Our Language

When I was a childat Tawd Bridge everyone I knew “talked broad” in other words, they spoke in a dialect specific to our own little community. My Mam told me that her grandparents and people of that generation never had any other language. When I went to school I suppose it was then that I started to learn standard English, in other words, became bi-lingual.

In the last few years before she died, I asked my Mam how she thought that people of her generation learned to speak and use standard English. In the early days of the 20th century, our little community was very isolated. They did not have radio broadcasts, movies were silent, they did not travel widely – how were they exposed to standard English? Mam said they must have learned it at school, but I wondered about that, because if the teachers were local, how did they learn to speak English?

Often in those days, teachers were trained on the job. For instance, my Gran when she got to school leaving age at Digmoor, started to train as a pupil teacher. It was a sort of on the job apprenticeship. Also training with her at that time was Eunice Gaskell. Gran had to quit her training and stay at home to help in the Watkinson family business, the shop and bakery. But of course Mrs Gaskell went on to become a teacher at Digmoor for many years. (She was my first teacher, no doubt many would remember her.)

Anyway, I suppose some teachers may have gone away to do further training and learned the pronunciations and grammatical laws of English! Maybe it had something to do with the ministers and preachers at the church or chapel. I still can’t imagine, though, how the majority of the people in this isolated situation could be generally exposed to standard English. It is the very isolation, of course, that enabled the use of our dialect for so long.

When our family moved to Australia, my parents and my Aunty Belle continued to use the dialect whenever they spoke to each other. My Mam eventually modified her speech enough to be able to communicate with the Australians around us. It was all part of assimilating into our new community. My Dad, however, never did change the way he spoke! My Australian school friends could never understand him! Because I had mentioned to them that we came from a place called Upholland, my friends assumed that Dad was Dutch! I must say though that that my bother’s children(Aussie born and bred) never had any difficulty at all in understanding the dialect of their grandparents

Since my parents and my Aunty Belle died, I no longer get to hear our dialect, and I miss it greatly.

My Aunty Belle and family migrated to Australia in the early 60s. Before they left they went round all our family and all our friends in the community and recorded messages on a tape recorder. They brought this with them and I can’t tell you how we loved listening to those messages, over and over. For the past 40 years or so, the tapes have been packed away. Recently, my brother fixed up an old Reel to Reel tape recorder and added a device to enable me to record the messages on the old tapes onto my computer. I got quite emotional, listening to those messages again!

For many years I worked in the Outback of Australia in Aboriginal communities. The tribal languages and culture can be dated back more than 40000 years, with little change until the British settled in Australia just over 200 years ago. Now with the contact with the outside world, there is a concern that the aborigines are losing their language and culture. While I was working there we had a constant influx of eminent linguists from all over the world who came to work on a dictionary, and to record and document the ancient language.

It makes me jealous because I feel that the same should be done for our ancient language.

The difficulty that arises with the aboriginal languages is that they were a purely oral tradition. It was never meant to be written. So the linguists have all kinds of difficulty and arguments regarding the pronunciation and which letters to use for which sounds.

I feel that it is the same with our dialect, it was only ever an oral tradition. Anyone who leaned to read and write would use standard English, it was just the pronunciation (and a bit of a disregard for some basic rules of grammar) that would be different.

So although I have had access to some items of written “Lanky Dialect” poems and prose, and really appreciate and value them, I find them hard to read. Each author or poet has their own interpretation of how the pronunciation should be written and spelled.

So it was with great joy and delight that I listened to the “videos” of “Deein Dialect” on this web site. This is exactly what we need to help preserve out dialect. While I also loved the recitations of Mrs Swift, I feel that the narration in Deein Dialect is just great. For me it is just like having a conversation with the speaker, talking about everyday things. I would like to congratulate everyone who was involved in producing those videos. All I can say to them is “More, Please!”

This entry was posted in The Edith Coombe gallery by Edith C. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edith C

Born in Tawd Bridge, attended Digmoor school and chapel. Migrated to Australia in 1958, but have been back to Upholland for visits on several occasions since. Was a teacher, now retired. I would like to keep in touch with the people of Tawd Bridge, Upholland and Skelmersdale, I still have a fond and deep connection with the home of my childhood.

2 thoughts on “Our Language

  1. really glad edith that you enjoyed Deein Dialect, i had a lot of fun in reciting it. Like thee, i believe that ewer speyk shud ner bi forgetten. Too mony folk these days forget their upbringin, un er ashamed of the way they were browt up. Lots of us at Digmoor ad newt, but wi were gradely folk who respected one another un wud elp anybody if wi cud. Wi didnt try fot keep up wi other folk wi were appy wi wot wid geet, (nowt ) so wid less bother abewt. Reading your thoughts on owd Digmoor un tawd bridge brewt u lot u appy memories, so if tha con, gerr i touch wi me.Lots u luv, David

  2. Hi Edith. So enjoyed your recollections of spoken dialect. It was your Nana, my great aunt Alice who got me interested in proper dialect and broad talk. I used to stay with her occasionally at her flat in Dailton road and she introduced me to the great Lanky poets like Edwin Waugh etc. I can still “thee un Thy” it wit best on um. I sometimes bump into an owd Tawd bridger, David Kirk, in the white lion Upholland and we reminisce about the old characters from way back.

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