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Norfolk Talk

Chapter A : Sounding Off

  (Paras. 1 to 10)

2. City Slickers :  3. Vowel Movements
4. Northern-U
5. The Norfolk O :  6. Double Trouble
  8. Wha Final T? :  9. Yes - Ter - Year
10. New Sense

1 : Foreign Parts

Regarding Caveat (a) :
Although it was more than 50 years ago,
I still vividly recall one Norfolk journey.
It was with ten other young Norwich lads,
travelling all of nine miles into the countryside -
to play football against a village team.
(And have a poin(t)-a bare ar(t)er !).

This gave a rare opportunity to hear a couple
of dozen true "sons of the soil", in their own
environment, conversing loudly.
Particularly  during  the game - when Norrigers
were not meant to take part (in the  talking,).

The overall effect stays with me : they could
have been using a foreign language or a system
of code, to keep opponents totally in the dark.
Wal, moi harr(t) aloive !

2 : City Slickers

The Norwich dialect is, one may suppose,
to the Norfolk as the Birmingham dialect is
to rural Warwickshire.

I will  attempt,  where possible, to point-out
instances of clear departure from the broader
(in every sense?) dialect towards a separate
Norwich vernacular.

Readers from outside Norfolk (who else would
bother to read this??) need to be reminded of -
or acquainted with - the centuries-old rules for
the pronunciation of the two main place-names :-

    (i) Norfolk : as in the banned  f-word (!),
         but with the Northern u  [ See 4 below ]
         Don't be scared . . . .

    (ii) Norwich : as in porridge
          (see the old Nursery Rhyme).
          Often rendered, in the City itself,
          as  Narge.

Good. Now we can start, together.

3 : Vowel Movements

Regarding  Caveat (b) :
We are pitched headlong into the all-important
realm of vowel-sounds; as in almost all dialect
issues throughout the country/world.

George Bernard Shaw,  for one, invested much
time and effort in trying to expand the alphabet
to include more varieties of vowel-sounds.
I don't intend to invent anything : most of
the actual sounds uttered can be found in
different and unrelated  words, but as normally
used by speakers of the  Queen's English.

If not, an approximation will have to suffice;
as we cannot allow things to get too academic
or pernickerty . . .
If only it were as simple as AEIOU!

4 : The Northern "U"

In this cavalier spirit, let us define just  one
(vital) u-sound, which lies between -
  • the hard (e.g.  tune) and
  • the soft (e.g.  luck) - as per the BBC style.
As we know, "Cockneys", Australians etc. use a
particularly soft sound, where luck almost = lack.

Here we are trying to swing the other way, as in
the familiar Northern greeting of  . . . Me Duck

We will assume that the common series of
the words :  look, cook, book, took etc. -
IF  pronounced as "standard" -
provide  exactly  what is needed.

If so, we can now add  spook = spoke/spoken.
Q.E.D.

A useful example phrase is :
this (h)air blook - meaning a male stranger.

Sadly, this "mid-u" sound is impossible to write,
without Shaw's alphabet. Everybody south
(of Watford?) would treat  luk  just the same as
luck;  whilst most Northerners would say
look  as  luke.

5 : The Norfolk "O"

It is often said that a Norfolk  blook
(or  mawther,  of course - see H.3 )  can be
picked-out anywhere on the planet by his/her
pronunciation of this particular letter.
True enough.

It is, however, less a matter of [mid-u]  blook
or  spook  (or  poost  for post) than the
DOUBLING of the vowel-sound in such
"start/end" words as - over  or  opengo  or toe.

We will, at once, place the ultra-useful word
go  into a familiar context :-

    I'm now a-gorn (t)o goo.
Particular attention should be paid to how the
(now)  double-o in  goin(g)  melds with
the following letter  i : giving the 'or' sound.

(The same sound is, oddly, employed in  "don't"
and, more reasonably, in  poem - which
becomes  porm, - don't confuse with  porn !).

For completeness, we use the rich Norfolk  I,
and anticipate our discussion of  dropped-t's,
giving :- Oi'm now a-gorn-a goo.
The archaic use of the a-prefix (as in  a-roving)
is rapidly dying-out, like most things, in the
cosmopolitan urban environment.
(See Cosmopolitan).

Keith Skipper  points out the amusing result of
applying the "Norfolk O" to the well-known
(but essentially foreign) beverage  cocoa :
Do you hev a noice cup-a cuckoo.

6 : Double Trouble

Abolishing the open-sounding single  o  has
serious results, of course (but then, so does
the Northern abolition of the soft-u).
There is no trouble with  look, cook  etc., which
continue to be pronounced in this area with the
"mid-u" sound.

The Northern "solution" (as in  luke  for  look)  is
applied instead to items like  boots = butes.
Given that  roots  are already  rutes, who should
be surprised or dismayed?

    See, tha(t) goo round in a lupe.
I take the view that the O-pen sound is
not practical in the  oopen  countryside
(or anywhere outdoors?), when the notorious
Easterly wind is blowing (most of the  Yare ).

The need to keep the teeth firmly clenched also
does much to explain the taciturn (unfriendly?)
reputation of "Dumplings"  (See I.8).

Country people describe this wind as a  lairzy
one : it can't be bothered to go around you,
so passes straight through. . . Fules  expose 
theirsalves   to its  culein'   effects!

Interestingly, a  roof  in Norfolk does NOT
- much to the amusement of "foreigners" -
become a  rufe.
The sound of  roof,  like  hoof  and  woof (dog)
is, yet again, that of the "mid-u".

 

7 : Other Diversions

Surely Norfolk is not alone in allowing some
soft-e  sounds to degenerate, as in:-
    Gi(t) you a-gorn
    (the equivalent of Clare orff).
As an aside, the latter instruction, where the  o
is "hardened" differently, is an example of a
fetish often  (orfen)   associated with Royalty.
Perhaps they spend too much time
at Sandringham!

Throughout the area  yet  becomes  yi(t).
In Norfolk (certainly old Thetford)
yes  rhymes with Diss.
Sadly, in modern Norwich, the all-pervading
yah  or  yuh  rules (hardly OO.K.)
It is even less definite than the German  ja.

Whilst on this topic, Norfolk has  noo,
but Norwich uses  know   (now you know!).

Remarkably, Norfolk shares a lot of heritage
with Scotland (as well as the North-East) -
because of the herring-trade (now defunct)
as well as the Vikings; despite sharing almost
nothing with the remaining Northerners.

In the latter case, the following rule should
always  be kept in mind :-
"West of Downham Market is North of Norwich"

In the former (Scottish) case, it means that the
SOFT-i sound [in peril from degenerate e's?]
easily becomes an indeterminate (soft-a/soft-u)
sound, i.e. little more than a grunt : dornt-a?

8 : Wha Final "T"?

Given that Norfolk (like The Smoke) knows
nothing of final-t's, we can see something of
another historical (now geographically remote)
parallel - with the USA, of all places.

They can't even pronounce the  t  in the  middle
of Clinton; nor  yi(t)  can we hear it in the middle
of a Norfolk/London "motor" (car).

Where does all this Scottish/American
influence leave the . . .
 . . . precious, tiny, word : IT
Well, as a short grunt (uh?) followed by
absolutely nothing.  Oo dare!

Good News! :
Many moons ago the Norfolk breed
came up with the solution :-

    Let's make IT become THAT;
    but, of course, without the second t.
Most conversations on Norwich Market begin
with the phrase  Thass cowld inta? *
[Please note that we still eschew the Cockney
question "inni(t)?", so the  t  is articulated]

THASS is almost certainly the most heavily-used
(though hybrid) word, in these parts.

Yet, in Norwich, we often hear a 'double-Scotch' :
Ass cowld inta?*.
If so,  thass a rummun inta?*   See L.4

Now, as we have swiftly observed (in items
marked  *  above), and paradoxically, the
brilliant "solution" is  very  often ignored :
viz. in more subordinate parts of a sentence.

An unwilling recipient will be told -
Goo on : tairk-a ! ; and an errant schoolboy -
You'll cop-a when you gi(t) 'oom!
But see the yarn entitled : The Book.

9 : Yes - Ter - Year

One of the perils of this task is
getting involved in a time-warp.

We had the same problems learning Latin
at school. "Why do we have to learn a language
nobody speaks?", we would all cry; with some
pretty good answers from the Classics Master.
Nowadays the up-to-dateness brigade
seem to have got their way on Latin . . .

Dear Reader,
if you are only interested in  current
speech patterns and sounds :-

  • You still ought to read  most  of this opus,
    because - like all study - the  history  of the
    subject has real bearing on its current state.
  • You can ignore the next little bit, plus nearly
    all of the Chapters on old farming methods.
Early in the 20th C. the practice of using  "ter"
began to wither away.
This should not be confused with the  ter
frequently shown in these pages to represent
to - which could very well be  tah  or  tuh
instead; indeed  anything  but an O, you understand!

The  old  ter  was used in place of  this, that, it  etc.
Example please :-
I had very old relatives in Norfolk who would say :
Tha(t)'ll (h)appen t'yare - when they expected
something in the current year. This struck me as
little more *  than a copy of well-known
Northern speech habits :-

    Ee bah goom - shuut t'doour laad!  or such.
That is to say (as with THE door) a
permanent abbreviation for the word  the.

Such a drastic shortening can, of course, only
be interpreted by context; in respect of any
other  words beginning  th- !.
So, effectuvely, I am saying that  ter  is now
only a written device to make  t-apostrophe
easier to read.

(* But very remarkable at that!!, with such
    a dearth of influences from that quarter)

10 : New Sense

(If you didn't skip the last bit...)
You may detect how the modern Norfolk
usage of  that   seems to have developed, via
intermediate stages, from  it  >> (grunt)
plus  t  >> plain  t.
Examples :-

J. G. Nall  (1886) : to describe suffering
from a nasty "boil"  (See I.2)  writes -
Ta itch, an' ta pritch, an' ta galver.
pritch  being prick, and  galver  being throb ]

    Winter Proverb:
    Faast ter friz, then ter snew, then ter
    thew, an' then tha(t) taanned roigh(t)
    round an' friz all oover agin.
A dialect feature as alive and kicking, as ever
it was, is NOW. This is used whenever other
English speakers would say  just.

Oi'm now a-gorn   (I'm just going)
has a heightened sense of urgency and
immediacy - even if it is more in the
promise than in the fulfilment :
Yis, moi dare, Oi'm now a-gorn-a dur(t)
. . .
(to do it)

It can be used incrementally :
  Pe(t)er, yar dinner uz now riddy!!.
Peter's reply, as given by  Mardle  is a gem :
How'd you hard, me ow'd boo(t)y,
Oi'm now a-tairkin'-a moi bu(t)es orff!


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