Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Origins of Yorkshire Dialects

Sheila Chapman writes:
Does ‘brussen’ mean bursting with food or bursting with self importance /pride?
It depends on where you live - in this case in Leeds or Bradford.

This word, based on old German for bursting, was the first of many examples used by Dr Barrie M Rhodes of the Yorkshire Dialect Society to illustrate his talk on the origins of Yorkshire dialects.

Barrie grew up speaking a Yorkshire dialect and never more so than when he went to live with his grandmother during the war because she, as he said, ‘did not speak English’ but West Riding. He compared her words with modern Swedish to show how strongly her dialect was influenced by the Viking invasions of this country. He compared her words,  ‘Laikin room for t’barns’, which was how she described a room where children could play, to ‘lekrum barn’ which means ‘children’s play room’ in Swedish. The similarities are obvious.

Barrie took us through the history of the invasions of this country from the Romans through the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings to the Normans.  Each conqueror left a mark on the language: the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) language became the basis for modern day English sweeping away, to a large extent, the previous Brythonic (Romanic) language spoken by the Celts. The later invasions by the Vikings had particular importance for Yorkshire, which was part of the Danegeld, and especially for Yorkshire dialects. So, Yorkshire is divided into ridings (from the Old Norse Thrydings) and many of its place names (49% in the East Riding and 39/40% in West Riding) are of Scandinavian origin.

The main contributors to Yorkshire dialects today are Old English and Old Norse/Old Danish together with a smaller contribution from Old (Norman) French.

Barrie sees the dialects (or languages) of Yorkshire as having as much historical significance as the buildings but he also regards dialect (and language generally) as a living thing which constantly changes and evolves – he does not wish to freeze it in time. He rails against ‘the tyranny of the standard’ which he maintains is only another dialect of English and says that the speakers of other dialects in this country should never regard their language as less valid than the standard.

Barrie is passionate about his subject and he put this across to the, nearly fifty strong, audience. As one of them commented, ‘Great evening – good theme (lingo) passionately & clearly expounded’.

Below, Dr Barrie M Rhodes:

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