October 16, 2008

Northumbrian Dialect Scholarship

By Clive Dalton

The late Harold Orton was a Professor in the English Department at the University of Leeds where his students used to go out during the summer vacation into rural areas to interview and record folk such as farm workers, game keepers and other rural workers. The English Department was near the Agriculture Department where I taught, and it was a great experience meeting Harold. He told me he had done some of his own student study in Bellingham and had recorded Jack Telfer the tobacconist and watchmaker.

We talked of the North Tyne accent and he assembled some students to hear me give an example of the lingo! Choosing a subject was easy as I just imitated some of the grand old folk I worked for. I gave them a treatise on how to judge Blackfaced tups!

Prof Orton played me recordings of rural folk from the East Riding and West Riding of Yorkshire and it may as well have been a foreign language. He then played me a discussion between two rural lads from around Wooler arguing about the merits of their Border "tarriers" (terriers), and to sort it out they were going to let them have a "whorry". It took me some time te get me lugs tuned in illustrating the changes in speech over very small areas of the county. The material collected by Prof Orton is now famous world wide as a source of English dialects.

An update from 1980 on Orton's work is presented on the Woolshed 1 blog in two parts:

Part 1: http://woolshed1.blogspot.com/2008/10/northumberland-changes-in-agricultural.html
Part 2: http://woolshed1.blogspot.com/2008/10/northumberland-changes-in-agricultural_12.html

In researching images for the blog related to this project, I found this article reporting the study is from the 1956 archives of the New York Times, who have a unique (and amusing) take on the study.

Here's a link to a copy of that article - click here.

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