Older ‘Somerset Speak’ in honour of Somerset Day

Oh Calloo Callay, it’s Somerset Day!  To honour this year’s celebrations, I was going to write a lazy listicle about ’10 Somerset words’ or something, but then remembered that there is a wealth of less well-trodden examples out there that you might find a little more interesting….

Sunset on the Quantocks (photo: Vicky Garnett)

Somerset is often visited by linguists.  The stereotypical romantic notion of a local-yokel farmer with acres of cider apple orchards and dairy cattle has not just drawn tourists to ‘these parts’, but academics with tape-recorders looking to capture a disappearing culture.

And one of those microphone-clutching academics is me!  But when I’ve finished recording you, what am I comparing that recording to?

Well, for one thing, I’m looking at the Survey of English Dialects recordings that were made in the mid-1950s by a team at the University of Leeds.  The accents from the people they recorded are all but disappeared from Somerset today (although you might hear one or two old fellas down the pub who have a similar dialect).  Yet these are the types of accents that make it onto the tourist merchandise, and into the pop-lit books on ‘how to speak Somerset’.  The words we use have stuck around, but the accents, sadly, have not.

Of course, there is much academic debate around just what constitutes an authentic accent (who has it, what is it, why is one accent considered more ‘authentic’ over the other), and no one ever thinks THEY have the local accent, but “oh – you should ‘ear such-and-such down the road, e’s proper broad e is!”.

This fella down the road, e’s proper gurt broad, e is!

So – for your delectation, here are links to three recordings from the Survey of English Dialects, taken from across Somerset.  They roughly pattern with the locations I am visiting as part of this Somerset Speaks project.  I’ve added a few notes of things to listen out for (phonological descriptions are in square brackets, for those who are interested)….

Location What to listen out for British Library link
Merriott  [a:f]   “ahff”  = off
[ðæn] “than” = then
[ɹʌʃiz] “rusheez” = (bull)rushes
[wɑɪʃ] “woish” = wash*
Stogursey [səɪð] “suythe” = scythe
[bijɛɪnd] “bee-ye(h)ind” = behind
[apwɜɹdz] “apwards” = upwards
Wootton Courtenay [mɛɪ] “may” = my
[snɔ] “snaw’ = snow
“i they days” = In those days

*I’m hearing an intrusive ‘r’, but in the linguistic notes that accompany the recordings on the BL website, Stanley Ellis (the fieldworker who took the recording) notes it as a diphthong [wɑɪʃ], not [wɑɹʃ].  Maybe it’s down to the quality of the recording, however I defer to the SED team’s better knowledge here 🙂

What differences can you hear?

Want to take part in my Somerset Speaks project?  You can sign up here, and you might even win a Marks and Spencer £50 Gift Card!


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