Dew yew keep talking Norfolk dialect

This year hundreds of new words have been added to the Oxford English dictionary. These are words we use every day such as storming, state-run, lashed and domestic goddess, which we have picked up through the internet and social media as well as on the TV.

But while new words are added every year, many are cut from the dictionary and experts have warned that, as a nation, we may be losing our local dialect.

Linguists at the British Library have collected a wordbank of thousands of rare words and phrases from regional dialects in a bid to preserve them. Around 4,000 regional words and phrases have been contributed including Norfolk ones like tittermatorter, dodderman, bishybarnabee and on-the-huh.

Linguists are now investigating how they came into use and their relationship with other words.

Bishybarnabee is thought to have come from the 16th century bishop Edmond Bonner, who lived in Dereham and who was also known as Bloody Bonner as he persecuted heretics under Mary I's Catholic government.

The phrase Bishop Bonner's Bee came into use because of the clothes he wore – or the ladybird's red and black appearance which was associated with death.

Jonnie Robinson, principal investigator of Voices UK, who works at the British Library, said: 'The library collected the voices as part of the Evolving English exhibition which was displayed from last November until April.

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'The exhibition documented the English language as we know it today. We looked at the English language through Shakespeare and looked at the diversity of it today.'

Voices UK also had a voicebank booth which toured the country and stopped at the Forum in Norwich in January this year.

Mr Robinson said: 'One of the things people did was record themselves. The voicebank toured a number of regional libraries during the exhibition and was in the Millennium Library at The Forum so we know there were plenty of submissions from Norfolk.

'We had a staggering response – more than 15,000 visitors recorded their voices so this represents a substantial collection that will support linguistic research now and in the future. People could either record themselves saying local words or phrases or reading a passage.

'What is fascinating is if you are in Norfolk you still have Norfolk voices. If you are in Yorkshire you have Yorkshire voices. Diversity remains constant.

'We want to demonstrate there are still Norfolk words in the 21st century. We are trying to complete a snapshot of the usage of the English language. Everybody has a story about the language. People have words and phrases that they love.

'People can still draw on terms from their local dialects.'

When the wordbank is complete, it will be used by language academics and actors trying to perfect regional roles and even foreign call centre workers looking to understand local British dialects.

Other regional dialects include spoggy, which is another words for chewing gum in Grimsby; gurtlush, which means 'the best' for Bristolians; and gully stottie, another name for a bread knife in Ashington.

Colin Burleigh, from Toftwood, a member of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (Fond), said: 'I haven't found anyone who can do the Norfolk accent if they aren't from Norfolk. There are quirks about it. Norfolk people tend to be a bit lazy and cut out consonants.

'You either have it or you don't. I was born in Dereham and have lived in Norfolk all my life except for two years I spent in the RAF. It is important that we preserve the language because I think, like lots of other things, if it's gone you will never get it back. We need to keep our local dialect. I spoke to the Queen last year at Buckingham Palace and she said we should preserve it.

'I'm Norfolk and I'm proud of it. I'm always recognised wherever I go.'

Mr Burleigh has even appeared on programmes for the BBC including Country Tracks and has been on the radio because of his Norfolk accent.

'I was on a children's programme on the BBC,' he said. 'They used to have people from various parts of the country to see if the children knew where they came from.

'I have been to one or two schools and spoke to children about the dialect and got them to write poetry. We want to make young people aware that there is a dialect.'

He added: 'Some of the Norfolk dialect words came from the continent such as dwile, the Norfolk word for floorcloth, from the Dutch word dweil and if there was a heavy dew on the grass in the morning my uncle used to say it was dag, which is a Scandanavian word.

'My dad used to teach me woodwork and if something wasn't straight he would say it was on the sosh.

'Fond is dedicated to keeping broad Norfolk alive. It was formed because they were fed up with people not portraying the accent as it should be. We want to teach actors and actresses how to do it. I have been a member since it started in 1999 and was chairman for three years.'

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