The Yorkshire accent is famous for its warmth and most Yorkshire men and women are proud of their dialect. Those who think that the Yorkshire dialect is in decline couldn’t be more wrong – Yorkshire talk is very much alive.
The growth in demand for Yorkshire dialect cards and gifts, since Dialectable launched in 2014, is undeniable. Yorkshire folk just can’t get enough of product that celebrates the phrases, terms of endearment, slang, and sayings we use in God’s own count(r)y.
YORKSHIRE AND PROUD
Katie Edwards, lecturer in the School of English at Sheffield University wrote a chuffin’ brilliant article in The Guardian, entitled ‘Gerraway with accentism – I’m proud to speak Yorkshire’. She starts by sharing views she has heard which ‘lament the death of the sounds and words that comprise [it]’ the Yorkshire dialect. The loss of true Yorkshire English which symbolised community identity for generations ‘bolstered by a shared use of language’. Katie goes on to consider that pride in and use of our Yorkshire dialect is, in fact, very much alive and kicking, despite the efforts of some educationalists and elitist professions to discourage its use.
Yorkshire people celebrate their language daily and encourage the younger generations to do the same. Instilling a sense of pride in and connection to our roots and our history is nothing to be ashamed of. Language is just as powerful as music and smell in conjuring happy memories. One of the most frequent comments we hear at Yorkshire markets is “my Grandad used to call me bugger lugs” or ‘my Nan always said ruddy nora”. Words and phrases, handed down the generations, are a link to terms of endearment our loved ones and serve as touching reminders of the people who have shaped our lives.
For Julia, Dialectable’s MD, her native Hull speak is joyful. Reminding her of childhood, in particular her nana and grandad. It resonates with their past and she “could listen to Jenny and Lee from Gogglebox all day long. Their spade’s a spade humour and no nonsense accent has the power to make me simultaneously homesick and laugh like a drain.”
YORKSHIRE ACCENT & DIALECT
Accents are powerful and emotive. The sound of one can irritate and another make our hearts flutter. But an accent is simply the way words are pronounced. Dialect describes a whole language. It’s regional variations and local features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation mark it out from other regions. We use it to instantly recognise where someone comes from.
Yorkshire remains the largest county in England, despite the 1974 boundary changes. So its many dialect variations are understandable. Historic factors including natural boundaries such as the major river courses and proximity to the Nordic speaking communities shaped Yorkshire dialect. The South West was largely industrial (think steel and mining) and the North East agricultural in economic terms which also influenced local language. The correct term for these differences is an isophone, a linguistic feature of pronunciation found in a particular area marked off by lines on a map (isogloss).
The Yorkshire dialect is widely generalised. Impressions of the way people speak in the North of England have been shaped by national TV and radio dramas such as Emmerdale and Last of The Summer Wine.
Take Hull, for example. It’s a quirky city, befitting it’s out on a limb position in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It’s literally the end of the road, or ‘rerd’ if you’re from Hull. Don’t listen to the bad press. Hull is a city rich in character, steeped in history, and has a singularly unique accent – an unusual, charming and a phonetic smorgasbord. Hull folk are not only discernible/distinguishable by their accent but by a unique dialect too. For example ‘bray’ means to hit, ‘bains’ means children. So you might hear ‘Our kid brayed the bain’ or ‘I’ll bray yer!’. And whilst elsewhere in Yorkshire alleyways are ginnels or gennels – in Hull they are ‘tenfoots’ (because they are ten foot wide).
PROPER YORKSHIRE TALK
To non-Yorkshire speakers, this misconception that all Yorkshire folk speak the same way leads to imitations likely to begin and end with “ee bah gum, lass”. However, only a few miles between towns and cities within the country’s largest county will demonstrate the differences within the Yorkshire dialect.
Barnsley, Sheffield, and Doncaster each have their own colloquial language, despite all being geographically close in South Yorkshire. For example, a simple bread bun might be called a ‘bap’, ‘bun’, or ‘cake’, as in breadcake, depending on the town or city you’re in. The same can be said for Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford, though all within the riding of West Yorkshire. BBC Look North presenters Paul Hudson (@paultheweatherman) and Amy Garcia (@amyclairegarcia) recently debated the term they used for sweets in the playground as young ‘uns. Keighley born and bred Paul proposed ‘spice’ and had never heard of Wakefield born Amy’s word ‘spog’. If you’re from Hull, you’d be begging for ‘goodies’.
Hull speak is like no other. Whilst it bears some typically Yorkshire characteristics, such as dropped H’s, it’s flat vowel sounds distinguish it from anywhere else. Both ‘o’ and ‘i’ have very specific pronunciations. Classically, ‘oh no’ is ‘er ner’, bird is ‘berd’, worst is ‘werst’, resulting in a sentence like: ‘Er ner, she’s the werst berd ‘e’s ever ‘ad’. The ‘i’ vowel is pronounced ‘ar’. ‘Time’ is ‘tarm’, ‘five is ‘farv’, ‘mild’ is ‘marld’. So down the pub you might hear ‘it’s farv o’clock, tarm fer a parnta marld’. So before Scandi was trendy, Hull was on the map. Those flat vowels are distinctly Scandanavian. It’s not just through the fishing industry. Timber was also imported from the Baltic region back in the Middle Ages, and vowel sounds came with it.
THE WARMTH OF THE YORKSHIRE ACCENT
A BBC Look North report credited the Yorkshire accent, in part, with the 80% success rate achieved by the local COVID Track and Trace scheme, where Government’s central efforts had failed. …..call centres have learned that the yorkshire accent is considered trustworthy.
What really does characterise any Yorkshire dialect can be summed up as; friendly, warm, honest, and familiar. This very much reflects the Yorkshire nature too, well known for calling a spade a spade and saying hello to strangers in the street. The dialect is punctuated by glottal stops and economical too, with its dropped H’s, T’s and G’s, hence the accusation of it also being lazy.
Sheffield & South Yorkshire
‘Weerz Me Dad?’ and ‘Weerz Me Mam?” two funny and honest accounts of growing up in a working-class community of post WW2 Sheffield are littered with Yorkshire word and phrases. Autobiographical accounts of author Fred Pass, he fast became voted Sheffielders’ number one author for his reminiscences.
Leeds & West Yorkshire:
Toria Garbutt, Dares Not To Dream is a perfect example of an authentic Knottingley accent, of the areas around Leeds and Wakefield where she was born and bred and as gritty and explicit as the content of her work. Described by Trash TV in her LIVE recording as ‘a unique blend of pure punk heritage and unapologetic spoken word … a voice for and of Yorkshire’.
Another proud and powerful female voice for this area is award-winning blogger, vlogger,journalist, author and media personality, and mum of two Sophie Mei Lan (aka Mama Mei). Born and bred in Sheffield and living in Wakefield, Sophie has been outspoken about mental health and is one of Dialectable Ltd’s amazing ambassadors.
To hear the genuine warmth and softness of a true Yorkshire accent, look no further than the recordings of Simon Armitage. Born in Marsden, Simon is a prize-winning poet, playwright and novelist, Poet Laureate and professor of poetry at the University of Leeds.
YORKSHIRE ON TELEVISION
You only have to look at the current appetite for shows like Channel 5’s three multi-series offerings to see that the nation can’t get enough of Yorkshire farming and community life. The stars of each of the shows are huge media celebrities and authors in their own right:
- This Week on the Farm, featuring farming brothers Richard and David Nicholson from Canon Hall Farm, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.
- Our Yorkshire Farm and the author and media celebrity Amanda Owen, aka The Yorkshire Shepherdess
- The Yorkshire Vet – featuring Castleford born Julian Norton and educated at QEGS in Wakefield
- The incredibly popular BBC period drama Gentleman Jack was set and filmed in Halifax and features several historic Yorkshire estates including Grade II listed Shibden Hall, Sutton Park near York, Skelton Hall near Ripon and Bramham Park between Leeds and Wetherby.
LONG RUNNING YORKSHIRE SERIES
In a poll by the Dalesman, 3000 votes cast for best ever Yorkshire TV series placed the following familiar titles in the top 10. Two of the top ten first aired in 1973 and many of them ran for more than a decade.
- All Creatures Great and Small (1978–1990)
- Last of the Summer Wine (1973–2010)
- Heartbeat (1992–2010)
- Open All Hours (1973–1985)
- Last Tango in Halifax (2012–2016)
- Happy Valley (2014–)
- Downton Abbey (2010–2015)
- A Touch of Frost (1992–2010)
- The Yorkshire Vet (2015–)
- Rising Damp (1974–1978)
A FEW FAMOUS YORKSHIRE FOLK
- Sean Bean – Sheffield born actor
- Sir Michael Palin – actor, comedian, writer & tv presenter
- Jane MacDonald – Wakefield born singer, songwriter, tv presenter
- Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill – Sheffield born Olympic & world champion track and field athlete
- Sir Partick Stewart – Mirfield born actor, director and producer of Star Trek fame.
- Sir Tom Courtenay – Hull born actor of stage and screen.
- Dame Maureen Lipman – Hull born film, radio, theatre and tv actress and comedian.
- Ted Hughes – Mytholmroyd born award-winning poet, children’s writer, translator and Poet Laureate from 1984-88
- Sir Geoffrey Boycott – Fitzwilliam born Yorkshire and England cricketer (1962-86)
- Fred Trueman – Stainton born Yorkshire County Cricket Club and England Cricket Team player (circa 1948-68)
- Dame Barbara Hepworth – Wakefield born artist and sculptor
- Sir Michael Parkinson – Cudworth born veteran of Radio and TV broadcasting and host of long-running talk shows.
- The Bronte Sisters –
A FEW FAMOUS YORKSHIRE MUSICIANS
- Arctic Monkeys – Sheffield rock band (immortalised ‘Mardy Bum ’ in song). The band headlined Glastonbury in 2007 and 2013.
- Human League – Sheffield electro-pop band of the 1970’s/80’s
- Marti Caine – Sheffield born actress, dancer, singer, writer and comedian
- The Housemartins – Hull pop group of the 1980’s
- Everything But The Girl – Hull musical duo of the 1980’s
- Def Leppard – Sheffield heavy metal band who caused hysteria worldwide in the 70’s/80’s
- ABC – Sheffield band new-romantic/new pop sensation of the 1980’s. Lead singer Martin Fry has continued touring as a solo performer.
- Paul Carrick –
- Joe Cocker – Sheffield blues-rocker whose gritty voice reflected the city of his birth.
- PULP – Sheffield Britpop rock sensation of the 1990’s. Frontman Jarvis Cocker subsequently enjoyed a highly successful solo career presented a BBC Radio 6 Music programme for 7 years.
- Mel B – Leeds lass Mel, aka Scary Spice is famous for her Spice Girls success and is an actress, singer, songwriter, tv personality and rapper.
- Richard Hawley – Sheffield lad and member of Pulp and Longpigs before a solo career resulted in the much deserved recognition for ‘Coles Corner’ with a nomination for The Mercury Music Prize in 2005.
- Zayn Malik – Bradford born member of One Direction and now successful solo musician.