Thursday, February 13, 2014

Run, run, run

Hello everyone.

It's been a while since my last post, but thankfully there is an ongoing and interesting conversation amongst the regulars (thank you Gaynor, Bryan, Bert, and Yorick)

This latest post came to me while I was working upstairs in my house building bedrooms for the kids. I was talking to my wife about some detail or other when I caught myself saying, "I run up the stairs".

What I actually meant was, "I ran up the stairs", which would have been the correct verb form for the imperfect tense of run - ran. There is nothing particularly unusual in this, many people in various dialects will use the present tense form of verbs to express actions in the past. What did strike me as interesting was that there may be another, much more subtle, element to this construction.

When I said, "I run upstairs", there was no doubt in my mind that I was referring to something that had happened in the past, even though the verb form was actually in the present tense. The interesting thing was the pronunciation, not of the verb form run rather the pronoun I.

I pronounced the I as /æ/ like the "a" in bat. It seems that this pronunciation changed the meaning of the sentence and therefore the tense of the verb to imperfect, that is, past tense. To compare I pronounced the sentence with the standard pronunciation of "I" /aj/. Pronounced like this, the verb form run maintains its temporal meaning of present tense, that is, "I run" (something that happens in the present, or more usually in English, something I do habitually) "I run to work on Tuesdays", for example.

Try it yourself and see what you think.
Is there a difference when you say  /æ rʊʊpstɛrz/ (pronounced like the "a" in bat)
as compared to /aj rʊʊpstɛrz(pronounced like the "y" in my)
It is my feeling that there is a difference between the two when said in natural, normal-pace speech. Whether this is peculiar to the Warrington dialect is another question.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A little side project

Hello everyone.

You may have noticed that I have been quiet for a while. Don't worry, I've not forgotten about Wirelect or Warrington, but I have been busy with a side project over in Ireland.

I am in Cork for a couple of months with my family on a work-related project. During this time I am documenting my adventures on social media. If you are interested, take a look at the Facebook page: Pop the Cork

In the meantime, this got me thinking about a dialect word referring to exactly this kind of side project: a foreigner. I have heard this used many times to refer to a project or job that is in addition to regular work.

Is this a Warrington word? Does it mean something different to you?

Let me know.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

National Grammar Day

The 4th of March was National Grammar Day (in the United States at least), and so I thought I would honour the occasion by talking a little about grammar.

Grammar is a slightly misunderstood concept in that it means different things to different people. To an average person, and indeed many books on the use of language, grammar mainly refers to spelling and punctuation. To linguists, however, it is a set of rules that governs how natural languages are structured and composed by native speakers.

I'm sure most of the people reading this have a memory of school English lessons where they were told about the use of "bad grammar" and, no doubt, reprimanded for it. This idea of "bad grammar" finds its roots in what is known as prescriptive grammar or a prescriptive approach to language. The term prescriptive refers to a way of looking at, and subsequently teaching, grammar that assumes that one particular type of grammar is superior to others and therefore should be aspired to.

The problem with this kind of prescriptive approach is that it does not represent real spoken language; the kind of language that you and I speak every day. We have to look to descriptive grammar for that.

Descriptive grammar, as the name suggests, attempts to describe the grammar of the language as it is used by native speakers, rather than attempting to determine a particular way of forming clauses and sentences according to rules that don't necessarily apply to the language use in question.

The Warrington dialect, just as any other dialect, is not Standard English. We have our own words, our own pronunciations, and indeed, our own grammar. And more importantly, the way we speak is not wrong or bad style, it simply has slightly different rules than the standard, and for that matter slightly different rules than other dialects. But, and this is the important part, there are rules! You cannot just say whatever, and call it grammatical.

Here are a few examples of Warrington grammar that are in every-day use, although you might not have noticed them:

Use of the past participle in place of the imperfect (past) tense:
  • I run to t'bus this mornin' (I run to the bus this morning)
as opposed to the standard "I ran to the bus this morning."

Use of the imperfect tense in place of the perfect tense ("have done" something)
  • 'ave y'et yer tea yet (Have you ate your tea yet?)
as opposed to the standard "Have you eaten your tea yet?"

Also with the imperative (giving an order)
  • Gerrit et! (Get it ate!)
as opposed to the standard, "Eat it!"

We also use stative constructions in place of active present/past continuous verb forms (linguist-speak for the following):

  • I am sat / I was sat
as opposed to the standard, "I am sitting" / "I was sitting".

However, this only works with certain stative verbs. As I said, you cannot simply say anything you like and call it grammatical (the asterix always denotes an ungrammatical example):

  • *I am ran / *I was ran
  • *I am ate/eaten / *I was ate/eaten

Spotting these features of a dialect can be tricky if you are not used to thinking about language in a particularly analytical way. But I would encourage everyone in Warrington to analyse the speech they hear around them every day. Especially if someone says something that you were told in school was wrong or bad grammar. It isn't necessarily, it's just the dialect obeying its own rules.

Does anyone have any pet hates that they think are just bad grammar?

Post them here or on the Facebook page, and we can analyse them together :-)

Friday, March 1, 2013


There has been some discussion about this word on the "Your dialect words" page, so I thought I would bring it to the front page to give it a bit more publicity.

Mucker is a very common word in Warrington that means "friend" or "mate". It is, I think it's safe to say, exclusively used from men to men. I have never heard a woman referred to as mucker, not have I heard a woman refer to someone else as mucker. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

There were some suggestions that mucker is specific to Warrington, but that does not seem to hold true. A quick Google search shows that it is also used in the South, a fact that is confirmed by my Londoner friend being well aware of it. Interestingly, Wiktionary states that mucker is primarily used in the southern dialects, which is clearly not the case!

To my mind, a strong contender for the origin of this dialect word would be the Irish mo chara, which means "my friend". The massive immigration from Ireland to Liverpool over the years would make this a feasible proposition, and presumably it would not take much for such a word to trickle down the Mersey to Warrington and other towns along the shoreline.

Another possibility that makes sense is the task of mucking out animals, where a worker would remove the animal faeces from the stalls in a barn. Anyone who has done this knows that it is a hard, dirty, thankless task.

To muck out is a phrasal verb and is no doubt related to another phrasal verb to muck in, which means to join in the work in order to share the tasks (and presumably get the job finished quicker). A common feature of many languages, especially English, is a phenomenon called conversion. This results in the change in function of a word. For example, the lexical verb to muck, from which the phrasal verbs are derived, changes function and word class to become a noun, mucker, that is, the person who does the mucking.

It is easy to imagine how any fellow worker involved in the mucking would be called a mucker, and subsequently how the use of this word could spread to other people involved in physical work, and eventually become synonymous with a workmate and/or friend.

What do you think? Do you use mucker where you live? Does it mean friend, or something completely different?

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Apologies for the silence for the past few weeks, I've been tied up with other stuff.

Anyway, I wanted to post the following correction to my earlier post about the borders of Lancashire and Cheshire.

Bryan Gregory contacted me with the following message a couple of weeks ago, and I have only now got round to doing something about it. It is only fair that I post it here.

Here is Bryan's message in full:

Please be informed that the 1974 Local government act did not at any time alter the boundary of Lancashire & Cheshire only administrational areas. The River Mersey remains the boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire corresponding with the boundary of the Duchy of Lancaster
of which Warrington north of the river is a part.
Warrington is no longer under the administration of Cheshire since it became a unitary authority. The remnants of this administration can be seen in the Police and Fire service which will change along with the ambulance to become North West in due course.
It unfortunate that there is great confusion over our traditional counties.
If you died without any beneficiaries and lived north of the River Mersey the Duchy of Lancaster would get your estate.
Bryan R Gregory 
Thank you, Bryan, for the correction.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Warrington's North/South divide?

We had a very interesting question from David Ball that I would like to explore here.

In a comment on the "Your dialect words" section of the blog, David stated:

"The western parts of Warrington have Liverpool-influenced words. The eastern parts have a more Manchester/Lancashire influence. That's because of their relative positions, vis-a-vis our metropolitan neighbours.

What about the North-South divide? [ ] I would further guess that Cheshire influences the way people talk south of the canal. One thing I could imagine being the case is more words related to a farming lifestyle, as opposed to industrial related words to the north

David is absolutely correct about the East/West differences, but what about North/South?

The town north of the river is undoubtedly historically more industrial. The River Mersey was also the natural border for Lancashire and Cheshire for centuries up to 1974.

Has this history made a difference?

If so, is that difference still present in the modern speech of Warringtonians?

What do you think?

Do you live north of the River Mersey/Manchester Ship Canal, and do you think you speak differently from those "over the water"?

The same question to those living south of the River Mersey/Manchester Ship Canal.

Post your comments or send me an email!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year 2013

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year for 2013!

Here are a few highlights fom the Wirelect year 2012:
  • The Wirelect site surpassed the 100 "likes" mark, (we are currently at 146 "likes")
  • The Wirelect site surpassed the 10 000 views mark and we are nearly at 11 000 views!
  • Wirelect was in the Warrington Guardian
  • Wirelect was on Radio Warrington
  • The Wirelect Facebook page has 30 "likes"

  • But more important than these stats and events is the contribution made by the community that reads and posts on this blog.

    I would like to thank everyone who has read and/or posted on the Wirelect site during 2012 and I hope you will continue to do so during 2013!

    We are a small community, but we care about our dialect and our linguistic culture and that is why we congregate here. I will continue to do my best to research the Warrington dialect and its linguistic history, and I will share my findings, insights and ideas on here with you all.

    Lastly, I would like to thank a couple of members of this community for their contribution:

    Tim: Thanks for your comments, I would really like to hear more of your opinions :-)

    David Ball: Thank you, David, for your unending support via Radio Warrington and activity on here and the Facebook page :-)

    Yorick: You are a mine of linguistic and cultural information, I wish you realised it more :-)

    Totty Teabag: Like me, you left the town physically, but still hold it in your heart :-)

    And finally, Gaynor: thank you for your constant support, contributions, and opinions. You are the heart of this community, and the entire town should be proud of you! :-)

    Thank you! All the best for 2013.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Lancashire Day

    If you didn't know, 27th November is Lancashire Day.

    Lancashire Day commemorates Edward I calling the first elected representatives from Lancashire to parliament in 1295.

    Warrington has gone by many titles over the years, such as: a municipal borough, a county borough, and most recently a unitary authority. The local government reforms of 1974 made Warrington part of Cheshire, but historically, culturally, and more importantly, linguistically, Warrington is part of Lancashire.

    For proof of this, you need look no further than the Lancashire Day proclamation, which is read out by town criers on this day throughout the county:

    • Know ye also, and rejoice, that by virtue of Her Majesty's County Palatine of Lancaster, the citizens of the Hundreds of Lonsdale, North and South of the Sands, Amounderness, Leyland, Blackburn, Salford and West Derby are forever entitled to style themselves Lancastrians. Throughout the County Palatine, from the Furness Fells to the River Mersey, from the Irish Sea to the Pennines, this day shall ever mark the peoples' pleasure in that excellent distinction - true Lancastrians, proud of the Red Rose and loyal to our Sovereign Duke.

    You can see that, "From the Furness Fells to the River Mersey..." is historically Lancashire. Also, I have left in the link to the Wikipedia article on the West Derby Hundred as Warrington had been part of it since the 11th century.

    Here are a couple of links to Lancashire societies:

    As a result of local governmental bureaucracy, Warringtonians may have Cheshire in their addresses nowadays, but they will have Lancashire in their hearts forever!

    Happy Lancashire Day, everyone!

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    Welsh Warrington

    Well, the radio interview came and went. If you managed to tune in, I hope you enjoyed it. If you missed it, you can listen to the interview in its entirety on Soundcloud here:

    Welsh Warrington

    If we go back in time about 1200 years to around 800AD, one of the languages spoken in the Warrington area would have been Welsh. To be precise, the language would have been an earlier form of Welsh, called Old Welsh, or possibly even a dialect related to Old Welsh, called Cumbric. There is no doubt that dialects of Old English were also spoken in the area, and Danish dialects of Old Norse would have also been heard more and more as the Vikings took over more land to the north-east, but from the River Mersey all the way up to Southern Scotland some form of Welsh dialect would have been spoken. Indeed, the entry for Warrington in Domesday comes under the name "Walintune", which many scholars believe is the Old English name meaning roughly "the settlement of the Welsh".

    I was surprised to find out a few years ago that my maternal ancestors are in fact from South Wales, and Warrington's close proximity to the Welsh border, and its position as the crossing point of the Mersey, must have made it a natural stop-off point for Welsh people moving North for whatever reason.

    Surprisingly little is left of the language and/or dialects from this time. In fact, the clearest clue to the Old Welsh or Cumbric dialect spoken at that time is the name of my old stomping ground "Penketh". The name is made up of two elements, both Welsh/Cumbric words:
    • Pen(n) - meaning a hill
    • Keth (originally spelled "coed") - meaning a wood
    "Pencoed" became "Penketh" - "The wooded hill".

    Both "pen" and "coed" are still present in the modern Welsh language. There is, in fact, a village called "Pencoed" in south Wales near to Bridgend. Other places in Wales contain the "pen" element and probably the most famous place containing "coed" is "Betws-y-Coed" in Clwyd, North Wales, which means "Prayer house in the wood".

    Other than a few place names, there is virtually no sign of the Welsh/Cumbric language and dialects.

    Or is there?

    Do you know any Warrington words, phrases or sayings that contain Welsh words?

    Wirelect Interview on FM radio

    The Wirelect interview that I did for Radio Warrington will be live on Radio Warrington 87.8 FM from 12 noon to 15pm today.

    Tune in:

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Warrington Wolves slang

    Our beloved Challenge Cup winning rugby team, the Warrington Wolves, or "The Wire" as we know them has been a part of the town's history since 1879.

    In the 133 years since their inception as a rugby team, the people of Warrington have come together to follow the team through thick or thin. Over the past few year, the Wolves have seen great success, and this has no doubt spread the appeal of the game of rugby and increased the fan base of the Wolves.

    We have not concentrated a great deal on the Wire, sorry, Wolves in this blog, but now I would like to collect some of the words or phrases that have evolved alongside the team.

    If you have a particular phrase or saying that you always say at the match, or that you always hear at the match, post it on here or send me an email at It might be just a word that you use to describe a situation or a player, whatever it is, I would like to know.

    Let's put together a glossary of Warrington Wolves slang.

    Thanks, Wirelector

    Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    The Co-op vowel shift results and other stuff

    The results of our little survey are in. Sorry it took a while, I have been a bit under the weather.

    Thank you to everyone who responded to the survey, we had a much stronger response than in previous surveys :-)

    In total we had 20 responses and some very interesting results; not the results I was expecting, which is always a good thing!

    16 people answered that they would pronounce Co-op as two separate syllables transcribed here phonetically: /kɒʊ ɒp/ "co - op". These people aged from 30 to 77 years old.

    But just 4 people answered that they would pronounce Co-op as a single syllable with a long vowel as follows: /kwɒ:p/ "cwarp". These people aged from 69 to 95 years old.

    This surprised me, as I thought that there would be a higher incidence of the single syllable variant particularly in the older age range. Admittedly, the 4 people who pronounce Co-op as /kwɒ:p/ are all in the older age group, and two of these 4 are reported as being born elsewhere than Warrington (Leigh and Bolton). This may lead us to believe that the single syllable pronunciation is not a feature of the Warrington dialect. However, both my parents belong to the single syllable group and they are both Warrington born and bred.

    So what can we summise from this?

    It appears from the data we have from our survey that there is a possible slight shift in the pronunciation of Co-op from a single syllable to two syllables over time. This shift may be influenced from neighbouring dialects that maintain a long vowel where Warrington has a diphtong; for example, think of a Widnesian or a Boltonian pronouncing "no". These dialects have maintained the long vowel that results in /nʊə/ "noor" as opposed to the more common Warringtonian /nɒʊ/ "no".

    However, it is likely that both pronunciations of Co-op have existed side by side, particularly due to the fact that "Co-op" is always pronounced as two separate syllables in its full form in the name "Co-operative". As far as I know, no-one says "Cwarprative". Please correct me if I am wrong.

    A couple other comments came in from Gaynor and Tim that I wanted to point out:

    Gaynor commented on the good people of Yorkshire not understanding the word "Barm cake". I have to say that I concur. I recently chatted with a colleague who is originally from Huddersfield, and he did not know what a Barm cake is either. This does seem to be confined to the Lancashire area.

    And Tim posted a word that I have never heard before in my life: lozzock. He gave the example, "Stop lozzocking around and get something done." Great word! Does anyone else use this word?

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    The Co-op vowel shift

    We all know the Co-operative. It's a shop and it's a bank, and it's probably many other things as well, but what I am interested in is the way you say it.

    In my experience, there are two distinct pronunciations of Co-op in Warrington:
    1. Each syllable pronounced separately: Co - Op
    2. As one word: Cworp
    The pronunciation distinction seems to be related to age, so let's have a survey.

    If you pronounce Co-op as in number 1, post a comment with the number 1 and your birth year.

    If you pronounce Co-op as in number 2, post a comment with the number 2 and your birth year.

    As an example, my response is: 1 and 1974

    Please ask as many of your friends as you can and post their responses too. Let's try to get some good results for this one.

    I'll post the results in a couple of days.

    Thanks, Wirelector.

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    S-words rule! Update

    We seem to be having a real influx of words beginning with "S".

    Here's a few of the words that have come in from your comments. Keep 'em coming :-)

    I have found a reference to the word "scutch" in the Cheshire Glossary that I posted about back in March.  The full entry can be seen here, half-way down page 178:

    Here is a snapshot of the entry:

    An anonymous reader had posted the word scutch in reference to skipping. Apparently your legs would get scutched if the skipping rope hit them. Here is the original comment:

    "does anyone remember getting their legs 'scutched' when skipping? My dad was an electrician so I skipped with cable and that gave you a good 'scutch' if it caught your legs!" Anonymous.

    It appears that the word scutch has changed over time from the cause of the injury to the injury itself. It has also changed from a verb to a noun, a fairly common occurance called conversion.
    • Scutch - a scratch or scrape on the skin
    • Scuff - as above
    • Slutch - sticky, smelly mud (normally along the banks of the Mersey)
    • Slather - drool (normally from a dog)
    • Slavver - a variant of slather
    • Slobber - drool (normally from a baby)
    And a few others that have come up:

    • Scrawp - a scratch on the skin
    • Skittering - a thin covering of snow
    • Snig - a worm
    It's interesting that we seem to differentiate between the saliva produced by a dog and that produced by a human! Does anyone disagree with this distinction?

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    A couple of words

    Here are a couple of words that my Dad reminded me of a couple of days ago:

    Slothering - to slother, (verb) apparently this refers to the dragging of the feet when walking.

    "Stop slotherin' an' pick yer feet up!"

    A skittering - (noun) a thin covering of something (almost always used in reference to snow).

    "I woke up this mornin' an' there was a skitterin' of snow on the ground."

    The verb to skitter also exists. See the following link:

    Do you use these words? What do they mean to you?

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Building site slang

    My beloved older brother has worked his entire life on various building sites around Warrington and the North West. Below is a selection of phrases he said are in common use on those building sites. I don't know if these are specific to Warrington, but I would imagine some of them are.

    These are priceless, and some of them hilarious. My favourite is Squirrel up:

    • Half chop - finishing work at dinner time on a Friday
    • Early dart - finishing work early
    • Roman spear - finishing work early
    • March past - not going into work on a Monday
    • Put the stones in - the order to finish work, in other words put a couple of shovel of stones and a couple of buckets of water in the cement mixer, then run it to clean the inside of the barrel.
    • Poke - money
    • Tank - money
    • Boxed off - paying for something
    • Maverick - money put aside for an emergency
    • Squirrel up - staying indoor during the winter
    • Where is your next drop - what's the next job
    • Are you in collar - are you in work?
    • Have you got a bend - did you get work
    • Compo - mortar
    • Bucket of shite - bucket of mortar
    • Cod hod - Hod carrier who supervises other hod carriers

    Every field of work has its own slang. What's yours?

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    The Wirelect podcast - Update!

    The Wirelect interview now available.

    The podcast has now moved to Sound Cloud:

    If you missed the Wirelect interview or you would just like to listen to it again, it is now available to stream or download in its entirety on the Radio Warrington frontpage:

    Thanks for listening and keep those comments coming!

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Lend and Borrow - The Explanation!

    We have had a couple of comments on the mixing up of lend and borrow in the dialect, so I think it is worth taking the time to point out the differences between the two and why.

    We will have to use some linguistic jargon to explain the differences, but I will try to keep it simple.

    First things first; to lend and to borrow are both verbs, and as such they tell us what is going on in the sentence in terms of who or what is doing what to who.

    More specifically they are both transitive verbs, which means that they have to take a grammatical object (normally referred to as simply 'an object'); in this case the thing that is being lent or borrowed.

    This means that just "I lend" or "I borrow" sounds weird. And indeed it does sound incomplete!

    To make things a little more complicated, transitive verbs can be further subdivided into monotransitive, ditransitive, and even tritransitive verbs, depending on how many objects they take (1, 2 or 3, respectively).

    So, to get back to our mixed up verbs, to borrow is a monotransitive verb. This means that it only takes one object. For example:
    • I borrow a book.
    The bolded 'book' is the object, and because borrow only takes one object, the sentence looks and sounds fine.

    To lend, on the other hand, is a ditransitive verb. This means that it has to take two objects. For example:
    • I lend her a book.
    The bolded 'book' is still the object, but because we now have two objects we need to be able to differentiate between them. Therefore, 'book' it is now called the direct object and is still the thing that is being lent. The underlined her is called the indirect object and is the person to whom the book is being lent.

    The sentence looks and sounds fine because lend has two objects and is therefore linguistically happy.

    The problem arises when we use borrow to mean lend. We subconciously know that the thing we are talking about is lending, and we also subconciously know that the verb lend needs two objects, but we actually say borrow, which only needs one.

    It is this inate, subconcious knowledge of the grammar of our own language that allows us to hear when something is not quite right. For example, using the same underline for the indirect object and bold for the direct object notations as before (including an asterix, which is the standard linguistic way of showing that something in ungrammatical), we can see the two objects used with borrow, and thus see why it sounds odd:
    • *I'll borrow you a tenner.
    The reverse is also true.

    If we use lend with only one object, it also sounds odd:
    • *Will you lend a tenner?
    Here the indirect object is missing and therefore leads us to ask the question, "Lend who a tenner?"

    So, there we are. A bit long and technical, but I hope it made sense.

    Back to reality

    Well, after last week's flurry of media exposure, it's time to return to normality.

    Thank you to everyone who read the article and listened to the radio interview! It is really great to see that we have some more followers and interested parties.

    Speaking of which, we had some very interesting comments (in bold) on the "Your dialect words" page from an anonymous reader. I would like to comment on a few here.

    Jiggered - exhausted

    I also understand jiggered as meaning exhausted or very tired. However, some quick Google research revealed numerous meanings for the the word jigger. Have a look here.
    I am inclined to assume that our use of the word jiggered probably has its roots in the alcoholic measure used for pouring spirits, and therefore quite possibly has a different meaning closer to (very) drunk.

    Thrutch - to move along a seat without standing up

    I was really pleased to see this word turn up because I have known about it for a long time, but never had cause to use it. Apparently, my grandmother often used the term thrutch in the phrase, "Where there's least room there's most thrutching". My Dad tells me that she would say it when there was a lot of people in a small space. He also says that he believes it is a mining term used by miners who would have to squeeze through tiny gaps in order to reach the coal face. The thrutching was the movement they would have to make to get through the gap.

    It's great to know that thrutch is still in use. My grandmother was born in 1903, and must have heard the term when she was growing up. Over one hundred years on and it is still part of our vocabulary, albeit with a different meaning.

    I have never heard thrutch used in the sense of moving along a seat without standing up. Personally, I would say shift.
    Mention of the word slutch (ie sticky foul smelling mud) made me think about the origins of slutchers lane

    I have also wondered about Slutchers Lane. Does anyone know the story behind the name?

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Wirelect in the local media NEW UPDATE!

    As promised...

    NEW UPDATE! Just a couple of hours until the Wirelect interview on Radio Warrington

    Stream live on the above link.

    UPDATE! Here is a link to the article: Forget Vladivar, did the Vikings put the "V" in Warrington?
    The article is featured on page 4 of the Warrington Guardian paper edition.

    What a week!

    Wirelect will be featured in this week's Warrington Guardian as part of the follow-up to its first birthday, AND we will be on Radio Warrington this Friday (28th September) from 12 noon (GMT) to 3pm (15.00).

    The Warrington Guardian article will be in the paper edition this week and will also appear on the web edition in the next few days.

    My most sincere thanks must go to Vicki Stockman at Warrington Guardian; and David Ball, Diane Abbott, and Gordon Gandy at Radio Warrington.

    Thank you all for your support!

    Keep reading and commenting, and tell your friends about Wirelect :-)

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Homonymy and "The Green"

    Two interesting points came to my attention over the last few days.

    The first was raised by Pete Magill who commented that his old school teacher used to remark on the misuse of our and are.

    The difference, of course, is obvious in writing but not so in speech. For example, it is perfectly feasible for someone to say the following two sentences in the dialect, but make no audible distinction between our and are :
    • "I'm goin' to see our Mike later."
    • "D'you know how old Mike and Steve are?"
    However, in Standard English and many other dialects our and are have different pronunciations altogether.

    Words like these are often referred to as homonyms and are erroneously defined as words that are spelled differently but pronounced in exactly the same way. The precise linguistic definition of homonym is words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings. An example of true homonyms would be bow, which can mean to lean forward as a mark of respect; or the front part of a ship - both spelled and pronounced the same way, but with distinct meanings.

    In the case or our and are they can be referred to in two different ways:

    1. homophones - the same pronunciation but a different meaning and/or different spelling
    2. heterographs - the same pronunciation but a different meaning and different spelling
    For the sake of simplicity, it makes more sense to refer to all these instances as examples of homonymy. Are there any other examples in the dialect?

    The second point that came up is the name of the large traffic roundabout that forms the junction of Sankey Way, Lovely Lane, Froghall Lane, and Thewlis Street.

    To me, it has always been and always will be "The Green". I had never heard it referred to as anything else until a couple of days ago when I saw it referred to as the "Pink Eye roundabout". Admittedly, I don't think that this name was used in all seriousness, but nevertheless, it got me thinking.

    What do you call that particular place? Is it "The Green" to you?

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Wirelect on the airwaves 28th Sept.

    Don't forget to tune in to Radio Warrington this Friday (28th September) from 12 noon (GMT) to 3pm (15.00).

    During my visit to Warrington at the beginning of September, I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by David Ball of Radio Warrington.

    David and I talked at length about many different aspects of the Wirelect project, such as the Warrington dialect and its influences, the differences between a dialect and an accent, descriptive versus prescriptive approaches to language, and many other matters relating to language and dialect.

    You can hear the interview in its entirety on Radio Warrington on Friday 28th September between 12 noon and 3 pm (15.00). The interview will be divided into smaller sections that will be spread out throughout Diana Abbott's show.

    You can stream Radio Warrington live from the following link:

    My sincere thanks go to David and Diana, and the Radio Warrington team :-)

    Don't forget to tune it!

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    Warrington - the Viking theory

    Received wisdom on the subject of Warrington's name would lead us to believe that it is Old English in origin. There are some well-founded theories to support this claim, but there should always be room for new theories, too.

    I believe that the Vikings gave our town its name as the "Place to moor the boats", or as they would have said, "Vǫrr-ing-tun".

    But before we get to my theory, let's have a look at the existing theories.

    A quick Google search or the first few pages of any Warrington local history book will provide you with the standard explanations for the name "Warrington".

    1. "Waer" the personal name of a local ruler or chieftan, and "tun" a homestead or settlement. These together form "Waerstun" or Waer's settlement. This is certainly a feasible explanation for the name.
    2. "Werid", "Weryt", or "Gweryt" and other permutations are possible words from Brythonic languages (the languages spoken in the British Isles before the Roman conquest, and represented nowadays by Welsh). These words are listed as meaning "ford" as in a river crossing. When combined with "tun", as above, we get various versions of "Weritun" or the settlement on the river crossing. This is a very good theory due to the clear importance of the river crossing in the development of the town.
    3. The final popular theory is based on the Anglo-Saxon word "Waering" meaning a weir or dam. There have no doubt been various fish weirs on the river throughout history, indeed there is written historical data to prove the presence of fish weirs on the River Mersey. "Waering", again, combined with "tun" gives us "Waeringtun", the settlement of the weirs on the river. A very compelling theory, especially as it fits the idea of the importance of the river and looks, to our modern eyes, very close to the modern spelling of Warrington.
    The above are all very reasonable explanations for the name of the town, and any of them could be true. However, these theories are all very local in nature and do not take into account the broader regional context.

    If we take a closer look at the surrounding towns and villages along the Mersey shoreline, we can see a distinct Nordic influence. Starting at the mouth of Mersey estuary and working our way inland along the northern shoreline we can see places such as: Formby, Crosby, Kirkdale, Aigburth, Oglet, and Widnes - all Scandinavian in origin. Along the southern shoreline we have: Bromborough, Eastham, Ellesmere, Helsby, Frodsham - again, Scandinavian in origin.

    This abundance of place-names of Scandinavian origin suggests strongly a high incidence of people who spoke a Scandinavian language. Works such as Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project by Steve Harding, Mark Jobling, and Turi King provide clear evidence of a Viking presence in the Wirral. Indeed, the huge number of Scandinavian place-names within the Wirral is testament not only to the fact that Vikings came to our shores, but also that they stayed. This is also supported by the genetic evidence presented in the book.

    But what about Warrington?

    It seems more than a little strange to me that the Vikings should have such key presence in the Wirral, and obvious influence along the Mersey shoreline, but not leave their mark on the most important Mersey-coastal town of the age - Warrington!

    The proof is in Warrington's location on the mersey. The Mersey has always been a difficult river to navigate because of silting and its large tidal range. This was not a problem to the Vikings due to the ingenious design and construction of their longboats, which had a draft (the amount of a ship's hull that is submerged) of only 40 - 50 cm (approx 18 inches). This design allowed them to navigate seaworthy long boats far upstream and inland.

    However, there were limits; and these limits are what gave Warrington its name.

    The Vikings, both Norwegian and Danish, spoke dialects of a language that we know today as Old Norse. As they sailed further and further inland along the Mersey, they would eventually have come to a place where the water was too shallow, or the river too marshy to continue. This place would have also been the site where the river was fordable. This place was the site of modern Warrington.

    Old Norse had two words that were related to each other: Vǫrr - meaning a wave or the sea; and Vör - meaning a landing space for a boat. The latter is still present in modern Icelandic place names (Icelandic being the closest modern language to Old Norse).

    It is perfectly reasonable to assume that the Vikings, having sailed as far as they could up the Mersey, would have moored their boats somewhere in the vicinity of Latchford. As more and more Vikings used this site as a landing place to enter the established settlement near the ford, they would have begun to call it by a name. In their native Old Norse, that name would have been "Vǫrr" or "Vör" or something related. They would have added the particle "ing" to that name, as all modern Scandinavian languages do, to describe the place where the event happens, and then the "tun", which simply means a town or settlement.

    So we are left with Vikings calling our town "Vǫrringtun" or Vöringtun", simply meaning, "The place to moor the boats".

    What do you think? Do you have a theory? Tell me your thoughts.

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Wirelect LIVE in Warrington!

    Wirelect is back in town!

    The blog is one year old at the end of this week, and to celebrate I will be out and about in Warrington handing out fliers and talking to people about the dialect.

    I will be doing more research for the book and I will also be doing an interview for Radio Warrington about the Wirelect project.

    Keep your eyes open for me, and see you in town!


    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Another snippet

    After the summer break it's time to get back to work on the book. Here is a small section about moving away from Warrington:

    Think for a moment about your own dialect, whatever it is. It is full of words, sayings, expressions, turns of phrase, and proverbs that are peculiar to your geographic region, and quite possibly your town or village. It sounds like you. It represents the sounds of your earliest memories, the sounds of your childhood friends, the sounds of your games and play. It may not be obvious at first, but if you leave for a while and then return, you will notice how the dialect sounds like you and you like it. The longer you stay away, the more you may lose your dialect but it never disappears. It is possibly as fundamental to our understanding of ourselves as our relationship with our parents.

    Our dialect is our first language. Long before we learn "official" rules of grammar and standardised spelling, we are fluent in our own native dialect with its own grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. The education system quite rightly teaches us the standard language of our nation, but it should not, it must not, do it at the expense of our native dialect. However, if and when a person leaves the place where they were born, they will have to alter their dialect at least a little.

    When I left Warrington to go to university in London, I did not realise that I had an accent or spoke a dialect; my fellow students soon let me know, albeit light-heartedly, that I was from "Up North". We often made fun of each other’s accents and dialects, but what I didn’t realise was that this joviality had set in motion a process that would result in a distinct "softening" of my accent.

    In my day-to-day life in London, the Warrington dialect was useless because no-one understood it, and my accent just made me stand out. I didn’t consciously set out to change my way of speaking, it just happened. When I left England to move to Finland, the way I spoke would change even more. The English I heard was not a regional variant, rather an English that had been learned in school by reading books and at home by watching television programmes. It was an English that was not the native language of the people speaking it, and it had rules all of its own, but those rules did not apply to me.

    I had to "standardise" my English. I had to focus on pronouncing properly and clearly so that people could understand me. I had to explain what I meant rather than simply reeling off set phrases that had, in their native setting, slowly gathered precise meanings over hundreds of years. And as my Finnish improved, I spoke less and less English altogether. The English that I spoke had "fossilized", and I was in danger of losing the dialect.

    I didn't have the opportunity to visit Warrington for almost six years, but when I did finally return, the sounds of the voices disturbed something that had been hibernating inside me all that time. I recognised these sounds, these voices, these phrases. I found that I could express myself with absolute ease, saying exactly what I intended to say rather than a close approximation. For the first time in a long time I sounded like myself and the people around me. I was home!

    Monday, August 13, 2012

    Back in biz!

    Hello everyone.

    Well, after a well-deserved and long break we are back. I hope everyone had a nice summer.

    Wirelect will be "live" in Warrington at the beginning of September :-) I will be visiting the old town for a few days, and I hope to do a bit of research, distribute some marketing material, and possibly meet up with anyone who is interested in discussing the dialect face to face.

    I still need to iron out the details, but I will post the information on here as soon as I know for sure where and when.

    In the meantime, here is a little something to think about:

    If you have not had a look yet, check out the Wirral and West Lancashire Viking Research page link on the right of this post. Alternatively click here.

    Professor Steve Harding of Nottingham University maintains the page and has also written extensively on the subject, as well as making various TV appearances. I can warmly recommend his book: Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project.

    This book, among other things, got me thinking that if such a high proportion of people in the Wirral and West Lancashire area have possible genetic links to the the invading (and eventually settling) Norsemen, then what would the genetic picture of Warrington look like?

    The truth is, I have no idea, but I'd love to find out!

    I think there are definite clues in the dialect to the suggest that Vikings were present in the Warrington area, in fact, I would go as far as to say that Warrington got its name from the Vikings!

    Watch this space!!!

    Do you have any possible Viking ancestors? Post your comments.

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Summer holidays

    Wirelect is on holiday until July.

    Have a nice summer, everyone!

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    Make and take - a quick survey

    We haven't had a survey in quite a while, so here is a quick one.

    This relates to the verbs make and take. Both very common words in the English language, but they are not as related as their spelling and pronunciation might suggest.

    Make has developed from the Old English verb macian and even further back West Germanic dialect forms such as makon and makia.

    Take, on the other hand, has developed from the Old Norse verb taka.

    In Standard English, both make and take are pronounced with a diphthong /ei/. A diphthong is a sound that moves from one vowel sound to another, hence the "diph" meaning two:

    The diphthong in make and take starts with the vowel sound /e/ as in "bet"and moves (or glides as linguists put it) to end up at the vowel sound in /i/ as in bit, so we get /meik/ and /teik/. This is the case for Standard English, not so everywhere! And it wasn't always like this. Make and take used to be pronounced much more like the Old English and Old Norse forms, but the vowel sounds changed over time. Have a look at this link to the Great Vowel Shift: it's a bit technical, but interesting nonetheless.

    Interestingly, the vowel sound in macian was somewhere between the /a/ in "car" in Standard English and "car" in the Warrington dialect. The other Germanic languages also developed their word for make from the same root:

    To make:
    • German - machen
    • Dutch - maken
    The vowel sound in taka was exactly like the /a/ in "car" in Standard English. This can be seen in the modern North Germanic dialects, commonly known as the Scandinavian languages:

    To take

    • Danish - tage
    • Icelandic - taka
    • Norwegian - ta
    • Swedish - ta
    (You can see that Icelandic has kept the Old Norse form of the verb, and is indeed the closest of the Scandinavian languages to Old Norse)

    So, how do you pronounce make and take?

    Personally, I pronounce make in the same way as Standard English, but I pronounce take as /tek/.What this means is that my pronunciation of make is the most modern pronunciation, but my pronunciation of take is much older.

    Friday, April 27, 2012

    Another little snippet - Rugby dialect

    Local team sports are great for hearing the dialect. It can be any sport, but in the case of Warrington it is rugby. We are at our most tribal when we follow, support and watch our local team play. It is the perfect opportunity to throw ourselves fully into our culture, our history, our dialect. We actively want to belong to our team and our town, and we will go to great lengths to display that belonging. We have our tribal colours (primrose and blue), we have our tribal songs, we have our tribal territory (the old Wilderspool ground and now the Halliwell-Jones stadium). It is a time when we can overlook our differences and come together as a coherent unit united against our common enemies.
    This all sounds a bit dramatic, but all you have to do is go to a local game and watch and listen as we psychologically gather behind our team. For a couple of hours we openly hate the opposing team and its supporters. These supporters may well be at other times our friends, workmates, possibly even neighbours, but for the duration of the match they are enemies. You are either in or you are out; us and them!
    A clear example of the dialect at work is in the common name of the team – The Wire. Since the inception of the Super League in 1996, the Warrington team has been known as the Warrington Wolves. This naming policy has far more to do with corporate branding than with the town itself, and this is reflected in the name given to the team by the supporters and inhabitants of the town – The Wire. I do not know anyone who actually refers to the team as the Wolves, and tellingly the team is referred to as "The Wire" in some places on the Warrington Wolves website.
    Wire working had been established in the town in the late 18th century and the factories of William Houghton and Nathaniel Greening provided employment for local workers. As bigger and more productive factories grew in the town, names such as John Rylands, Thomas Locker and Frederick Monks became household names in Warrington, and by the start of the 20th century they were the main employers in the town. Wire-drawing was not the only metal-working industry in Warrington, but it was the most important, and hence the beloved local rugby team acquired the name – The Wire.
    This is a perfect example of a dialect word that develops specifically in a particular location and acquires specific meaning and prestige. Wire was so important to Warrington that it came to define the town. Equally, the successful local rugby team that travelled the country and even further afield became an ambassador for the town, and as an ambassador it had to represent what the town represented – wire.
    “The Wire” means something to native Warringtonians, which is lost on anyone else. This is the essence of dialect.

    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    The many names of death

    I do not intend this post to be sombre, but a couple of words for dying popped into my head and I wondered how common they are.

    There are many ways of describing the act of dying in the English language, for example:
    to croak, to kick the bucket, to pop your clogs, to shuffle off the mortal coil, to go domino, etc.These all seem to be common throughout the country, and indeed the wider world. But how common are the following:
    • To cark it
    • To kiff it
    As in, "He carked it" or "He kiffed it".

    A quick search for references to cark revealed a long history but with different meanings. Wiktionary has cark as related to Middle English carken and Old English carcian, meaning to be anxious about something or to care for:

    Whereas the Free Dictionary has it as related to Norman French carquier meaning to burden:

    Kiff or kiffed, on the other hand, has many different meanings from joining a gang and really liking something to feeling a bit strange, and many others (Google it).

    These two verbs were both in use by my peers, and one of my frineds used kiffed when I was in Warrington in November.

    Any other words for death? What do cark and kiff mean to you?

    Thursday, April 19, 2012

    A little taster of the book

    Here is a little snippet of one of the introductory pages of the book. There will be more in the coming weeks and months. Let me know what you think.

    I remember when I was a kid, no-one ever talked about a dialect. Come to mention it, no-one ever talked about language much. If someone brought up the subject of language, it was usually about some other language, some foreign language - usually French – and how it sounds “bloody lovely”. Or maybe German and how that sounds “bloody awful”. The English language never came up much in conversation; it seemed to be reserved for school. But the English we learned in school was a strange animal, it didn’t feel like the English that I knew and it certainly didn’t sound like the English that I spoke.
    We were told not to split infinitives, or leave dangling prepositions. We were warned about “bad grammar” and told to pronounce properly. I didn’t know what any of that meant, except the pronunciation bit, and as far as I could tell I pronounced the words in exactly the same way as everyone I knew, so didn’t that count as pronouncing properly?
    I distinctly remember one lesson when we had been forewarned that it would be about bad language. The excitement was palpable. The entire class was itching to hear the teachers explain to us about swearing. We thought that they might swear during their explanations; we even thought that we might get to swear, purely, of course, as an integral part of an active discussion. We couldn’t wait for that lesson to start. I remember that, for once, everyone was sitting nicely, facing the front, paying attention.
    Miss Gardiner, “with an I; GAR-DI-NER”, she always told us in over-exaggerated syllables, turned to face the class.
    “What is bad language?”, she said dramatically.
    “Fuck off”, someone replied from the back before she could make the rhetoric apparent.
    “Out”, she said pointing to the corridor with her bony finger, and we all suddenly realised that it wasn’t going to be the lesson we had hoped for. That was the way it was taught in those days, and I’m not talking about the 1950s here, this happened in the mid-80s!
    The British education system just didn’t know how to get creative with regard to its mother tongue. Instead of embracing the diversity of regional variety, exploring the history of the development of the language, and using the way we actually spoke as a means to highlight our linguistic heritage, we were told that we couldn’t speak properly, and more damagingly, the inference was that we would never learn.
    The scary thing is that my school was a perfectly ordinary comprehensive in an upper working class area of Warrington. It was hardly Eton College or some other public school hell-bent on brow beating every last drop of the regional out of my speech. My school was “dead ordinary” as we put it, and the staff seemed ordinary too, but there was an insidious slant to the English curriculum that had infected all schools.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Hard boiled or soft?

    How do you like your eggs? Hard boiled or soft?

    Nowadays I like a hard-boiled egg, but when I was a kid my mum would make me soft-boiled eggs with soldiers (everyone knows what they are, right?)

    The point of this post is not the name of the strips of toast, although any comments on those are most welcome, rather the eggs themselves. The soft-boiled type for dipping were called "Chucky eggs". I am assuming that this is the correct spelling as I don't remember writing it down before. Nevertheless, chucky eggs were soft-boiled eggs, just right for dipping soldiers into.

    I have found one reliable reference from Michael Quinion, who gives a different definition:

    Did you call them chucky eggs? Or something else?

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Wirelect - the book!

    As I posted on the Wirelect Facebook page earlier today, I have now started writing the book based on this blog and the Warrington dialect itself.

    From time to time I will post snippets of the text on here as a taster.

    Now is the time to tell your friends and post your comments, dialect words, sayings, anything related to the Warrington dialect - it will most probably end up in the book!

    Also, as you will have noticed, we now have a new picture for the blog. I took the picture on my visit to Warrington in November 2011, the afternoon of Guy Fawke's Night, to be precise. I want to keep the bridge over the Mersey as the central theme of the blog because the crossing point over the river has been so central to the development of the town over the past two millenia, and quite possibly for much longer.

    In keeping with this theme, are there any dialect words for the river itself?

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Animal names

    Yesterday, for some reason, the word "snig" came to me as I was driving to work.

    I immediately emailed my Dad, who used this word when I was a child, to ask him what it referred to. I had a memory that it meant snail, but I wasn't sure. He informed me that it meant a worm, but he hadn't used it for years either.

    A quick Google search didn't produce much, but the Cheshire dialect glossary, which I linked to in my last post, has an entry on page 193 for snig meaning an eel!

    This got me thinking about other animal names used in the dialect.

    I have always been interested in birds. As a child I would go bird-spotting with my Dad along the Sankey - St Helens canal. A regular sight on the flooded area of land between the canal and Sankey Brook, underneath the footbridge, were Moorhens. These Moorhens (Gallinula tenebrosa) were referred to by several names:
    1. Moorhen
    2. Marsh hen
    3. Water hen (or Waggies pronounced with the same vowel as in water
    A quick look in the Cheshire glossary revealed that a Moorhen was referred to as a Dabchick.

    I found this surprising as I have always known Dabchick as an alternative name for a Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) another species that frequented the same flooded area of land between the waterways.

    Another species we used to watch on the fields next to the American airbase (they all seem to be housing estates nowadays) was the Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). The Lapwing has various names depending on which part of the country you are from (see Wakelin. M, Discovering English Dialects. 1978, page 39). To me the Lapwing was referred to as:

    1. Peewit
    2. Lapwing
    3. Green Plover
    Usually my Dad would call them Peewits and I would do the same.

    Does anyone have similar memories or names for animals?

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    The Cheshire dialect

    I found a wonderful reference work on line called The Dialect of Cheshire. You can read the entire book online here:

    The book was first published in 1877, and it contains many words that are still in use in the Warrington dialect. Warrington, of course, only became part of Cheshire in 1974, but the county bordered Warrington for centuries and therefore shares many local words and phrases.

    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Lancashire Dialect by Peter Wright

    I have just finished reading Lancashire Dialect by Peter Wright. It was first published in 1976, and gives a wonderful insight into the Lancashire dialect(s) of that time. The style of writing is a little dated, but it was a very enjoyable read especially as it is contemporary with the dialect(s) in use around the time of my birth (1974). What struck me about the linguistic data contained in the book is how "broad" it sounds, and yet how familiar it is at the same time. Many of the words and sayings in the book I did not use growing up, and I cannot remember my parents using them, but I do remember them being in use.

    One thing that struck me in particular, however, is the use of the Middle English (circa 1150- 1500) personal pronouns in use at the time. They are, indeed, still in use to a much lesser extent today, but I am sorry to say that I believe they have completely fallen out of use in the speech of the younger generation. I would love to be proved wrong!

    For comparison, here are the personal pronouns in Modern English:

                 Singular                                                Plural                 
    Subject  Object    Possessive            Subject   Object    Possessive

    I              me            mine                  we            us            our
    you          you           your                  you           you          your
    he/she/it   him/her/it   his/hers/its         they          them         their

    and here are the personal pronouns in Middle English:

                  Singular                                             Plural                     
    Subject   Object     Possessive          Subject    Object    Possessive

    ik/ich/I       me               my(n)             we          us              oure
    thou           thee             thy(n)             ye           you            your
    he/sche/hit  hit/him/hire   his/his/hire     he/they    hem/them   her/their

    The personal pronouns I am referring to are the 2nd person singular subject and object forms: thou and thee.

    I can distinctly remember hearing these used in ordinary everyday speech in sentences such as:

    • 'Ow's thee doin'? (How are you doing?)
    • Sit thee doon/down. (Sit down.)
    • Ay, tha wer' reet. (tha=thou) (Yes, you were right.)
    and the classic play on the Middle English 2nd person singular personal pronoun thee and the definite article the. As follows:

    A person is looking for somewhere to throw a piece of rubbish, and they ask:

    - Where's the bin? (lit. - Where is the bin?) (Dialect - Where has thee been?)

    to which comes the reply:

    - A's bin nowhere, where's you bin? (I haven't been anywhere, where have you been?)
    Do you use these pronouns? Are they still common in Warringtonian speech? Or are they archaic and old fashioned?

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    C'est la vie!

    I would like to start this post by thanking everyone who has commented on the blog over the past few weeks. Thanks for this must go especially to Gaynor, who kindly wrote a letter to the Warrington Guardian promoting the blog. My most sincere thanks :-)

    OK, now down to business.

    There have been many interesting comments over the past weeks, and I would like to pick out a few here.

    TF and the Wire pointed out that we Warringtonians say "chipper" for chip shop - I have to say that I grew up hearing both. There was a definite generation difference in the use of the words, my parents would say "chipper", whereas my peer group would say "chippie". I used them both depending on who I was talking to.

    Gaynor and Yorick made a very interesting comment about San fairy Ann, which indeed comes from the French Ça ne fait rien or "It doesn't matter".
    To respond to Gaynor's remark about speaking French, did you know that approximately 30 percent of all English vocabulary is derived from the French language?

    Take the last sentence as an example. Highlighted are all the words that have a French origin:

    • Did you know that approximately 30 percent of all English vocabulary is derived from the French language?
    In all honesty, I did not plan that sentence at all. Nevertheless, there are 17 words in the sentence, and 5 of them have a French origin; that's 29 percent!

    The reason that English has so many words of French origin is thanks to William of Normandy, or as we more commonly know him, William the Conqueror. After his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William set England on a path that would change its linguistic character for ever. The ruling classes of England would speak French for hundreds of years, and with them they would bring their language.

    It is thanks to William and his legacy that we have linguistic doublets, the most obvious of these are those concerning food where the common animal, often looked after by the poor English surfs, retains the English name, but the corresponding food of the French ruling elite has the French name:

    • Sheep- Mutton
    • Cow - Beef
    • Deer - Venison
    • Pig - Pork

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Talking in questions

    In response to Gaynor's comment on my last post, I wanted to point out a phenomenom that we don't necessarily notice.

    Gaynor commented that she hopes that the trend of speaking in questions doesn't catch on. I whole-heartedly agree (although I think it might already be too late) if the questions we are referring to are the kind that end sentences with a "Yeh?" For example:

    "It's gonna be great, yeh?"
    "You're gonna love it, yeh?"

    Another pet hate is rising intonation, but we will deal with that another time.

    The fact is, we all speak in questions most of the time, we just don't notice it. These questions are not questions at all, really. They are called "tag questions", and their purpose is not to illicit a true response, rather to aid the flow of the conversation by constantly including the interlocutors (other people in the conversation). Here are a few examples that you may find familiar:

    "Ay, he's bloody good on that guitar, i'nt 'e?" (isn't he)
    "She looks lovely in that frock, du'nt she?" (doesn't she)
    "It was a belter, that film, wa'n't it?" (wasn't it)
    "I've said it before, 'avn't a? (haven't I)

    Imagine having a conversation without using these tag questions. Better still, try to have a conversation without using them, and see how stilted and abrupt the conversation seems.

    The reader will notice that the verbs in the tag questions agree with the verbs in the main clause, as follows:

    • "He is bloody good on that guitar, isn't he?
    He - personal pronoun, third person, masculine
    is - to be, present tense, third person, non gender specific

    It would sound ridiculous to use verbs that do not agree as follows:

    • "He is bloody good on that guitar, wasn't he/hasn't he/didn't he?"

    The verbs are invariably switched according to whether the verb in the main clause is negated or not, so a declarative statement that says, "He is bloody good..." is followed by an interrogative tag question " he not?" (isn't he):

    • He is... isn't he

    If the declarative statement is negated, "He is not very good on that guitar..." then the interrogative tag question is not negated "... is he?"

    • He is not... is he

    An interesting side note is the use of tag questions by the youth particularly in the London area, where the tag question "Isn't it?" is usually contracted and pronounced as "Innit?" We have all heard this, but the interesting feature of its use by young people is that it does not agree with the verb is in the main clause.

    For example, I have heard young people (15 - 25) in the London area say the following:

    • "I'm goin' out, innit?"
    • "I don't care, innit?"
    • "I told him I don't want to, innit?"
    They seem to be favouring the "to be" verb in all tag questions, rather than matching the verb in the tag with the main clause. As a comparison, I would say the above statements as follows:

    • "I'm goin' out, aren't a?"
    • "I don't care, do a?"
    • "I told 'im I don't want to, di'n't a?" (didn't I)
    Note: The final sentence is actually more complicated than it looks at first glance. The verb that the tag question (didn't I) actually agrees with is the non verbalised "did" in the main clause, and NOT the "don't" in the "I don't want to".

    To simplify things, imagine that I had said, "I did tell him" instead of "I told him" and you will see that the verb in the tag does indeed agree.

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Knew, New, and News.

    During my visit to Warrington last month, I was surprised to hear my sister pronounce a word in a way that I thought impossible in the dialect. The word was "knew", as in "I knew it."

    I had always thought that we Warringtonians, like the vast majority of people in the country, pronounce "knew" with the phonetic /j/ after the "n" as follows:
    as opposed to our American cousins who generally pronounce it without the phonetic /j/ as follows:
    I thought that this held true for all the words with this combination of sounds: "new", "knew", "news"; apparently not!

    I was surprised, nay, shocked, to hear my beloved older sister pronounce "knew" without the phonetic /j/. I listened more closely, thinking perhaps that she had been thinking of another word and had mispronounced accidentally, but no, she repeatedly pronounced it as /nu/.

    The one thing I didn't do was compare her pronunciation of the other words normally pronounced with the /nj/ combination: "new" and "news" (my rationale being that there may be some interference from the present tense form of the verb "to know", which, of course, is never pronounced with /nj/).

    I will report back on this topic the next time I speak to her.

    How do my fellow Warringtonians pronounce "knew"? Let me know. Post a comment.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    New dialect word of the week

    After a break and a trip to see my Dad (who is now recovering from his heart attack), we have a new dialect word of the week.

    This time it is a culinary treat :-)

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Elision - or what's left out!

    I would like to dedicate this post to my Dad who is recovering from a heart attack in hospital!
    Looks like I'm going to hear the dialect again sooner than I thought.

    Elision is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as follows:



    [mass noun]
    • the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking (as in I’m, let’s):the shortening of words by elision
    Elision is an important part of the Warrington dialect, and it has come up in a couple of comments, so I would like to elaborate on it here.

    As the definition suggests, elision is concerned with leaving certain sounds out. But it is not solely confined to contractions such as I'm (I am), they're (they are), isn't (is not), etc. The most apparent incidence of elision in the dialect occurs with the definite article, or "the", when it precedes a word that begins with a vowel sound.

    In the case of elision, it is important to be precise when talking about the beginnings of words; here we I will be referring to sounds and not letters. This becomes apparent when we take into consideration the common phenomenon of h-dropping. H-dropping, as the name suggests, is the phenomenon of leaving the "h" sound unpronounced at the beginning of words in which it is usually pronounced (words such as hour, honour, honesty, to name but a few, are never pronounced with the initial "h").

    H-dropping is by no means specific to the Warrington dialect, but it is a clear feature of the dialect, and can be heard in the speech of the majority of Warringtonians. Words such as horse, house, heater, etc are pronounced without the initial "h" as follows: 'orse, 'ouse, 'eater; the "h" is replaced by an omission apostrophe as in the previously mentioned contractions.

    The frequency of h-dropping in the dialect provides speakers with ample opportunity for definitie-article elision because the lack of the initial "h" frees up, as it were, the initial vowel sounds. Thus, 'orse, 'ouse, and 'eater begin with the sounds /o/, /a/, and /i/ respectively.

    The elision occurs when the definite article "the" is required. The "e" in "the" is lost and the remaining "th" is combined with the subsequent word as follows: th'orse, th'ouse, th'eater; the horse, the house, and the heater, respectively.

    However, I suspect that this particular type of elision is either on the way out, or possibly has disappeared from the speech of younger generations in the town!

    For example, among my own peer group (born early to mid 1970s), I do not remember hearing it used hardly at all. An example of one of the different types of elision arising at the time can be seen in references to the Warrington hospital.

    As a young man, I would have said "I am going to the hospital" as follows:

    "Am gooin the ozzy"

    whereas my parents generation (born 1930s & 1940s) still pronounce the same sentence as follows:

    "Am goin' t'th'ospital"

    There are various phonetic differences that I am unable to transcribe here, but the main difference is in the elision between "the" and "hospital". My parents' generation maintain the elision described above th'ospital. My idiolect (the form of the dialect that any given individual speaks) does not show any elision between "the" and "hospital" at all. In fact, there is an intrusive /j/ (pronounced like "y" in yoga) between "the" and "hospital" as follows: the (y)'ozzy.

    What is your experience? Think about what you say and how you say it, and post your comments here!

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Survey results and food for thought!

    Well, a disappointing response to the survey, but thank you to the people who answered, I appreciate your interest in the topic :-)

    Despite the very low number of responses, the conclusions that can be drawn are as I had expected: Warringtonians pronounce "Nothing" as Neiwt.

    This is important because it clearly distinguishes the Warrington dialect from the Lancashire dialect. Warrington was, of course, part of Lancashire up to 1974, when it then became part of Cheshire. A shift in county borders does not mean a shift in dialect, so the difference in pronunciation is interesting.

    The Lancashire dialect has been studied in some detail, and one of its features is the owt - nowt pronunciation of anything - nothing, respectively. Although the Warrington dialect has many similarities and indeed shares many features with the Lancashire dialect, in this instance it differs distinctly. 

    Naught, Neiwt and Nowt seem to be almost certainly related. Naught meaning the decimal "0" and equally "nothing". Naught seems to have developed from the much older Old English word "nawiht" or "nōwiht", which in turn is a contraction of "ne-ō-wiht", which means "not a thing". It is easy to see the connection between "neiwt", "nowt" and "nawiht". This often happens in dialects; a word becomes popular for an arbitrary reason and then sticks despite concurrent developments in the standard language.

    It seems "nawiht" and its various pronunciations has been around since the Old English period (400 - 1100AD). So we can assume that both neiwt and nowt are between 1500 - 1000 years old.

    The premise that both pronunciations have been around so long, and that "nowt" has not superseded "neiwt" is testament to the Warrington dialect. Warrington was part of the County Palatine Lancashire for hundreds of years, and yet it still maintained its own unique features.

    So the next time you say "neiwt", you are not saying nothing, you really are saying something!!!