The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

The East-Anglian dialect

One of the most rapid changes that has happened in the past fifty years around here is the loss of the East Anglian accent. Nowadays we think of the Essex Accent as being the flat estuary accent from East London, rather than the completely different dialect of East Anglia. Of course, living in Witham, I could recognise the slightly different intonation of the Suffolk accent and the rather strange, but related Norfolk accent, but the change in the dialect was gradual as one moved east and north. There really was one East Anglian dialect

Suddenly, the dialect seems to have almost vanished, to be replaced by a strange hybrid of the cockney and midland.

We know the old dialect was ancient, due to the occurrence of archaic words seen only in Shakespearian english or even the Danish. We can also thank the labours of the victorians for capturing it phonetically, so we can study the small amount of drift in the following hundred years. There have been three dictionaries produced to record the unique words found in the East Anglian dialect. My favourite is 'A Contribution to an Essex Dialect Dictionary' by Edward Gepp, the rector of High Easter, published in 1920. It is very accurate, and it is not often that it misses out on a word in wide usage.
We publish on the website a list of words collected from 'Old Bors' in Glemsford and Long Melford, which is remarkably popular.David Woodward's book 'Larn yarself Silly Suffolk' is still available and provides a thoughtful and careful account of the dialect. Charlie Haylock has just produced a new book, called 'Sloightly on th' Huh!. Charlie lives in Cornard and, like our own Fred Pawsey, given talks on the old 'Suffolk' dialect. His book is, of course, excellent, and a very accurate record, given in a lighthearted way, which only occasionally strays into the facetious.

Sadly, I don't see the Suffolk accent lasting much longer. One can take comfort in the fact that the last generation to speak the accent properly have been recorded for posterity, but it is scant comfort.


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