Hadrian's WallAlthough Britain is a small country, it has many regional dialects and different accents. Foreign visitors arriving in the port of Liverpool, the Devonshire moors or the Scots highlands may find that the English they learned at school has not prepared them for the many varieties of English. Perhaps this is because these dialects receive little attention in the media and are rarely recorded by lexicographers. This article explores some of the main British dialects and their history.

When the Vikings invaded England in the 9th Century, they left their mark on Yorkshire. Yorkshire dialect words can still be compared to Scandinavian languages as shown in the examples illustrated below.

Yorkshire     English        Old norse word
laik                    to play           leika
happen             perhaps         happ
nay                    no                   nei

West Country dialects encompass the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. The south of England was influenced by both Germanic and Celtic languages. Words which differ from other regions include ‘dreckly’ from ‘directly’ meaning soon but with less urgency and ‘grockle’ which means tourist or visitor. The verbs also change. Instead of ‘I am’, ‘you are’ and ‘he is’, some people in the West Country still use ‘I be’, ‘thee bist’ and ‘he be’. This dialect appears in literature, famously in Shakespeare’s King Lear, and more extensively in the works of Dorset-born Thomas Hardy.

Geordie is one of the best-loved British dialects according to a recent survey. ‘Marra’ meaning ‘mate’ and ‘hinny’ meaning woman are just a couple of examples of this colourful local tongue. Geordie is so unique because it has been influenced by many other dialects over time including Germanic languages from Viking settlers, Irish, Scots and Welsh. There are a number of theories about the etymology of the word ‘Geordie’ but the most probable is that it derived from George, a very common name among the coal miners in the North East of England. Other notable accents of the North include Scouse from the Liverpool area, Manc from Manchester and Scots, mentioned in our previous article.

Midlands dialect is also linked to the language of the working classes spoken in the pottery mills in Staffordshire and the mining communities in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It originates from Anglo-Saxon Old English. Words such as ‘nesh’ meaning cold and ‘mardy’ meaning grumpy as well as some charming idiomatic phrases including ‘it’s a bit black o’er Bill’s mothers’ which indicates rain is forecast. The typical greeting in Derby and the surrounding area is ‘Ey up mi Duck’ which derives from the Saxon word ‘Ducas’, a term of respect also at the root of the English word ‘Duke’. The writer D.H. Lawrence uses Midlands dialect in his work Sons and Lovers about the coal mining communities in Nottingham. The West Midlands most famous dialect is Brummie which is the term for the dialect spoken in Birmingham. Striking differences include ‘You’ pronounced as ‘yow’ and ‘right’ as ‘roight’. ‘Tara-a-bit’ is a common Brummie phrase for see you later.

Perhaps the most famous English dialect is Cockney which is spoken in areas of East London. One of the first references to Cockney is in Chaucer’s The Reeves Tale. Typical Cockney features include the use of ‘ain’t’, double negatives and ‘me’ instead of ‘my’. Cockney Rhyming Slang is also intrinsic to London culture and traditions. Phrases such as ‘apples and pears’ meaning stairs and ‘bacon and eggs’ meaning legs have been added to in recent years with the introduction of ‘Adrian Mole’ for ‘dole’. This dialect particularly emphasises the richness of Britain’s regional dialects and how they are linked with our literature and culture.

Regional dialects are a challenge in the translation world.  Translators often come across words and phrases in dialect when translating literary texts and film scripts. This poses the problem of whether these dialects need to be translated into an equivalent dialect in the target language or the standard language.

In order to approach dialect translations, we must first consider the reason why the author has chosen to write in dialect. This may be for a variety of purposes:

1. Comic technique
2. To represent social and cultural divides
3. To immerse the reader in the locale of the language

Our native-speaking translators have a thorough knowledge of their country’s slang and dialects and are able to consult other staff in our worldwide offices when researching slang used in the source texts. For more information on our language services visit www.smglanguages.co.uk

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