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The Norfolk dialect, also known as Broad Norfolk, is a dialect that was once spoken by those living in the county of Norfolk in England. Much of the distinctive vocabulary of Broad Norfolk has now died out and only the older generations use the fullest amount, so the speech of most of Norfolk is now more an accent than a dialect.
Portrayal of the Norfolk dialect and accent in films and TV is often regarded as poor, (it is notoriously difficult for 'foreigners' to imitate)and the treatment of it in the television drama All the King's Men in 1999, in part prompted the foundation of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND), a group formed with the aim of preserving and promoting Broad Norfolk. The group campaigns for the recognition of Norfolk as a dialect, and for the teaching of "Norfolk" in schools. FOND aims to produce a digital archive of recordings of people speaking the dialect's traditional words. In July 2001 the group was awarded £4000 from the National Lottery in aid of recording equipment for this purpose.
During the 1960s, Anglia Television produced a soap opera called "Weavers Green" which used local characters making extensive use of Norfolk dialect. The programme was filmed at the "cul-de-sac" village of Heydon north of Reepham in mid Norfolk.
A typical example of the Norfolk accent and vocabulary can be heard in the songs by Allan Smethurst, aka The Singing Postman. Smethurst's authentic Norfolk accent is well known from the songs he released in the 1960s, such as "Hev Yew Gotta Loight Bor?". The Boy John Letters of Sidney Grapes, which were originally published in the Eastern Daily Press, are another authentic example of the Norfolk dialect.
Charles Dickens undoubtedly had some grasp of the Norfolk accent which he utilised in the speech of the Yarmouth fishermen, Ham and Daniel Peggoty in 'David Copperfield'. An extensive treatment of 'Dickens as Sociolinguist', in the course of which she analyses the speech of these Norfolk characters was made by Patricia Poussa in Writing in Non-Standard English In the same article Poussa makes connections between the particular variant of Norfolk dialect spoken in the Flegg area around Gt Yarmouth, a place of known Viking settlement, with Scandinavian languages. Significantly the use of 'that' meaning 'it', dealt with under grammar below, is used as an example of this apparent connection.
The publication in 2006 by Ethel George (with Carole and Michael Blackwell) of The Seventeenth Child provides a written record of spoken dialect, though in this case of a person brought up inside the city of Norwich. Ethel George was born in 1914, and in 2006 provided the Blackwells with extensive tape-recorded recollections of her childhood as the seventeenth offspring of a relatively poor Norwich family. Carole Blackwell has reproduced a highly literal written rendering of this, such that anyone familiar with the dialect can recognise an authentic Norfolk/ Norwich voice speaking to them from the page.
The Norfolk dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Geographically it covers most of the County of Norfolk extending to the south into the northern parts of the county of Suffolk in particular the town of Lowestoft and its surrounding area. The accent of Norwich is (not surprisingly) similar but the vowels tend to be different.
The Norfolk dialect should not be confused with Pitcairn-Norfolk, a second language of the Pitcairn Islands, or with Norfuk, the language used on Norfolk Island.
- A slower, drawling manner of speech in rural areas of Norfolk with a broader, thicker tone and a quicker manner of speaking in Norwich with a higher, thinner tone.
- Broad Norfolk has a 'lilt' to its speech where intonation fluctuations occur especially when asking questions where the voice raises or drops in pitch so that for example the intonation might drop when asking "how do you go?" and raise when asking "do you know that?"
- Lengthening of vowel sounds
- Merging of syllables in words. For example the syllables in doing (do-ing) merge to become like "durn", going (go-ing) becomes like "gorn", holiday (ho-li-day) becomes like "hol-day".
- Smoothing of sentences for example "betta-r-an-what-a-was" is better than what I was, however this could be more from a result of Assimilation and Coalescence, connected speech processes, rather than being a specific dialectal feature.
- The diphthong of [aɪ] in words such as right, buy, pie and sky sound more like [oi] giving "roight", "boi", "poi" and "skoi"
- The [oː] and [oʊ] distinction is retained so words with the vowels spelt oa, oe and oCe such as toe, boat, road and whole can be represented as [ʊu] giving what to outsiders would seem like "too", "boot", "rood" and "whoole" respectively.
- Single syllable words with the vowel spelt oC or oCe such as boat or home can be pronounced like the vowel [ʊ] as in the vowel of foot, giving [bʊt] and [hʊm] (to sound like the Northern England and the English Midlands pronunciation of but and hum respectively).
- Single syllable words with the vowel spelt oo such as roof and hoof have the vowel often pronounced [ʊ] to give [rʊf] and [hʊf] ( to sound like the Northern England and the English Midlands pronunciation of rough and huff respectively).
- The [eː] and [eɪ] distinction is retained so words with the vowel spelt aCe such as cake, make and face would be represented as "air" giving "cairke", "mairke" and "fairce" but it can be written as "ear" giving "cearke", "mearke" and "fearce" - similar to some Northern England accents, whilst words with the vowel spelt ai, ay, ei and ey such as train, day, rein and they would be pronounced [æɪ] giving "traein", "daei", "raein" and "thaei".
- The Cheer-chair merger is prevalent so that cheer sounds like chair, beer sounds like bear, here sounds like hair and ear sounds like air.
- The vowel [ɒ] (as in lot) realised as an unrounded vowel [ɑ], as in many forms of American English.
- Yod-dropping happens after all consonants so that [juː] becomes [uː] so for example beautiful, due, few, huge, new and tune instead of becoming "byeautiful", "dyue", "fyue", "hyuge", "nyew" and "tyune" become "bootiful" , "doo", "foo", "hooge", "noo" and "toon" respectively.
- A variation on yod-dropping also happens when the spelling ur occurs after all consonants so that for example pure sounds like purr and during would be pronounced like "durring" rather than "dyuring".
- The [ɪŋ] suffix at the end of a doing word is shortened to an [n] sound so becoming and coming would sound like "becom'n" and "com'n" respectively
- The vowel [əː] is pronounced [a] such as the word bath in Northern and Midland accents, but with the vowel sound lengthened so church, work, heard, her and girl can be written as "chaach", "waak", "haad", "haa" and "gaal", though this pronunciation can also be written like "fust" (for first), "wust" (for worst), "bust" (for burst) and so on.
- Norfolk has one vowel sound in common with Upper Received Pronunciation. The rounded vowel [ɒ] when followed by spellings 'f', ff, gh or th such as in often, off, cough, trough and cloth can become [ɔː] as in the vowel of caught and is represented as "orf", giving "orften", "orf", "corf", "trorf" and "clorth" respectively. Ironically, much of the British media associate these pronunciations with the Queen and with old-fashioned BBC presenters.
- Norfolk is non-rhotic, just as Received Pronunciation is but unlike General American, Scottish English or West Country English.
- Glottaling of the [t] at the end of words, before consonants and before vowels but usually not when the stress follows the t such as in determine.
- The letter "Q" is pronounced "Koo". The letter combination "QMS" would be pronounced "koo-em-ess".
- The final [d] in a word is replaced with a [t] sound so wanted and hundred would be represented as "wantet" and "hundret".
- The dark el ([ɫ]) is pronounced clearly so the [ɫ] sound in hill and milk sounds the same as clear el ([l]) at the beginning of words such as lap and lack. This is in contrast to L vocalisation.
- The spelling thr becomes like "tr" so three sounds the same as tree
- Any word beginning with [v] has the first letter changed to and pronounced like a [w] so you have "wicar" instead of vicar, "winegar" instead of vinegar, "willage" instead of village and so on.
- The letter h is normally pronounced in Norfolk dialect, which is unusual for provincial English speech.
- In the third person present tense, the s at the end of verbs disappears so that 'he goes' becomes 'he go', she likes,she like; she reckons, she reckon etc.Doesn't and wasn't become don't and weren't.
- The word that usually denotes it when it is the subject of the clause, so that "it is" becomes "that is" and "it smells funny" becomes "that smell funny". This does not imply emphatic usage as it would in Standard English and indeed sentences such as "When that rain, we get wet", are entirely feasible in the dialect. (Incidentally, it is almost never heard as the first word of a sentence in the speech of a true Norfolk dialect speaker, e.g. "It's a nice day today" is virtually always rendered by "Thass a nice day today".) It however, is used for the direct and indirect object, exactly as in Standard English, cf. "When that (subject) rain, I don't like it (object)"/"I don't like it (object), when that (subject) rain".
- The word one when preceded by a descriptive word such as good or bad can become an "un" so that you have "good'un" and "bad'un". Some local sports papers in the Norfolk region have embraced this part of the dialect with the Pink'Un and the Yellow & Green'Un (a Norwich City FC supplement that comes with the Eastern Daily Press) being such examples.
- The word 'do' has a wider range of uses and meanings than it does in standard English. The sentence 'Do he do as he do do, do you let me know', meaning 'If he does as he usually does, then be sure to let me know', is perfectly possible and indeed correct grammar in Norfolk. The first 'do' replaces 'if' as in 'Do that rain, git you under a tree'(If it rains, get under a tree). The second and third instances are examples of the normal third-person Norfolk conjugation of 'does' (see above). The fourth 'do' is exactly the same as it would be in standard English. But the fifth 'do' is an example of the Norfolk use of 'do' in the imperative. Rather than saying simply 'sit down', in Norfolk they might say 'sit you down', but to achieve emphasis 'do you sit down'. Equally 'keep you a dewun' might be rendered 'do you keep a-dewun'. This form is used particularly when urging someone, such as 'Do you hurry up'.)
- The same word 'do' has another use in Norfolk, which is perhaps only rendered in standard English with the phrase 'if that be the case'. The expression 'Do he dint know n'different' means the subject's actions could only be explained by his ignorance (e.g. of the circumstances). A near-translation into standard English would be 'If that was the case he did not know differently'.
- In Norfolk the word 'on'sometimes means 'of' such as 'One on yer'll hetter lead the hoss' meaning 'One of you will have to lead the horse'. In strict Norfolk 'of' is always 'on'.
- Some verbs conjugate differently in Norfolk. The past tense of 'show', for example is 'shew', and of the verb to snow, 'snew'. The past of drive is 'driv'. e.g. 'I driv all the way to Yarmouth, and on the way back that snew.' 'Sang' is always 'sung' ('She sung out of tune'), and 'stank' is always 'stunk' ('After they had mucked out the pigs their clothes stunk'). Many verbs simply have no past tense, and use the present form. e.g. 'Come','say' and 'give'. 'When my husband come home, he say he give tuppence for a loaf of bread' meaning 'When he came home, he said, he gave tuppence...'.This even applies to a verb like 'go'. 'Every time they go to get the needle out, it moved'.) Verbs whose past participles differ from their active past tenses e.g.'spoken', are mostly ignored in Norfolk. e.g. 'If you were clever you were spoke to more often by the teacher', or 'If I hadn't went up to Mousehold that night'.
- The verb 'to be' conjugates variously in the negative. 'I'm not' can be 'I en't' or 'I in't', or often 'I aren't'. 'He/she isn't' is usually 'he en't'. 'We/you/they are not' is as elsewhere 'we/you/they aren't'. Ethel George says 'I in't going out no more'.. It could be that 'I in't' is the Norwich form of the Norfolk 'I en't'.
- The relative pronouns, 'who', 'which' and 'that' are mostly replaced with 'what' in Norfolk. e.g. 'That was the one what I was talking about' or 'He was shaking Pimper Wiley...what lived a few doors from us'. Adjectival use of 'those'usually becomes 'them'. e.g. 'I was as bad as them what done it'
- Adverbs are little used in the Norfolk dialect. 'She sung beautiful' means 'she sang beautifully'.
- The word 'above' is much used in the Norfolk dialect when indicating 'more than'. e.g. when talking of a persons age, 'She could not have been above eight'; or 'I was not doing above fifty' meaning 'more than fifty mph'.
- The word 'never' has wider use in Norfolk dialect than in standard English where it only means 'not ever'. Norfolk people will frequently use never simply as a way of saying 'did not' as in 'he never went'meaning 'he did not go'. It is also used in Norfolk as an interjection. Someone who is suddenly shocked by some remarkable fact they have just heard may say abruptly 'Never!'. e.g. Person A says:'They are expecting their fourteenth child'; Person B says 'Never!'
- The word 'together', pronounced 'tergether' is widely used as a form of address in Norfolk dialect. When speaking to two or more people it is usual to say something like 'Come here, tergether'. This does not mean, 'come here at the same time', but 'both of you, come here'. Someone might say 'What do you think of this, tergether?' The term 'tergether' simply indicates that you are addressing everyone and not just one person. A contributor under Phrases, below, indicates that this is also the case in German, which is indeed interesting, as it seems entirely foreign to standard English. Anyone brought up speaking the Norfolk dialect can easily be aware of the unavailability of this essential idiom outside of East Anglia.
- The present participle, or ...ing, form of the verb, such as running, writing etc is mostly rendered in the Middle English form of 'a-running', 'a-jumping' etc. 'She's a robbin me'.
Some of these grammatical features are often present also in neighbouring dialects, in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire etc. Some of them are merely the retention of older speech forms, once more extensively used throughout the country. Expressions such as 'abed' meaning 'in bed' (see below), still used in Norfolk in 2009, was undoubtedly used by Shakespeare. At parting, Norfolk people often say 'fare yer well', a local version of the old English expression 'fare thee well'.
- at that time of day (in those days, e.g.beer only cost tuppence a pint at that time of day)
- bred and born (used instead of "born and bred")
- co ter heck (an exclamation of amazement)
- cor blarst me (when expressing, shock, surprise or exasperation)
- dew yar fa' ki' a dickir, bor? (Does your old man keep a horse, mate?)(Dickir/Dickie often refers to a donkey,'Hoss' is Horse
- dew yew keep a troshin (means "carry on with the threshing" on its own but also means goodbye or "take care of yourself")
- directly ('as soon as', as in 'Directly they got their money on Friday nights, the women would get the suits out of the pawn shop')
- fare y'well (goodbye)
- finish, at the/in the (eventually, as in 'he gave it to her at the finish'; or 'You might as well have went in the beginning, 'cause you had to go in the finish'.)
- get on to someone (to tell someone off, as in 'They all went quiet, but they never got onto father no more')
- get wrong (told off)
- good on'yer (good for you)
- he'll square yew up (he will chastise you)
- he dint ortera dun it. (he ought not to have done it).
- high learned (well-educated, clever)
- hoddy-doddy (very small)
- hold yew hard ('hang on', or 'wait a moment', from the practice of holding a horse's rein hard to stop it moving forward))
- how much did you give for it? (How much did you pay for it?)
- I/we/you will hetter keep a dewun (no alternative but to keep going)
- ill a bed an wus up (very sick)
- lend us a lug (when asking someone else to listen in to a conversation for you)
- lolloping along (strolling along)
- mobbed a rum'un (made a lot of fuss)
- my heart alive! (expression of surprise, similar to 'good gracious me!', sometimes shortened to 'my heart' as in 'my heart thas dear' meaning 'good heavens, that's expensive'. When Norfolk people use the term 'good gracious', they will sometimes say 'good gracious on to me'.)
- Old Year's Nyte (New Year's Eve)
- on the huh, ?on the moo (awry, slanted, not level)
- putting on his/her parts (having a tantrum, or acting up - usually of a child)
- put you in the mind of (to remind you of, as in 'she put me in the mind of Irene', meaning 'she reminds me of Irene')
- suffun savidge (very angry)
- that'll larn yer (that'll teach you)
- tergether One particular expression is the greeting of a couple with the phrase Mornin'/Evenin' together a form that is also used in German speaking countries. (This is extensively used in Norfolk; see under grammar, above)
- titty-totty (very small)
- two penneth, six penneth etc (two penny worth)
- wus up?' (what's wrong?)
- yellow belly (person from the Fens; a Fenman)
The following exchange is a shibboleth for Broad Norfolk speakers.
He yer fa got a dickey, bor? (Has your father got a donkey, boy?)
Yis, an' he want a fule ter roid 'im, will yew cum? (Yes, and he wants a fool to ride him, will you do it?)
- abed (in bed)
- afore (before)
- afront (in front)
- agin (against, often when meaning 'next to'as in 'he live agin the Kings Arms')
- ahind (behind)
- arst (ask/asked)
- atop (on top)
- atwin (between)
- backards (backwards, 'I hetter keep goin' backards and forrards up to Norwich)
- bishy barney bee (ladybird (from Bishop Bonner's bee))
- blar (cry)
- bor (pronounced 'buh' in West Norfolk) (a term of address, boy or neighbour)
- charleypig/barneypig (wood louse/pillbug)
- chimbley (chimney)
- craze (nag. e.g.he kept crazing me to buy him sweets, or 'I'd craze her and craze her her')
- crockin (crying)
- deen (a 'sound', usually to emphasise that someone who was in pain did not cry out, as in 'when she bumped her head, she never made a deen'.)
- dickey (donkey)
- dodman/dundmun (snail)
- drant (drawl)
- drift (lane)
- dudder (shiver or tremble. It is not unique to Norfolk. Appears in the OED as 'dodder'.)
- dussent (dare not, as in 'he dussent do it')
- dwile (floor cloth, sometimes dishcloth)
- forrards (forwards)
- fillum (film/movie)
- gorp (look or stare (what you gorpin at?)
- guzunder (goes-under - another word for chamber-pot)
- hap'orth (halfpenny worth)
- harnser (heron)
- hint (haven't)
- hull(throw - from 'hurl'e.g. 'Hull us that spanner' meaning 'Throw me that spanner')
- jiffle (fidget)
- jip (feeling, sense of pain, as in 'that give me jip')
- jollificeartions (to have fun)
- kewter (money)
- loke (alley; another word for lane)
- lollop (progress slowly)
- lug (ear)
- lummox (clumsy or ungainly person)
- mardle (to chat; village pond)
- mawkin (scarecrow)
- mawther (a young woman - usually derogatory and always politically incorrect)
- mob (to tell off. e.g. 'his missus mobbed him for going to the pub', also to complain e.g. 'he was always mobbun about suffun'. In Allan Smethurst's song 'Hae the bottum dropped out' there are two lines that run 'A fisherman's life's a rum ole job; the winter winds blow, and the women, they mob.))
- pingle (to mess about with food, especially when talking to children - 'stop pingling')
- pishamire (ant)
- puckaterry (stress, panic)
- pootrud (putrid, meaning awful, terrible, useless, particularly when applied to the performance of a sports player such as a footballer; 'the centre-forward was pootrud' means he had an awful game. This particular meaning of 'putrid' is, according to the OED, available in standard English, but it is rarely heard, the term almost always being associated with decomposition of organic material. Only in Norfolk are footballers (sometimes) putrid!
- queer (ill, but not unique to Norfolk)
- rubub, (rhubarb)
- rum (odd or unusual)
- slummockun (this is difficult to translate into standard English and exceedingly incorrect politically! It suggests someone who is overweight, and perhaps inclined to idleness e.g. 'a slummockun gret mawther'.)
- squit (nonsense)
- stingy (mean)
- skew wiff (unlevel, not straight)
- suffun (something)
- terl (towel)
- ticker (heart as in "you got a dodgy ticker there bor?". But the term ticker in this context is by no means unique to Norfolk)
- thack (push hard or hit - as in "you betta thack it koz i'is a bit stiff" - written on door of Fakenham post sorting office)
- diffus (difference)
- gret (great, big, or significant)
- loight (light)
- ollust (always)
- occard (awkward)
- shud (shed)
- troshin (originally 'threshing,' now working in general)
- warmint (varmint or vermin, troublesome person)
- zackly (exactly)
- Suffolk dialect - bordering Norfolk, the Suffolk dialect has some similar featuress
- ^ Even an actor of the distinction of Alan Bates did not adequately achieve an authentic Norfolk accent in his portrayal of the character Ted Burgess in the highly acclaimed film 'The Go-Between' (1970).
- ^ eds. Irma Taavitsainen, Gunnel Melchers and Paivi Pahta (Philadelphia 1999) pp. 27–44
- ^ George, Ethel ( with Carole and Michael Blackwell) 'The Seventeenth Child' (The Larks Press 2006)ISBN 1904006302.Original tapes of interviews are held by the Norfolk Sound Archive.
- ^ A good example of this sound is in the sound clip 'The NURSE vowel' at
- ^ http://www.norfolkdialect.com/advanced.htm
- ^ see George, p.97.
- ^ George, p.155
- ^ George, p.190
- ^ George, p.189
- ^ from:George, Ethel (with Carole and Michael Blackwell)'The Seventeenth Child' (2006). p.94.
- ^ George, p.129.
- ^ see George, p.75.
- ^ see George, p.74
- ^ George, Ethel p.76
- ^ George, p.142.
- ^ a b George, p.102
- ^ George, p.113
External links and references