Archive for the ‘dialects’ Category

Confusing Conversation

Posted on September 28th, 2013by Melanie
In dialects, English, Historic | Leave a Comment »

Double Dutch 2You have absolutely no idea what that person just said to you and your blank look says it all. They might as well be speaking to you in double Dutch!

The term ‘double Dutch’ originated after the Anglo-Dutch wars, a time when all things Dutch were spoken of in an unflattering light by the English. For example:


  • Dutch courage – a brash form of bravery induced by alcohol.
  • Dutch comfort – a cold comfort which is only a comfort at all because things could have been worse.
  • Dutch treat – this doesn’t constitute a treat in the general sense as each person actually pays for their own expenses.
  • Dutch defence – a term used for a legal defence whereby the defendant seeks clemency at the expense of those they deceitfully betray.

‘Dutch’ was also the original generic name for Germans, with High Dutch being spoken in southern Germany and Low Dutch being spoken in The Netherlands. As the dialect was so hard for the English to understand, they came to reference all incomprehensible phrases as ‘double Dutch’.

Nowadays, the phrase is still used, although with a much lighter note now that those bad relations between the countries have disappeared.

Do you find it hard to understand other dialects? When was the last time you used the phrase ‘double Dutch’, and can you think of any similar phrases?

Gower dialect to be recorded

Posted on August 7th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, dialects, Welsh | Leave a Comment »

The dialect of people living on the Gower Peninsula, Wales is set to be recorded in a dictionary.

The project has been earmarked for Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) through its landscape partnership programme, lead by Swansea Council. In addition to the dictionary, conservation work will take place and volunteers will be given IT skills training to create a website for a virtual visitors centre.

… the dictionary is a mixture of Welsh and English with specific names for plants and animals, not heard anywhere else in Wales.

Peculiarities of Gower dialect are thought to have developed due to its geography and were recorded in the mid 19th Century. (Source: BBC News)

Some examples of Gower dialect include “umman” for woman and “soul” for cheese or butter.

If successful, the HLF bid will encourage the local community to get actively involved in preserving their culture and heritage.

New wordbank preserves regional words

Posted on July 12th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, dialects, English | Leave a Comment »

A list of rare regional words and phrases has been compiled by the British Library as part of their Evolving English exhibition.

Around 4,000 words are in the ‘wordbank’, all of which were contributed by visitors to the exhibit at the British Library in London or at regional events. One the bank is complete and has been analysed by linguists, it will be opened up to language academics and others wishing to study the words it contains.

Among those to have been added to the wordbank are bobowler, a Birmingham and Black Country term for a large moth, tittermatorter – or see-saw, in Norfolk – and tranklements, another Black Country expression meaning ornaments.

Some of the words have been in existence for generations. For instance, bishybarnabee – a Norfolk term for a ladybird – is thought to derive from a notorious bishop, Edmond Bonner, known as “Bloody Bonner” for his role in the persecution of heretics under the Catholic government of Mary I in the sixteenth century. (Source: The Telegraph)

Other words have much shorter histories – spoggy for example is the Grimsby term for chewing gum.

What local variations would you add to the wordbank?

What’s your favourite accent?

Posted on February 11th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, dialects, Research | Leave a Comment »

Personally, I have a weakness for the French accent. There’s something about it that really gets me – whether the Frenchman is speaking in his native tongue or in English.

The Japanese, however, prefer the Glaswegian accent, according to new research. A survey by Northumbria University revealed that Japanese people learning English rate the accent tops in terms of social attractiveness.

Participants listened to six different accents and then rated them on a range of personality traits. The accents were from Alabama and Ohio (American), Glaswegian, Scottish standard English, moderately-accented Japanese English and heavily-accented Japanese English. Robert McKenzie, senior lecturer in sociolinguistics at Northumbria said:

“It seems to be that globalisation, and especially the resultant worldwide spread of English-language media, are influencing non-native perceptions of the qualities associated with various forms of spoken English.

“Of course, the findings do not mean that speakers of the Glasgow or Alabama vernaculars are necessarily any more socially attractive or less fluent than speakers of other English varieties.

“It is interesting, however, that English learners from a country as different as Japan should demonstrate such high levels of awareness of variations within the English language.” (Source: Press Association)

I’ve often found that people outside of the UK are unaware of the wide range of dialects we host, so this is heartening research. What’s your favourite accent?

English in 24 accents

Posted on October 6th, 2010by Michelle
In dialects, English, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

Language learners often aspire to native-like fluency in their target language. Some even hope to achieve an accent that makes them sound like a local.

Perhaps learners can take some tips from this British kid – who can speak English in 24 different accents, ranging from Cockney to German to Nigerian. Whilst he doesn’t quite hit the mark with all of them, it’s definitely an impressive achievement.

Weird words quiz

Posted on August 17th, 2010by Michelle
In dialects, English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

How well do you know the English language? That’s the question asked by this quiz in The Guardian today.

The ‘weird words’ quiz tests your knowledge of English slang, dialect and old usage. For each definition, you have to choose the correct word. How many can you get right? (I got a miserable three out of ten). Test your knowledge here.

Is Cockney dying out?

Posted on July 13th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, dialects, English | Leave a Comment »

My last post was about the boost that Scots is getting in schools, but at the opposite end of the country the Cockney dialect is in danger of dying out.

New research has shown that the dialect is becoming a victim of emigration (of native speakers to the Home Counties) and immigration (as multicultural London English takes over).

“In much of the East End of London, the cockney dialect that we hear now spoken by older people will have disappeared within a generation,” said researcher Paul Kerswill, who is a professor of sociolinguistics at Lancaster University.

“People in their 40s will be the last generation to speak it and it will be gone within 30 years.” (Source: Herald Sun)

Professor Kerswill’s research will be published next year. In the meantime, we could consider the question of whether the Cockney dialect is on a par with Scots – are both valuable to British culture and worth saving?