As part of the weekend of celebrations for Yorkshire Day (organised by the Yorkshire Society) in 2022, the Yorkshire Dialect Society was invited to give a day’s talks and entertainment on the Saturday, in Keighley library. The event was well attended and obviously enjoyed.
The final event was a general discussion about Yorkshire dialect and, inevitably, the question arose as to whether it is dying out. (The English Dialect Society was already saying this at the end of the nineteenth century.) The answer is no, it is still just about with us, but will disappear in the not-too-distant future unless we do something about it.
Our dialect, after all, is part of our cultural heritage – something we do like to preserve. One suggestion was that we should be teaching dialect in schools. I’m doubtful as to whether it could ever become part of the national curriculum, but as a former teacher it did seem to me that we could raise interest in, and increase the knowledge of our dialect by offering courses for adults.
So it was that Let’s Talk Tyke, a course of six two-hour sessions on consecutive Friday mornings in Keighley library, was arranged to take place in autumn this year.
Local and national coverage
Many of you will be familiar with the work of Colin Speakman, a key member of the Yorkshire Society and now also of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, who has written well over 30 books about Yorkshire. Colin’s press release a couple of weeks before the course was due to start was eagerly taken up by the media and the effect was truly astonishing.
In addition to articles in the local press, for example in the Yorkshire Post, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and the Keighley News, there were also pieces in the Daily Mail, Guardian, The Times, Sun and Daily Telegraph. These are just the ones that I know of.
I was interviewed on the BBC’s World at One program and Radio Leeds. Leeds Television came to my home to film and interview me. We had media visitors on nearly every week of the course: Yorkshire Television (their piece was repeated on the national ITV News after Calendar), BBC Look North, the Guardian North of England correspondent and photographer, and a Daily Mail correspondent and photographer.
Another film and interview took place at the Woolpack in Esholt by Channel 5 News and I had an all-expenses-paid trip to London to appear on ITV’s This Morning show. I had to turn down invitations to appear via Zoom on Sky TV and live on Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch because they clashed with the trip to London.
I must give a special mention to Lucy Denyer, correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Not only did Lucy sign up for the whole course, but she immersed herself in the study of Yorkshire dialect and thoroughly enjoyed herself. She brought her camera operator to the last session.
Will there be lasting interest?
What do we conclude from this surprising media reaction? Are they just amused by us rustics ‘up north’ or is there a real latent interest in English dialect? Though most of the radio and TV interviews were very brief and perhaps there to offer some light relief after all the bad news from around the world, I prefer to think the latter: there were some excellent articles in the press, covering the reasons for the course and reporting on the enthusiasm of the participants.
The weekend after the course finished, Colin and I were in Bridlington for the annual English Dialect Festival. This event is hosted by a different dialect region each year, 2023 being the turn of the Yorkshire Dialect Society. The festival is attended by enthusiasts from all over the country, from Devon and Cornwall in the south to Northumberland and Cumberland in the north, with many in between including, of course, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Here, through talks and readings, our many and varied dialects are shared and celebrated.
Will there be a lasting effect of this innovative first course? Whether there is not, the pleasure experienced by those sharing and learning about our language made it worthwhile in itself.
I’m planning the next course to start in January, this time on Saturday mornings in an attempt to get younger people involved.
Changing public attitudes
There has certainly been a welcome shift regarding attitudes towards accents in recent years, though of course dialect is so much more than just a local accent. I was interested to read In a Manner of Speaking: The story of spoken English by Charlie Haylock and illustrator Barrie Appleby (Amberley Publishing 2017). They quote from a glossary produced in 1830 by the Reverend Robert Forby called Vocabulary of East Anglia.
In his introduction, Forby refers to the attitude of educated people towards his idea of producing a glossary of local dialect. It is “likely to be received with ridicule, contempt, or even disgust; as if little or nothing more could be expected, than from analysing the rude jargon of some semi-barbarous tribe; as if, being merely oral, and existing only among the unlettered rustic vulgar of a particular district, Provincial Language were of little concern to general readers, of still less to persons of refined education, and much below the notice of philologists.”
He does feel this is based on consideration of “a fabricated farrago of cant, slang, or what has more recently been denominated flash language, spoken by vagabonds, mendicants, and outcasts; by sharpers, swindlers, and felons; for the better concealment of their illegal practices, and for their more effectual separation from the ‘good men and true’ of regular and decent society.”
We’ve come a long way from such harsh judgements. In the conclusion of In a Manner of Speaking, the authors state: “English dialects are an integral part of the language and should never be discouraged. They are rich with linguistic traditions and replete with history, with many ancient words and phrases deriving from Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse origins – much more so than Standard English. They are part of our heritage.”
Long may it remain so!
If you are interested in joining the Let’s Talk Tyke course in January, email Rodney at [email protected] to reserve your space.