The Yorkshire dialect (also known as Broad Yorkshire, Tyke, Yorkie or Yorkshire English) is an English dialect of Northern England spoken in the English county of Yorkshire. The dialect has roots in older languages such as Old English and Old Norse. The Yorkshire Dialect Society exists to promote use of the dialect in both humour and in serious linguistics; there is also an East Riding Dialect Society.
Yorkshire is generally not as stigmatised as other regional dialects, and has been represented in classic works of literature such as Wuthering Heights, Nicholas Nickleby and The Secret Garden. Studies have shown that accents in the West Riding (that is, mostly, modern West and South Yorkshire) are well-liked among Britons and associated with common sense, loyalty, and reliability.
Traditionally, there was not one dialect in Yorkshire but several. The Survey of English Dialects identified many different accents in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Dialect Society draws a border roughly at the River Wharfe between two main zones. The area to the southwest of the river is more influenced by Mercian dialect whilst that to the northeast is more influenced by Northumbrian dialect. The distinction was first made by A. J. Ellis in On Early English Pronunciation. It 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.
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". However, the accent of Hull and East Yorkshire remains markedly different. The accent of the Middlesbrough area has some similarities with Geordie.
One anomalous case in the West Riding is Royston, which absorbed migrants from the Black Country at the end of the 19th century. The speech of Royston contrasts with that of nearby Barnsley, as it retains some Black Country features.
Words such as strut, cut, blood, lunch usually take [ʊ], although [ə] is a middle-class variant.
Most words affected by the trap-bath split in South East England – the distinction between the sounds [a] and [ɑː] – are not affected in Yorkshire. A much smaller number of words, however, such as can't and rather, are pronounced in a similar way to the South East. The long [ɑː] of southern English is widely disliked in these words.
In parts of the West Riding, none, one, once, nothing, tongue, among(st) are pronounced with [ɒ] rather than [ʊ] A shibboleth for a traditional Huddersfield accent is the word love as [lɒv], pronounced to rhyme with "of".
Words such as late, face, say, game are pronounced with a monophthong[eː] or [ɛː]. However, words with gh in the spelling (e.g. straight, weight), as well exclamations and interjections such as hey and eh (the tag question), are usually pronounced with a diphthong[ɛɪ]. Some words with ake at the end may be pronounced with [ɛ], as in take to tek, make to mek and sake to sek (but not for bake or cake).
Words with the Received Pronunciation vowel /əʊ/, as in goat, may have a monophthong [oː] or [ɔː]. In a recent trend, a fronted monophthong [ɵː] is common amongst young women, although this has been the norm for a long time in Hull (where it originates from). It has developed only since 1990, yet it has now spread to Bradford. In the West Riding, there may be a split whereby a diphthong [ɔʊ] coexists in other words, especially where it precedes /l/ or where there is a W at the end of a word (e.g. grow, low, yellow). The O's in some specific words are pronounced alternatively as simply [ɔ], such as open, over, woke, and go.
If a close vowel precedes /l/, a schwa may be inserted. This gives [iəl] for /iːl/ and (less frequently) [uəl] for /uːl/.
When /ɛ/ precedes /r/ in a stressed syllable, /ɛ/ can become [ə]. For example, very can be pronounced [vəɹɪ].
In Hull, Middlesbrough, and other parts of the east coast, the sound in word, heard, nurse, etc. is pronounced in the same way as in square, dare. This is [ɛː]. The set of words with /ɪə/, such as near, fear, beard, etc., may have a similar pronunciation but remains distinctive as [eɛ].
In other parts of Yorkshire, this sound is a short [ə]. This seems to have developed as an intermediate form between the older form [ɒ] (now very rare in these words) and the RP pronunciation [ə:].
In Hull, Middlesbrough and much of the East Riding, the phoneme /aɪ/ (as in prize) may become a monophthong [aː] before a voiced consonant. For example, five becomes [faːv] (fahv), prize becomes [pʰɹaːz] (prahz). This does not occur before voiceless consonants, so "price" is [pʰɹaɪs].
In some areas, especially in the southern half of Yorkshire, there is a tendency to pronounce the diphthong /aʊ/ (as in mouth) as a monophthong [aː] (mahth). This is characteristic of informal speech and may coexist with the more formal [aʊ]. In Hull, the offset of /aʊ/ is strongly labialised. It occurs more in specific words – such as down, about, now, how, and out – than others.
In the northern half of Yorkshire, the local pronunciation of these words is [u:], but this is now less common than the RP [aʊ] in North Yorkshire.
Words like city and many are pronounced with a final [ɛ~e] in the Sheffield area.
What would be a schwa on the end of a word in other accents is realised as [ɛ] in Hull.
A prefix to a word is more likely not to take a reduced vowel sound in comparison to the same prefix's vowel sound in other accents. For example, concern is [kʰɒnˈsɜːn] or [kʰɒnˈsɛːn], rather than [kʰənˈsɜːn].
Long vowel [iː], in words like fleece or plea, is typically a diphthong [ɪi].
/ɔː/ is often realised as a slightly lowered /ɒː/ (i.e. 'Yoksher').
The following features are recessive, and are generally less common amongst younger than older speakers in Yorkshire:
Long vowel [uː] in words such as book, cook, and look. Whilst some speakers adhere to the long vowel sound, other speakers adhere to the short vowel sound so much it is overextended so that food is also said this way.
Where and there often become a diphthong [iə]. This sound may also be used in words with ea in the spelling: for example, head as [iəd] ('eead), leaves as [liəvz] (leeaves)
[eɪ] may take the place of /iː/, especially in words such as key, meat, speak.
Words such as door, floor, four may take a variety of diphthongal pronunciations [uə, oə, ɔə, ʊə].
Some words that end -ight can still be heard in their dialectal forms. For example, night as [niːt] (neet) and right as [ɹiːt] (reet) or, in some areas, [ɹeɪt] (reyt). This can also be heard in Nova Scotia.
In some areas, an originally voiced consonant followed by a voiceless one can be pronounced as voiceless. For example, Bradford may be pronounced as if it were Bratford, with [t] (although more likely with a glottal stop, [ʔ]) instead of the [d] employed in most English accents. Absolute is often pronounced as if it were apsolute, with a [p] in place of the [b].
As with most dialects of English, final [ŋ] sound in, for example, hearing and eating are often reduced to [n]. However, [ŋɡ] can be heard in Sheffield.
H-dropping is common in informal speech, especially amongst the working classes.
Omission of final stops /d, t/ and fricatives /f, θ, ð/, especially in function words. As in other dialects, with can be reduced to wi, especially before consonants.Was is also often reduced to wa (pronounced roughly as "woh"), even when not in contracted negative form (see table below).
A glottal stop may also be used to replace /k/ (e.g. like becomes [laɪʔ]) at the end of a syllable.
Most Yorkshire accents are non-rhotic. At the time of the Survey of English Dialects, fully rhotic accents could be found in Swaledale, Lonsdale, Ribblesdale, and the rural area west of Halifax and Huddersfield (Calderdale), and the accents on the east coast of Yorkshire were rhotic when /r/ is in final position but not in pre-consonantal position.
Some consonant changes amongst the younger generation are typical of younger speakers across England, but are not part of the traditional dialect:
T-glottalisation: a more traditional pronunciation is to realise /t/ as [r] in certain phrases, which leads to pronunciation spellings such as gerroff.
[ʋ] for /r/.
The following are typical of the older generation:
In Sheffield, cases of initial "th" /ð/) become [d]. This pronunciation has led to Sheffielders being given the nickname "dee dahs" (the local forms of "thee" and "thou"/"tha").
Initial /ɡ, k/ realised as [d, t] before /l/). For example, clumsy becomes [tlʊmzɛ].
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 shown below. In formal settings, these features are castigated and, as a result, their use is recessive. They are most common amongst older speakers and amongst the working classes.
Definite article reduction: shortening of the to a form without a vowel, often written t'. See this overview and a more detailed page on the Yorkshire Dialect website, and also Jones (2002). This is most likely to be a glottal stop [ʔ], although traditionally it was [t] or (in the areas that border Lancashire) [θ].
Some dialect words persist, although most have fallen out of use. The use of owt and nowt, derived from Old English a wiht and ne wiht, mean anything and nothing, as well as summat to mean something. They are pronounced [aʊt] and [naʊt] in North Yorkshire, but as [ɔʊt] and [nɔʊt] in most of the rest of Yorkshire. Other examples of dialect still in use include flayed (sometimes flayt) (scared), laik (play), roar (cry), aye (yes), nay (emphatic "no"), and all (also), anyroad (anyway) and afore (before).
When making a comparison such as greater than or lesser than, the word "nor" can be used in place of "than", e.g. better nor him.
Nouns describing units of value, weight, distance, height and sometimes volumes of liquid have no plural marker. For example, ten pounds becomes ten pound; five miles becomes five-mile.
The word us is often used in place of me or in the place of our (e.g. we should put us names on us property).Us is invariably pronounced with a final [z] rather than an [s].
Use of the singular second-person pronoun thou (often written tha) and thee. This is a T form in the T–V distinction, and is largely confined to male, mostly older speakers.
Were can be used in place of was when connected to a singular pronoun. The reverse – i.e. producing constructions such as we was and you was – is also heard in a few parts of Yorkshire (e.g. Doncaster).
While is often used in the sense of until (e.g. unless we go at a fair lick, we'll not be home while seven.) Stay here while it shuts might cause a non-local to think that they should stay there during its shutting, when the order really means that they should stay only until it shuts. Joseph Wright wrote in the English Dialect Dictionary that this came from a shortening of the older word while-ever.
The word self may become sen, e.g. yourself becomes thy sen, tha sen.
Similar to other English dialects, using the word them to mean those is common, e.g. This used to be a pub back in them days.
The word right is used to mean very or really, e.g. If I'm honest, I'm not right bothered about it.
As in many non-standard dialects, double negatives are common, e.g. I was never scared of nobody.
The relative clause may be what or as rather than that, e.g. other people what I've heard and He's a man as likes his drink. Alternatively there may be no relative clause, e.g. I've a sister lives there.
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.
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].
Scandinavian York (also referred to as Jórvík) or Danish/Norwegian York is a term used by historians for the south of Northumbria (modern day Yorkshire) during the period of the late 9th century and first half of the 10th century, when it was dominated by Norse warrior-kings; in particular, used to refer to York, the city controlled by these kings.
Norse monarchy controlled varying amounts of Northumbria from 875 to 954, however the area was invaded and conquered for short periods by England between 927 and 954 before eventually being annexed into England in 954. It was closely associated with the much longer-lived Kingdom of Dublin throughout this period.
Yorkshire Dialect Society
The Yorkshire Dialect Society exists to promote and preserve use of this extensively studied and recorded dialect; there is also an East Riding Dialect Society.
The Yorkshire society is the oldest of the county dialect societies; it grew out of the 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.
Yorkshire dialect and accent in popular culture
The director Ken Loach has set several of his films in South or West Yorkshire and has stated that he doesn't want actors to deviate from their natural accent. 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.
Jones, Mark J. (2002), "The origin of Definite Article Reduction in northern English dialects: evidence from dialect allomorphy", English Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, 6 (2): 325–345, doi:10.1017/S1360674302000266
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