pronounced locally as //.
In North Nottinghamshire and North-East Derbyshire, the dialect is very similar to South Yorkshire, including the occasional use of the pronoun thou amongst older people. See Stephen Whyles's book A Scab is no Son of Mine for examples of speech of the Worksop area.
Counties in which East Midlands English is spoken
- Cambridgeshire (Limited usage around Peterborough)
- Derbyshire (Limited usage in northern areas such as High Peak, Chesterfield and Bolsover)
- Lincolnshire (except areas within the Yorkshire and the Humber region)
- Nottinghamshire (Usage less frequent in Bassetlaw)
- Staffordshire (Limited usage around Burton-upon-Trent and Uttoxeter)
In popular culture
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The children's writer Helen Cresswell came from Nottingham, lived in Eakring and some of her characters featured on television during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Lizzie Dripping and Polly Flint, have distinct East Midlands accents, otherwise rarely heard in national broadcast media at the time.
Notes and references
- Also termed the A5 or London – Shrewsbury road
- There are also other suggestions for the origin of the term 'duck': one being attributed to a group of young children who would congregate in the River Derwent in the Morledge area of Derby in the early 19th Century, a time when the flow of the river was much slower. People who watched them sometimes remarked that they could "swim like ducks", an observation Joseph Masters once remarked in his memoirs. The children soon greeted each other with 'Ey up, my duck', calling themselves the 'Derby ducks' not long thereafter. This story has to be scrutinized against the word duck having been a term of endearment since at least the 1580s.
- Falkus & Gillingham and Hill.
- "BBC Inside Out – Dialect". BBC. 17 January 2005. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- "East Midland Dialect". Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. January 2003. ISBN 9780192800619.
- Pavel, John (23 April 2008). "Dialect poems by D.H. Lawrence". Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- Scollins, Richard; Titford, John (1 September 2000). Ey Up Mi Duck!. Countryside Books. ISBN 978-1-85306-658-0.
- "History of the Potteries dialect". BBC. 2005. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- "Opinion: 'A quacking definition of Derby famous 'mi duck' greeting'". Derby Telegraph. 29 March 2015.[permanent dead link]
- Harper, Douglas. "Duck". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- "Books". The Old Meadows.co.uk. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- Kerswill, Paul (2003). "Dialect levelling and geographical diffusion in British English". In Britain, D.; Cheshire, J. (eds.). Social Dialectology. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 223–243 – via Researchgate.net.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 558. .
- "Local Dialect Words and Usage". Sulgrave.org. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- Sons and Lovers Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- A New English Dictionary (1888) Bonny, adj., 2. b. (http://archive.org/stream/oed01arch#page/987/mode/1up)
- Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed. (1989) Bonny, adj., 2. b.
- A New English Dictionary (1888) 2nd Bonny, adj., 1. (http://archive.org/stream/oed01arch#page/987/mode/1up)
- Personal knowledge confirmed by Leicestershire native families and friends.
- Leicester Mercury, 16 July 2004
- Evans, Arthur Benoni (1881) Leicestershire Words, Phrases and Sayings; ed. by Sebastian Evans. London: Trübner for the English Dialect Society
- Wright, Joseph (ed.) (1898–1905) The English Dialect Dictionary. 6 vols. Oxford University Press ("appendices include dialect words grouped by region")
- Skeat, W. W. (ed.) (1874) "Derbyshire lead mining terms", by T. Houghton; 1681 ... "Derbyshire mining terms", by J. Mawe; 1802 [with other texts]. London: N. Trübner for the English Dialect Society
- Mander, James (1824) The Derbyshire Miners' Glossary. Bakewell : Printed at the Minerva Press, for the author by G. Nall (High Peak and Wirksworth districts)
- Pegge, Samuel (1896) Two Collections of Derbicisms; ed. by W. W. Skeat & T. Hallam. London: for the English Dialect Society by H. Frowde, Oxford University Press
- Braber, N. (2014). 'The concept of identity in the East Midlands'. English Today 30: 3-10.
- Dialect words recorded in the Northamptonshire village of Sulgrave
- Specimens of the Coalville dialect
- Conversation in Coalville about accent, dialect and attitudes to language; BBC Voices; British Library
- BBC information page on E. Midlands Dialect
- Angelina Jolie baffles Holywood with 'ay up mi duck'
- Dolly Parton says 'ay up mi duck' at book scheme launch