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I've recently bought a book called Black Country Dialect: A Modern Linguistic Analysis. It's a thin volume by Ed Conduit that looks as if it's been adapted from a thesis. So far I have only glanced at it but as I read it I shall post some commentary here.
About half of it is a historical linguistics survey of the dialect. There are also sections on Black Country Vowel sounds, various grammatical oddities, speech rhythms and a brief dictionary of black country words.

Tomorrow I shall post my initial thoughts on the dialect before moving on to some more detailed observations.
 
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Great. Bob! I am looking forward to it.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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"Them bay bays, bin em?"
"Ar, they bin bays, bay em?"


No-one unfamiliar with the Black Country dialect will have the faintest idea what the question and answer above means. It almost certainly doesn't even look like English to most English speakers. It's probably far more impenetrable than

"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour,
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne"


which is of course also English, albeit the English of Chaucer. Of the two I'd say that you have a far better chance of working out the latter than the former. On the other hand I'd bet that there is almost no one sitting within ten miles of me as I type that would think twice about the Black Country fragment, providing they heard it spoken. The written form might give them pause because even the most fluent Black Country speakers rarely try to write in the dialect, something only done by local poets and members of dialect societies. What I want to do is take a look at the Black Country dialect in some detail, but first we need some definitions. Specifically I need to explain what I mean by "the Black Country" and what I mean by "dialect".

A mantra that I have borrowed from Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog is "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that", and it applies in both definitions here. At its simplest I could define "the Black Country" as a region of the industrial Midlands of England, and leave it at that. That won't do though for a discussion of the linguistics of the place. We need to be more precise and that can be a problem as the people who live here have a different idea about the boundaries to the people who live elsewhere in England. Most notably outsiders tend to consider Birmingham to be part of the Black Country although the Brummie accent is markedly different (and locals tend to get offended when they are called Brummies). Come to that the historic usage of the term is also at odds with the modern usage. You can find some detailed discussion of the boundaries here, should you be interested. For my purposes I intend to use the term to include West Bromwich to the east, Halesowen to the south east, Stourbridge to the south west and the whole of Wolverhampton and Wednesfield to the north. The dialect in Walsall is often included and is indeed very similar. Cannock and Birmingham are, to my ear at least, distinctly separate accents, though as they are adjacent there is considerable overlap.

A definition of dialect has similar problems. Take this, from Collins English Dictionary:

dialect:
a. a form of a language spoken in a particular geographical area or by members of a particular social class or occupational group, distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation
b. a form of language that is considered inferior


Straight away there are problems. Anyone with any idea about linguistics at all will tell you that the geographical area definition is problematic. Dialects and accents shift gradually, they don't switch from one to another with the crossing of a street at the boundary.
David Crystal describes a "dialect continuum. There is often a chain of dialects spoken throughout an area. At any point...speakers of a dialect can understand the speakers of other dialects who live in adjacent areas to them; but they find it difficult to understand people who live further along the chain."

The language of social classes and occupational groups is the province of sociolinguistics and is important but can we really say that the inclusion of a few jargonistic phrases or a posh accent is sufficient to make a dialect?
Another possibility sometimes cited is that if people can understand each other then they speak different dialects, if they can't they speak different languages. This too falls down, as I demonstrated at the head of the article.

As for the "inferior" definition, there are certainly dialects that carry more or less prestige than others but the concept of linguistic inferiority is not one that serious scholars would give much credence to, and I propose to ignore it completely. (Possibly because the Black Country dialect is my dialect an is often considered one of the lowest of the low in terms of prestige in the UK.)
For the purposes of these discussions I propose to avoid the question of what, in general, is meant by a dialect and adopt a simpler, pragmatic and quite possibly circular definition. The Black Country dialect is, I propose, those features of grammar, lexis and phonology common to the area described above but (mostly) not to other English speaking areas.

And that's where I'll be starting when I look at the history of the Black Country dialect next time.
 
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The language of social classes and occupational groups is the province of sociolinguistics and is important but can we really say that the inclusion of a few jargonistic phrases or a posh accent is sufficient to make a dialect?

Isn't that called a sociolect?


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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There are also the terms acrolect, mesolect, and basolect (link) for the privileged to the deprecated, and in-between, 'lects. The terms were coined by creole linguists, but I have seen them used outside of that context


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Indeed there are. I was simply making the point that the dictionary definition I quoted was far from adequate for my needs.

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Bob,

See this blog post. Perhaps you could start a sideline offering translations for the Black Country dialect? Smile


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Ar, that's a bostin idea, ay it?
 
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Will you be translating those two lines for us, Bob? You were correct; I could understand Chaucer, but not the Black Country dialect.
 
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So bay is the negative form of bin? How did that happen? It reminds me of Gaelic.

As zmježd says, 'em is not an abbreviation of them, it's an abbreviation of hem, as in this line from The Miller's Tale:
quote:
And many a louely look on hem he cast

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4. "'em" instead of "them" is a common feature of many accents and dialects.

The interesting thing about 'em is that it is not an abbreviation of them, but it preserves the Old English plural third person pronoun. Middle English borrowed the pronouns she and they from Old Norse. The third person singular masculine and femine and plural pronouns all started to sound alike as Old English changed into Middle English.

bay

Is there some kind of mapping from the Black Country dialectal orthography to its phonology? Is bay pronounced /'baɪ/, /'beɪ/ or something else entirely? One site I consulted suggested there is a variant baynt for bay. Is its use regionally, historically, or phonologically constrained?

5. "Ar" for "yes".

Is BCD rhotic or non-rhotic?

So far, I have been enjoying this. Prithee, continue.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I confess it was "bays" that stumped me. I didn't think for a moment that the word actually meant "bay windows" and I was trying to think what bays might be. The rest of it I understood.


Richard English
 
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quote:
One site I consulted suggested there is a variant baynt for bay

I can't speak for the BCD, but that might be similar to bain't, used in Yorkshire and some other dialects for are not (= be not). I be 60 = I am 60; they bain't yet 60 = they aren't yet 60, and so on.


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So bay is the negative form of bin? How did that happen?

As zmj says 'em is not a contraction of them, it's a contraction of hem, as in this line from The Miller's Tale:
quote:
And many a louely look on hem he caste
 
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As I said, it's a bit more complicated than that. I'll cover the verb to be in positive, negative, imperative and question forms in a subsequent post.

As for 'em, I should have known that as the dialect, as we shall see, preserves other features of Middle English including at least one other pronoun.

Generally non-rhotic. Although I have written it as Ar, it's probably somewhere between that and Ah, although, again as we shall see, BDC vowels are usually rather flatter than other dialects. The spellings are largely arbitrary as there is no agreed orthography for the dialect and it's almost always written on an ad-hoc basis.
 
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I did find a linguistic discussion of the phonology of West Midlands dialects (to which Brummie and Black Country, amongst others, belong): link). It's a limited preview book, but you can probably get an idea of the sounds of BCD by perusing it.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I'd appreciate a heads up on anything you find about BDC.
 
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I don't know what happens to the time. Roll Eyes
I will get back to this soon I promise. At the moment I'm too busy with work stuff to do it justice and I don't want to rush it and do a rubbish job.
There will b e something on vowels this week.
I hope.
 
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A rather superficial article about English dialect words, but it mentions a couple of words fom the Black Country: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8338077.stm


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In reading the link on WM dialects posted by zmj, I'm fascinated by this: "...Birmingham '...was a town that was clearly embedded within its rural hinterland.' They cite evidence regarding the origins of 700 people who came to live in Birmingham between 1686 and 1726..." right down to the 40 who came from Warwickshire. Gives me an image of the modern lexicologist as a giant peering into the tiny past with a magnifying glass.
 
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Sorry for the delay.
Let's start by having a look at the verb "to be".
Actually before we can look at the verb we need a brief digression into looking at subject pronouns. Here's a quick summary of standard English subject pronouns and their black country equivalents. Some are straightforward phonological variants, others not.

I - Ah (when followed by a consonant) or I (when followed by a vowel: often with an intermediate "y" sound as in I y-ay - see below)

You - Yo (pronounced as in yo-yo)

He - 'E

She - 'Er

It - It

We - We

They - Either They or Them, though it's arguable that when "Them" is used it's actually a replacement for the demonstrative pronoun "Those".

OK, onto the verb "to be". The first form given is the current Black Country form, sometimes there are older variants that have now all but disappeared except among the elderly. My father still uses them from time to time. These I will put in brackets, along with relevant comments.)

First of all in the normal positive forms.

I am = Ah'm (Or, "Ah bin" : which is now mainly heard as an emphatic form for contradicting a negative assertion.)

You are = Yo'm or Yo am (Again, with similar comments, "Yo bin" is still sometimes heard.)

He is = 'E's or 'E is"

She is = 'Er's or 'Er is

We are = We'm or We am (The form "We bist" is pretty well dead nowadays)

They are = They'm or They am, sometimes Them'n (a form missed in Ed Conduit's book)

Now, what about negatives. This is where the variation from standard English becomes very pronounced.

I am not = Ah bay or I yay

You are not = Yo bay or yo ay (Some older residents, my father included, have hung onto the alternate pronoun "thee" and say "thee bisn't" along with the corresponding positive form "thee bist")

He is not = 'E ay (Conduit gives the form 'E ain't, but I have never heard this form used)

She is not = 'Er ay

It is not = It ay

We are not = We ay or We bay

They are not = They ay

There are also different tag question forms, where "bist" and the related "bin" are slightly more commonly heard even now.

Am I = Am I (Conduit gives the forms "bin I" and "bist I", but not "Ay I". These are forms that I have never heard, though his research is systmatic and my evidence is entirely my own experience, so they may well have existed once.)

Aren't I = Ay I

Are you = Am yo ("bin yo" and "bist yo" are both sometimes heard.)

Aren't you = Ay yo or bay yo

Is he = is 'e

Isn't he = ay 'e

Is she = is 'er

Isn't she = ay 'er

Is it = is it

Isn't it = ay it or bay it

Are we = Am we (I've also heard "bin we", though not "bist we" a form Conduit gives)

Aren't we = Ay we or bay we (I've also heard "bisn't we" from my dad)

Are they = am they or bin they (sometimes "bist they"). There is also the contracted form "bin'm", though not (as Conduit suggests "bin them")

Aren't they = ay they or bay they (or sometimes the contracted forms bay'm or bisn't'm)

All in all the section of the book that deals with this doesn't seem to have it quite right, especially in the tag forms. There is a great deal of confusion about which verb forms are used in which persons and his inclusion of "dun" and "duz" doesn't belong there at all as they are unrelated to the verb "to be", being, respectively forms of "do" and "does".

ANd of course, this is all English!
 
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Does Conduit have any idea how the negative forms came about?
 
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I was trying to research the negative contraction in Black Country, and came across your blog about my book!
The origins are very likely to be in further contractions of "ain't", imported into general English about 1780.
"Bin" and "Am" are the two forms of the verb "to be" found in Staffordshire. In the negative "Bin + ain't" became "bain't", and contracted to "bay".
"Con" is to be able, with the usual W.Midlands change of "a" to "o". When negated it might have been "cos'nt", which contracted to "cor".

The snag with "cor" as the negation of "con" is that they are too similar. Jesperson insists that negation has to be emphatic.

My interest is why the dialect developed this awkward (and sociolinguistically very low) feature.
Mercian-derived Middle English used "nolte" "nis" and "noebbe" until quite late, when most English speakers would not have understood them. BCD/ Severn Valley speakers may have been looking for a replacement. If anyone finds historical evidence, I would be delighted.

Ed Conduit (author of "The Black Country Dialect")
 
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Welcome, Ed, to our humble abode. So nice of you to check in with us. We hope you'll continue to post with us from time to time.
 
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Is this confusion likely to be a result of the BC accent? It's amusing, anyway! http://notalwaysright.com/please-take-a-crap/9850


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Wouldn't have thought so. We'd pronounce crepe to rhyme with grape.
 
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Hi all,
I'm reprinting the Black Country Dialect. It has these new topics:

the Vernon manuscript: a collection by one scribe in Warwickshire about 1400
evidence of links with Shropshire and Gloucestershire dialects
inscriptions on the gold artefacts found at Hamerwich
Several dozen new etymologies, e.g.
"gob" - workspace in a coal-mine
"Rodney" - a useless person, possibly from a fire lit at pit-heads
"gooly" - testicle, probably Hindustani for ball, brought back by soldiers

You can e-mail me for a copy. With postage to the USA it would be £10.00.
You can also get it through Amazon.

Ed Conduit
 
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quote:
"gooly" - testicle, probably Hindustani for ball, brought back by soldiers

I don't think that's particularly BCD, more a slang term used fairly widely across the UK. According to The Free Dictionary it also means a stone or a pebble in Australian slang, which makes sense as they confirm that the word comes from Hindustani goli, "a ball, bullet". As they also mention, goolies are usually in the plural (unless your name is Hitler, perhaps). Cool


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quote:
Originally posted by Ed:
Hi all,
I'm reprinting the Black Country Dialect. It has these new topics:

the Vernon manuscript: a collection by one scribe in Warwickshire about 1400
evidence of links with Shropshire and Gloucestershire dialects
inscriptions on the gold artefacts found at Hamerwich
Several dozen new etymologies, e.g.
"gob" - workspace in a coal-mine
"Rodney" - a useless person, possibly from a fire lit at pit-heads
"gooly" - testicle, probably Hindustani for ball, brought back by soldiers

You can e-mail me for a copy. With postage to the USA it would be £10.00.
You can also get it through Amazon.

Ed Conduit


At the moment I'm living and working in China but when I eventually return home I shall buy the new edition as I enjoyed the last one.

Good luck with it.

Bob
 
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I've been reminded of this when writing a couple of BC dialect limericks for the OEDILF and by discussions in another thread, so let's continue with a look at the past tense of “to be”
(And I no longer have Ed Conduit's book handy to refer to as it's currently in storage six thousand miles away.)

I have used the abbreviation BCD throughout for Black Country Dialect.

Let's go on with the verb to be and look at the past tense.

If you've forgotten the subject pronouns check the previous post on the present tense.
A summary is (I/Ah, Yo, 'E, 'Er, It, We, Yo, They/Them)

As before, the first form given is the current Black Country form, sometimes there are older variants that have now all but disappeared except among the elderly. My father still used them from time to time before he passed away. These I will put in brackets, along with relevant comments.)

As you will see the current form is just about as straightforward as is possible.

I was = Ah was

You were = Yo was
There is an older form “wost” but it has almost died out and was more commonly heard with the old pronoun “thee”. It was sometimes heard with the other pronouns but that was non-standard even within BCD)

He was = 'E was

She was = 'Er was

It was = It was

We were = We was

You were = Yo was

They were = They was (or Them was)

Negative forms are again easy in the current dialect.

I wasn't = Ah wore

You weren't = Yo wore
(with the positive form there is an older BCD variant mainly used with “thee”, sometimes with singular “yo” and rarely with other pronouns - “wossn't”*.
So you might hear “Thee wossn't theer.” for “You weren't there”)

He wasn't = 'E wore

She wasn't = 'Er wore

It wasn't = It wore

We weren't = We wore

You weren't = Yo wore

They weren't = They wore (or Them wore)

Question forms.

The BCD question forms are all straight inversions – Yo was. → Was yo? 'Er wore.-> Wore 'er? Etc. However my entirely subjective feeling is that I hear the older forms of wost and wassn't rather more in the question form, even with the modern “yo” rather than the old “thee”. So I do hear “Wost yo theer?” or “Wossn't yo gooin' 'um an 'our agoo?” (Weren't you going home an hour ago?)
They are, nevertheless, much rarer than “was” and “wore”.


Tag questions

Again straightforward inversions. So “Yo was theer, wore yo?” “We wore no** good, was we?”



*Not to be confused with “wussn't” which is a negative form of “would”
** Note the use of “no” for “any” - another common feature of the dialect.
 
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