Yorkshire dialect
Native toEngland
RegionYorkshire
EthnicityYorkshire British; various
Early forms
Old English
  • Middle English (East Midlands and Northern dialects dependant on Riding)
DialectsDifferent varieties within the dialects, traditionally divided between the West Riding dialect (part of the Northeast Midlands group) on the one hand, and the North and East Riding dialects (of the Northern group) on the other.
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Location of Yorkshire within England
Coordinates: 54°N 2°W / 54°N 2°W / 54; -2
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The Yorkshire dialect (also known as Broad Yorkshire, Tyke, Yorkie, or Yorkshire English) is a traditional dialect of English, or rather geographic grouping for several dialects, spoken in the Yorkshire region of Northern England.[1] The dialects have roots in Old English and are influenced to a greater extent by Old Norse than the Standard Language. Yorkshire's dialects have faded and face extinction,[2][3] but organisations such as The Yorkshire Dialect Society and the East Riding Dialect Society exist to promote their use.

The dialects have been represented in classic works of literature such as Wuthering Heights, Nicholas Nickleby and The Secret Garden, and linguists have documented variations of the dialects since the nineteenth century. In the mid-twentieth century, the Survey of English Dialects collected dozens of valuable recordings of authentic Yorkshire dialects.

Examples of Yorkshire dialect when compared to Standard English

West Riding Yorkshire English
T'bairns wor aat laikin. /bɛːnz wəɾ aːt leːkɪn/ The children were out playing.
What time is it? /wat taːɪ̯m ɪz ɪt/ What time is it?
It wor a grand day. /ɪt wəɾ ə ɡɾand deː/ It was a great day.
Aw heven't etten nowt today. /a ɛvənt ɛtən nɒʊ̯t tədeː/ I haven't eaten anything today.
Aw usually stop at hoam i t'e'emin. /a (j)ɪʊ̯zəlɪ stɒp ət uəm ɪt iːmɪn/ I usually stay at home in the evening.
Shoo's read fifteen books this year. /ʃəz ɾɛd fɪftiːn buːks ðɪs jiə/ She's read fifteen books this year.
He hugg'd a poak up a stee whol his rig wark'd. /ɪ ʊɡd ə puək ʊp ə stiː wɒl ɪz ɾɪɡ waːkt/ He carried a bag up a ladder until his back ached.
Tha cud mak moor brass aat on't if tha tried. /ða kʊd mak muə bɾas aːt ɒnt ɪf ða tɾaːɪ̯d/ You could make more money out of it if you tried.
We hed to wesh ussens i cowd watter. /wɪ ɛd tə wɛʃ əsɛnz ɪ kɒʊ̯d watə/ We had to wash ourselves/get washed in cold water.
It mud ha bin war. /ɪt mʊd ə bɪn waː/ It might've been worse.
Yo can leead a hoss to t'troff, but yo can't mak him sup. /jə kən liəd ə ɒs tət tɾɒf bət jə kaːnt mak ɪm sʊp/ You can lead a horse to the trough, but you can't make it drink.
Experience is a dear schooil, but fooils will leearn i noo' other. /ɪkspiːɾiəns ɪz ə diə skuɪl bət fuɪlz wəl liən ɪ nuː ʊðə/ Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Them at eyts t'moast puddin, gets t'moast meyt. /ðɛm ət ɛɪ̯ts muəst pʊdɪn ɡɛts muəst mɛɪ̯t/ Those who eat the most pudding, get the most meat.
Here's hauf a craan, nip daan to t'chip-hoile an get uz a nice piece o haddock for uz teea. /iəz oːf ə kraːn nɪp daːn tət tʃɪpɒɪ̯l ən ɡɛɾ əz ə naːɪ̯s piːs ə adək fɒɾ əz tiə/ Here's half a crown, nip down to the chip-shop and get us a nice piece of haddock for our supper.
Wud-ta like to donce wi me? /wʊdtə laːɪ̯k tə dɒns wɪ mɪ/ Would you like to dance with me?
Wheer does-ta come fra? /wiə dʊstə kʊm fɾə/ Where do you come from?
Aw can't go to t'party toneet becoss Aw've a lot to do. /a kaːnt ɡʊ tət paːtɪ təniːt bəkɒs av ə lɒt tə duː/ I can't go to the party tonight because I've got a lot to do.

Early history and written accounts

Based on fragments of early studies on the dialect, there seem to have been few distinctions across large areas: in the early 14th century, the traditional Northumbrian dialect of Yorkshire showed few differences with the dialect spoken in Aberdeen, now often considered a separate Scots language.[4][5] The dialect has been widely studied since the 19th century, including an early work by William Stott Banks in 1865 on the dialect of Wakefield,[6] and another by Joseph Wright who used an early form of phonetic notation in a description of the dialect of Windhill, near Bradford.[7] Significant works that covered all of England include Alexander John Ellis's 1899 book On Early English Pronunciation, Part V, and the English Dialect Dictionary, which was published in six volumes between 1898 and 1905.

Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) are notable nineteenth century works of literature which include examples of contemporary Yorkshire dialects. The following is an excerpt of Brontë's use of Yorkshire dialect in Wuthering Heights, with a translation to standard English below:

'Aw wonder how yah can faishion to stand thear i' idleness un war, when all on 'ems goan out! Bud yah're a nowt, and it's no use talking—yah'll niver mend o'yer ill ways, but goa raight to t' divil, like yer mother afore ye!'

'I wonder how you can dare to stand there in idleness and worse, when all of them have gone out! But you're a nobody, and it's no use talking—you'll never mend your evil ways, but go straight to the Devil, like your mother before you!'

Geographic distribution

Yorkshire is a massive territory and the dialects are not identical in all areas. In fact, the dialects of the North and East Ridings are fairly different from that of the West Riding, as they have display Northumbrian characteristics rather than Mercian ones.[8] The Yorkshire Dialect Society draws a border roughly at the River Wharfe between two main zones. The area southwest of the river is Mercian in origin, with origins in the East Midlands dialects, whilst that to the northeast, like Geordie, the Cumbrian dialect and the Scots language, is descended from the Northumbrian dialect. The distinction was first made by A. J. Ellis in On Early English Pronunciation.[notes 1] The division was approved of by Joseph Wright, the founder of the Yorkshire Dialect Society and the author of the English Dialect Dictionary. Investigations at village level by the dialect analysts Stead (1906), Sheard (1945) and Rohrer (1950) mapped a border between the two areas.[9] A rough border between the two areas was mapped by the Swiss linguist Fritz Rohrer, having undertaken village-based research in areas indicated by previous statements by Richard Stead and J.A. Sheard, although there were "buffer areas" in which a mixed dialect was used, such as a large area between Leeds and Ripon, and also at Whitgift, near Goole.[10]

One report explains the geographic difference in detail:[11]

This distinction was first recognised formally at the turn of the 19th / 20th centuries, when linguists drew an isophone diagonally across the county from the northwest to the southeast, separating these two broadly distinguishable ways of speaking. It can be extended westwards through Lancashire to the estuary of the River Lune, and is sometimes called the Humber-Lune Line. Strictly speaking, the dialects spoken south and west of this isophone are Midland dialects, whereas the dialects spoken north and east of it are truly Northern. It is possible that the Midland influence came up into the region with people migrating towards the manufacturing districts of the West Riding during the Industrial Revolution.

Over time, speech has become closer to Standard English and some of the features that once distinguished one town from another have disappeared. In 1945, J. A. Sheard predicted that various influences "will probably result in the production of a standard West Riding dialect", and K. M. Petyt found in 1985 that "such a situation is at least very nearly in existence".[12]


Authentic recordings

The Survey of English Dialects in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s recorded over 30 examples of authentic Yorkshire dialects which can be heard online via the British Library Sound Archive.[13] Below is a selection of recordings from this archive:

Pronunciation

Some features of Yorkshire pronunciation are general features of northern English accents. Many of them are listed in the northern English accents section on the English English page.

Vowels

Vowels of North West Yorkshire English on a vowel chart, from Wilhelm (2018:6). The vowel space is compressed downwards, with FACE, GOAT, SQUARE and THOUGHT being given a monophthongal, significantly more open realization [e̞ː, ö̞ː, æː, ɒ̝ː] than in RP and Scottish English. Conversely, FLEECE and GOOSE are realized as wide, Cockney-like diphthongs [əɪ, əʉ].[21]

Due to dialect levelling, however, these sounds were merged into the modern monophthong [oː], [ɔː] and [ɵː] (east riding) by the 1950s.

The following features are recessive or even extinct; generally, they are less common amongst younger than older speakers in modern Yorkshire:

Consonants

Some consonant changes amongst the younger generation are typical of younger speakers across England, but are not part of the traditional dialect:[51]

The following are typical of the older generation:

Rhoticity

At the time of the Survey of English Dialects, most places in Yorkshire were non-rhotic, but full rhoticity could be found in Swaledale, Lonsdale, Ribblesdale, and the rural area west of Halifax and Huddersfield.[50] In addition, the area along the east coast of Yorkshire retained rhoticity when /r/ was in final position though not when it was in preconsonantal position (e.g. farmer [ˈfaːmɚ]).[50] A 1981 MA study found that rhoticity persisted in the towns of Hebden Bridge, Lumbutts, and Todmorden in Upper Calderdale.[55]

Rhoticity seems to have been more widespread in Yorkshire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: for example, the city of Wakefield was marked as rhotic in the works of A. J. Ellis, and the recording of a prisoner of war from Wakefield in the Berliner Lautarchiv displays rhotic speech, but the speech of Wakefield nowadays is firmly non-rhotic.[56]

Further information

These features can be found in the English Accents and Dialects collection on the British Library website. This website features samples of Yorkshire (and elsewhere in England) speech in wma format, with annotations on phonology with X-SAMPA phonetic transcriptions, lexis and grammar.

See also Wells (1982), section 4.4.

Vocabulary and grammar

A list of non-standard grammatical features of Yorkshire speech is given below. In formal settings, these features are castigated and, as a result, their use is recessive. They are most common among older speakers and among the working class.

Contracted negatives

In informal Yorkshire speech, negatives may be more contracted than in other varieties of English. These forms are shown in the table below. Although the final consonant is written as [t], this may be realised as [ʔ], especially when followed by a consonant.[68]

Word Primary Contraction Secondary Contraction
isn't ɪznt ɪnt
wasn't wɒznt wɒnt
doesn't dʊznt dʊnt
didn't dɪdnt dɪnt
couldn't kʊdnt kʊnt
shouldn't ʃʊdnt ʃʊnt
wouldn't wʊdnt wʊnt
oughtn't ɔːtnt ɔːnt
needn't niːdnt niːnt
mightn't maɪtnt maɪnt
mustn't mʊsnt mʊnt (uncommon)
hasn't haznt ant
haven't havnt ant

Hadn't does not become reduced to [ant]. This may be to avoid confusion with hasn't or haven't, which can both be realised as [ant].[69]


Yorkshire Dialect Society

The Yorkshire Dialect Society exists to promote and preserve the use of this extensively studied and recorded dialect; there is also an East Riding Dialect Society.

The Yorkshire Dialect Society is the oldest of England's county dialect societies; it grew out of a committee of workers formed to collect material for the English Dialect Dictionary. The committee was formed in October 1894 at Joseph Wright's suggestion, and the Yorkshire Dialect Society was founded in 1897. It publishes an annual volume of The Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society; the contents of this include studies of English dialects outside Yorkshire, e.g. the dialects of Northumberland, and Shakespeare's use of dialect.[70] It also publishes an annual Summer Bulletin of dialect poetry.

In the early 1930s, the society recorded gramophone records of dialect speakers from Baildon, Cleveland, Cowling, Driffield and Sheffield. The recording from Cowling was provided by Lord Snowden of Ickornshaw.[71]

Significant members of the society have included Joseph Wright, Walter Skeat, Harold Orton, Stanley Ellis, J. D. A. Widdowson, K. M. Petyt, Graham Shorrocks, Frank Elgee, and Clive Upton.

Although Joseph Wright was involved in the Society's foundation, the Society's annual Transactions published one of the first critiques of his work in 1977. Peter Anderson, then the editor of the Transactions, argued that Wright took much of his material for his work English Dialect Grammar without sufficient citation from the work of Alexander John Ellis and that Wright did Ellis "a disservice" by criticising this same work.[72]

Yorkshire dialect and accent in popular culture

Wilfred Pickles, a Yorkshireman born in Halifax, was selected by the BBC as an announcer for its North Regional radio service; he went on to be an occasional newsreader on the BBC Home Service during World War II. He was the first newsreader to speak in a regional accent rather than Received Pronunciation, "a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for Nazis to impersonate BBC broadcasters",[73] and caused some comment with his farewell catchphrase "... and to all in the North, good neet".

The director Ken Loach has set several of his films in South or West Yorkshire and has stated that he does not want actors to deviate from their natural accent.[74] The relevant films by Loach include Kes (Barnsley), Days of Hope (first episode in south of West Yorkshire), The Price of Coal (South Yorkshire and Wakefield), The Gamekeeper (Sheffield), Looks and Smiles (Sheffield) and The Navigators (South and West Yorkshire). Loach's films were used in a French dialectological analysis on changing speech patterns in South Yorkshire. Loach said in his contribution that the speech in his recently released film The Navigators was less regionally-marked than in his early film Kes because of changing speech patterns in South Yorkshire, which the authors of the article interpreted as a move towards a more standard dialect of English.[75]

Dialect of the northern dales featured in the series All Creatures Great and Small.

A number of popular bands hail from Yorkshire and have distinctive Yorkshire accents. Singer-songwriter YUNGBLUD, originating from Doncaster, preserves a strong Yorkshire accent. Louis Tomlinson, who was a member of One Direction, is from Yorkshire and in his solo music his accent is often heard. Joe Elliott and Rick Savage, vocalist and bassist of Def Leppard; Alex Turner, vocalist of the Arctic Monkeys;[76] Jon McClure, of Reverend and The Makers;[77] Jon Windle, of Little Man Tate;[78] Jarvis Cocker, vocalist of Pulp;[79] and Joe Carnall, of Milburn[80] and Phil Oakey of The Human League are all known for their Sheffield accents, whilst The Cribs, who are from Netherton, sing in a Wakefield accent.[81] The Kaiser Chiefs originate in Leeds, as does the Brett Domino Trio, the musical project of comedian Rod J. Madin. Graham Fellows, in his persona as John Shuttleworth, uses his Sheffield accent, though his first public prominence was as cockney Jilted John. Toddla T, a former DJ on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, has a strong Sheffield accent and often used on air the phrase "big up thysen" (an adaptation into Yorkshire dialect of the slang term "big up yourself" which is most often used in the music and pop culture of the Jamaican diaspora). Similarly, grime crews such as Scumfam use a modern Sheffield accent, which still includes some dialect words.

The Lyke Wake Dirge, written in old North Riding Dialect, was set to music by the folk band Steeleye Span. Although the band was not from Yorkshire, they attempted Yorkshire pronunciations in words such as "light" and "night" as /li:t/ and /ni:t/.

Actor Sean Bean normally speaks with a Yorkshire accent in his acting roles, as does actor Matthew Lewis, famously known for playing Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films.[82][83]

Wallace of Wallace and Gromit, voiced by Peter Sallis, has his accent from Holme Valley of West Yorkshire, despite the character living in nearby Lancashire. Sallis has said that creator Nick Park wanted a Lancashire accent, but Sallis could only manage to do a Yorkshire one.[84]

The late British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes originated from Mytholmroyd, close to the border with Lancashire, and spent much of his childhood in Mexborough, South Yorkshire.[85] His own readings of his work were noted for his "flinty" or "granite" voice and "distinctive accent"[86][87] and some said that his Yorkshire accent affected the rhythm of his poetry.[88]

The soap opera Emmerdale, formerly Emmerdale Farm, was noted for use of broad Yorkshire, but the storylines involving numerous incomers have diluted the dialect until it is hardly heard.

In the ITV Edwardian/interwar period drama Downton Abbey, set at a fictional country estate in North Yorkshire between Thirsk and Ripon, many of the servants and nearly all of the local villagers have Yorkshire accents. BBC One series Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax, both from creator Sally Wainwright of Huddersfield, also heavily feature Yorkshire accents.[89][90][91]

In the HBO television series Game of Thrones, many of the characters from the North of Westeros speak with Yorkshire accents, matching the native dialect of Sean Bean, who plays Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark.

Several of the dwarfs in the Peter Jackson film adaptation of The Hobbit, namely Thorin Oakenshield, Kíli and Fili, speak with Yorkshire accents.

The character of the Fat Controller in the Thomas and Friends TV series, as voiced by Michael Angelis, has a broad Yorkshire accent.

"On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at", a popular folk song, is sung in the Yorkshire dialect and accent and considered to be the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire.[92]

Actress Jodie Whittaker keeps her native Yorkshire accent in her role as the Thirteenth Doctor in Doctor Who.[93]

The freeware action game Poacher by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw features Yorkshireman as a protagonist and majority of the in-game dialogues is done in Yorkshire dialect.[94]

Studies have shown that accents in the West Riding (that is, mostly, modern West and South Yorkshire), and by extension local dialects, are well-liked among Britons and associated with common sense, loyalty, and reliability.[95][96]

Books written in Yorkshire dialect

Notes

  1. ^ Ellis also identified a third area around Craven, Ribblesdale, upper Wensleydale and Swaledale as part of his "West Northern" area (numbered Area 31), alongside almost all of Cumbria as well as north Lancashire and south Durham. In the tradition of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, this area is usually grouped with the North Riding dialect.

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Bibliography

Further reading

Several nineteenth-century books are kept in specialist libraries.