Language as an art form

cumbria

When you talk to most people about northern dialects, more often than not they’ll mention Geordie or Yorkshire, but few know about the Cumbrian dialect.

  The Cumbrian dialect is a mix of mainly Celtic and Norse which if you heard someone speaking completely in Cumbrian you probably wouldn’t even believe it is a form of English, never mind understanding it. For example words such as ‘bubblyjock’ (turkey), ‘lug’ (ear), ‘cuddy’ (donkey), ‘bairn’ (child) originate from Scandinavian languages. While, ‘fettle’ (health) and ‘tatie’ (potato) originate from German, yam (home) and lowp (jump) are Norse, and scran (food) is Icelandic. The mixture of languages as settlers moved in and out of the area makes for some funny place names, such as, Torpenhow (pronounced Truh-pen-uh by locals). It is constructed of the Old English ‘Tor’, Old Welsh ‘Pen’, and Norse ‘How’, when translated this means: ‘hill hill hill’. There’s also Cockermouth, but that is funny for a different reason…     

“Scandinavian, … Norse, … German, …. Icelandic…”

             Our pronunciation of places often lead to confusion with tourists particularly Aspatria which is pronounced ‘Spatrie’ or ‘Spyatrie’ and Workington which is pronounced ‘Wukinton’. The dialect doesn’t just affect the way we speak but also the way we write, even influencing graffiti, for example the welcome sign into Wigton had the caption ‘A barrie la’l spot’ added in marker pen. The phrase simply reads: ‘A nice little place’, the words used are very common across Cumbria. A lot of dialect words are centred around everyday life, such as the weather and – since Cumbria is very rural and agricultural – the outdoors and farming. We even have our own numerical system for counting sheep (yows): yan (one), tan (two), tethera (three), methera (four), pip (five), sethera (six), lethera (seven), hovera (eight), dovera (nine), dick (ten). For eleven and twelve etc it works like other languages where you simply mush one and ten together: ‘yandick’ etc. Then it changes to ‘bumfit’ for fifteen and ‘yanbumfit’ for sixteen, and finally giggot for twenty. Weird but interesting, right?

When people hear me speaking Cumbrian they often give me funny looks”

There are plenty of words and phrases that my University friends can’t guess the meaning of, like ‘marra’ (mate), ‘jeukal’ (dog), and ‘jinnyspin’ (daddy long legs). If you feel overwhelmed by all these different words being thrown at you, don’t worry, I’ll give you a short lesson in how to understand a little everyday Cumbrian. A common Cumbrian greeting is ‘Ah reet’, meaning ‘All right’. You will often hear the phrases ‘Owz it gaan?’ (How’s it going?) and ‘Ow’s fettle?’ (How are you?) and the answers ‘Reet’ ([All]Right), ‘Barrie’ (Good), ‘Nae  sa barrie’ (Not so good), and ‘Gammy’ or ‘Bad fettle’ (Not well). When people hear me speaking Cumbrian they often give me funny looks, not understanding what I’m saying, even people from Cumbria themselves, as the dialect and accent varies across the county. Cumbria didn’t become an administrative county until 1974 and is made out of three different old counties: Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire. However, I am proud to have a Cumbrian accent and dialect, especially as the dialect is being used less and less as younger generations are taught to speak and write in Standard English.

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