Norfolk squit bridges the cultural chasm
Archant © 2011
A week of learning about multiculturalism at Reepham Primary School began with a lesson which bridged the Norfolk-Suffolk cultural divide.
The world’s colourful kaleidoscope of languages and customs is a tricky thing for any eager young mind to grasp.
So the complex subject of multiculturalism was brought much closer to home for pupils at one Norfolk school.
A week of lessons on international awareness at Reepham Primary School was launched by two proud protectors of East Anglian traditions – from rival sides of the Norfolk-Suffolk cultural divide.
More than 200 students packed the hall on School Road for a special assembly taken by writer, broadcaster and champion of the Norfolk dialect Keith Skipper, and Lowestoft-based historian and entertainer Ian Prettyman.
Cromer’s Mr Skipper mardled and yarned about the importance of retaining native words, before asking the children if they knew what squit was, and whether they could tell a dodman from a pollywiggle.
From the Suffolk perspective, Mr Prettyman sang 200-year-old farming and fishing songs, and had the youngsters clapping in time as he played traditional step-dance songs on his melodeon.
After the assembly, the former Press Gang entertainers joined lessons in which the children, aged four to 11, were encouraged to write poems using Norfolk words like mawther, blah and tittermatorter.
The aim of the week’s curriculum was to develop the students’ understanding of different national and global cultures – starting with a deeper appreciation of their own surroundings.
Mr Skipper said: “I wanted to prove that the international spirit is alive – and you cannot get more international than Cromer bumping into Lowestoft in Reepham.
“I find young audiences are most receptive to mardling about Norfolk. I want to teach them about our language, culture and character, and try to disabuse them of this awful notion that if you have a Norfolk accent you must be thick. It is also to get across that dialect is fun and its a colourful strand of local life we need to try very hard to keep intact.
“I hope that wherever these children might go in life, they will always be proud to wear their Norfolk badge.”
Mr Skipper said he was equally keen to preserve cross-border rivalries between Norfolk and its neighbours.
“We have got very close links with our Suffolk friends, but rivalry is just as important as rapport,” he said.
“One thing I am very concerned about is that you can suffocate, but you cannot ‘Norfolkate’. That is something we need to address at the next international summit, somewhere on the Acle Straight.”
Mr Prettyman, who worked as a teacher for 36 years, said: “Norfolk and Suffolk people are all East Anglian and they do have quite a bit in common, but there are many differences which we should cherish and enjoy.
“It is very important for people not be ashamed of their accents. I used to teach English and there were always two kinds; standard and colloquial. I used to teach dialect words and encourage people to use them – but only in the right places.”
School head Miriam Jones said: “In planning this international week we thought it was very important to start off with a Norfolk day because we first wanted to build on the children’s experience of where they are from.”
For the unitiated:
mardle is a verb meaning to gossip or chat;
squit is a noun for Norfolk nonsense;
dodman (n) is a snail;
pollywiggle (n) is a tadpole;
mawther (n) is a young woman;
blah (v) means to cry or weep; and
tittermatorter (n) is a see-saw.
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