This week’s word
You’re as dotty as miner’s thumbnail”
Dr Natalie Braber, lecturer in linguistics, Nottingham Trent University / author of ‘Nottinghamshire Dialect’ :
John Beeton, when writing about language in Nottingham, states that ‘From a cursory examination, it may appear that Nottinghamese is a form of slang born out of a lazy or slovenly method of speaking. Closer inspection however will show that it is, in fact, a complete language, containing many unique words and observing a strict grammatical pattern’. It is a sad fact that some local dialects are seen as being sub-standard languages – local accents and dialects are an important part of our identity and the ways that they are different from ‘standard’ English is what makes life so interesting!
I have lived in Nottingham for over ten years now. I have a varied linguistic background, I’m half Scottish and half Dutch – I was born and raised in Amsterdam, lived in Glasgow and St Andrews for many years, with a few years in Germany, followed by Manchester and then Nottingham. When I first moved here, the language used by the local people and all its wonderful sounds immediately started to fascinate me. This language was obviously different to the other varieties of English that I had come across before, or indeed used myself! There were influences of the way people use language in the north of England while at the same time I heard features that I would expect to hear in more southern varieties of English.
One of the first things I did in Nottingham was going into a ‘Cob Shop’ just to see what they sold there, because used like that ‘cob’ was a word I had never come across before!
My research had involved looking at the effect of emotion and identity on language, and initially I worked on German and also on varieties of English used in Glasgow. When I decided to see what research had been carried out about my new home town and the East Midlands more generally, I found there was very little, and almost nothing written by academics. This was really interesting: it suggested that this variety was either not worth studying, or not different to other regions. Neither of these two possibilities I believed to be true. Ever since this time I have been working on language in the East Midlands and although I’ve learned a lot, there is still so much more to learn.
Some people believe that the language used in Nottinghamshire can be hard to recognize. Or they find it difficult to pinpoint where exactly people use it – particularly for people who are not from here. Some local dialect books even mention examples of words and sentences written without spaces between them, to show how confusing it can be. When thinking about how language is used in Nottingham, we can think about particular ways of pronouncing things, of words used and of typical phrases which can be heard in the region. Some of these are going strong, and some are in the process of disappearing.
For example, ‘watter’ (water) and ‘faither’ (father) are often heard. Some words are linked to particular trades and industries linked to Nottingham, such as mining and farming terms, even those who aren’t miners can talk about their ‘snap’ (lunch) but many no longer know terms such as ‘cow lady’ for ladybird. Some terms are iconic for the region, such as ‘mardy’ (bad tempered) or ‘nesh’ (to feel the cold) and there is much memorabilia with expressions such as ‘ey up mi duck’ (greetings my friend). Frequently we don’t know exactly where these expressions and words come from, but this doesn’t stop us from enjoying them, for example describing someone who is unattractive as having ‘a face like a bag of frogs’!
No language is lazy or wrong, and celebrating our local language will help keep it alive, so let’s use it where we can!