BBC Voices

Conversation in Brighton about accent, dialect and attitudes to language.

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  • Recording date


  • Is part of (Collection)

    BBC Voices Recordings

  • Recording locations

    Brighton, East Sussex

  • Interviewees

    Collins, Shirley, 1935 July 05- (speaker, female, folk singer/author), Lewis, Bob, 1936 March 08- (speaker, male, retired), Muncaster, Martin, 1934 July 17- (speaker, male, broadcaster and writer), Smith, Tina, 1945 Feb. 09- (speaker, female, retired college librarian), Smith, Vic, 1943 Sept. 02- (speaker, male

  • Interviewers

    Lloyd, Wendy, 1966 Sept. 15- (speaker, female)

  • Producers

    Southern Counties Radio

  • Abstract

    [00:00:00] Speakers introduce themselves, describe where they have lived and their occupations. Description of speakers father, well-known local painter. Comment on excitement at meeting someone from Tillington, recitation of lyrics of folk song The Tillington Poachers. Local story about Lord Leconfield of Petworth House losing turkeys to poachers. Alternative version of same story in which Lord Leconfield loses flock of sheep. Comment that story was universally known around Sussex. Story of finding factual reference to Lord Leconfield losing sheep in old book in Chichester library. Local character Bob Coppers story explaining origin of term as different as chalk and cheese, different pronunciations of ship and sheep in Sussex and Hampshire. Story of no one in Etchingham knowing how to pronounce road in village with no street sign, either sheep or ship street. Comment that if street sign had been put up by council worker it would have been spelt wrong.[00:10:40] Discussion of words used to describe PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES. Comment that cack-handed means awkward and clumsy as well as left-handed. Remark that word for unattractive differs depending on what is being described. Story of grandfather remarking that girls are lovely, foods delicious after speaker described the pudding they were eating as lovely. Discussion of meaning of buxom used for attractive. Amusing story about two old men eyeing up a buxom girl in Petworth Square. Comment that these days people choose words to describe personal qualities very carefully because they dont want to be criticised for being politically incorrect. Remark that everyone, consciously or unconsciously modifies their speech depending on the company they are in. Memory of using Scots dialect words at home and English at school to avoid being mocked when first moved to Sussex from Edinburgh, must be similar for immigrants speaking two languages in United Kingdom now, broad Scots accent returns when talking to Scottish people.[00:20:17] Discussion about regional accents. Speakers think its important to preserve regional accents even though they dont like or find it difficult to understand some of them, makes English language less bland, gives it variety and vitality. Mention that speakers love of traditional folk music means they can appreciate the importance of dialects because some lyrics are centuries old. Story of older neighbour in Etchingham using outlandish to describe man who came from village three miles away, speaker knew word from folk song The Outlandish Knight but didnt know that meaning. Comment that until fairly recently in last fifty years there would have been a main family name in each Sussex village, village cricket teams showed this, examples of local names. Mention Lintott family still living in Stedham, one was an undertaker who used to tell the Sussex stories, speaker has tape of him and other local people telling old local stories. Mention that war memorials in local villages also show how two surnames might have been shared by all inhabitants of one village. Amusing local story of two men talking about introduction of electricity, learnt from Bob Copper.[00:25:52] Discussion of words used to describe PEOPLE AND THINGS. Comment that speaker wouldnt use boyfriend to describe daughters partner who is in his thirties. Remark that words used for male/female partner is an uncomfortable, awkward area of language these days. Comment facetiously that women have always run everything, other speakers reprimand him for being politically incorrect. Discussion of politically correct language, remark that its nonsense, its possible to legislate but not to change human nature, comment that it does make people aware of the implications of words. Discussion of change in meaning of gay, speakers object to it having been hijacked. Comment that words can unconsciously convey a lot, discussion of sentence in book describing farm labourers being saddled by wife and children, thinks it reveals misogynistic nature, remark it can be understood in different ways, might not have been intended to be offensive. Discussion of expressions originating from rural activities, such as saddled or harvest. Story of head teacher describing chorus of ankle snappers undoing their velcro shoes in school assemblies.[00:37:07] Discussion of words used to describe CLOTHING. Story of being excited by new pair of plimsolls for summer term at school when young. Discussion of smocks and smocking on clothes. Mention that men used to wear best Sunday smock to church on Sunday mornings as late as 1920s. Description of how in the past women often used to make their husbands Sunday smock when they got engaged, which would be what he got married in. Discussion of men wearing hats in the past, always wore one outside house and raised it to ladies. Differences between East and West Sussex, didnt become divided until 1850/60s, a political decision. Speaker frequently heard people in East Sussex commenting on strangeness of people in West Sussex and vice versa, without specifying why. Comment that there is considerable difference in countryside, more open downland in East Sussex, West Sussex has more trees and woodland. Story about Queen Elizabeth Oak in Cowdray Park, huge old oak tree. Story of friends dressed up after performing mummers play at Christmas in Cowdray House getting into a fight with some swans on Benbow Pond in park late at night. Comment how that is almost like a tale by Thomas Hardy. Story of seeing a double rainbow by moonlight over Petworth on Fox Hill during full moon.[00:48:19] Discussion of words used to describe WEATHER AND SURROUNDINGS. Comment that it took years to feel confident using twitten to mean alleyway for speaker who was born in Edinburgh. Discussion of slype meaning alleyway, thought to be specific to East Sussex. Remark that lots of springs used to emerge from the Sussex downs but now so much water is taken out of them they arent so common, existence of beautiful local springs that sometimes dry up in the summer, lavant describes an intermittent, seasonal stream. Discussion of local bournes and places named after them such as Eastbourne. Mention that Tunbridge Wells used to be part of Sussex, there is a brass strip across the pavement that marks the boundary. Remark that Greenwich Meridian runs through Lewes and through the house that interview is being recorded in. Mention Sussex-born friend who described full moon in autumn (harvest moon) as a snoggers moon. Comment that there are always more babies born on a full moon, mushrooms are affected by lunar cycle too, its lovely that were still connected to the moon. Discussion of meaning of term dreckly, means Ill get round to the job when Ive got time, if something is urgent the term dreckly minute is more appropriate.[00:58:31] Discussion of words used to describe EMOTIONS. Comment that a feature of Sussex humour is understatement. Mention that mother used to say horses sweat, men perspire and ladies merely glow, didnt like people to say they were sweating. Use and meaning of sickening. Discussion of words used to describe ACTIONS. Stories of never even thinking of playing truant from school, it wasnt an option, attendance officer would check up on children not at school, fined parents. Remark that education was important to speakers. Story of having to pedal monocycle at village school to power drill of visiting school dentist because school didnt have electricity. Comment that similar monocycle system existed in submarines that came out of Portsmouth.[01:10:37] Discussion of local cricketing stories. Duke of Richmonds grandfathers butler being umpire in cricket match, saying Duke was not in instead of out after he was out on first ball. Eighty year old man kept in local team even though he couldnt bat or bowl because he was good at finding balls in long grass. Excellent local cricketer called Lillywhite being caught smuggling, vicar and Duke of Richmond collected money to pay his fine to prevent him being transported to Australia. Very fast local bowler named Larwood being so good that he had to break the stumps before the umpire would accept he had bowled first batsman out. Mention historic debate between Sussex and Hampshire about the origins of cricket, speaker cites examples of very old cricket matches that he thinks prove cricket started in Sussex. Comment on interest in phrase back along meaning at one time, speaker has heard it used by other older Sussex inhabitants along with one time of day to avoid putting an exact date on something, discussion of other phrases with similar meaning.[01:18:40] Continuation of discussion of words used to describe ACTIONS. Comment that a slogger was a person who hit the ball hard in cricket. Remark that different words used for hitting hard depending on what is being hit. Mention that local policeman used to give you a clip round the ear for stealing apples. Story told by Bob Copper about living in local cottages at start of twentieth century, demonstrates the slow pace of life then compared with today. Comment that alternative words for sleep are used naturally while speaker is telling story. Remark that speaker slipped into different accent while telling story about the distant past. Speaker uses accent fairly consciously, explains that father taught him dialect which he learnt from farmhands. Discussion of dialectal agricultural terms relating to haymaking. Remark that speaker is able to imitate local dialect quite closely. Comment that Sussex dialect has receded over time through generations of speakers family, her accent was polished out of her by head teacher at grammar school, it was a relief to be able to slip back into being more Sussex than posh, grandfathers pronunciation of great wood.[01:28:00] Discussion of words used to describe agricultural tools, not used so much now as they were mostly hand tools. Mention budget meant container or bag used for keeping bread and cheese. Comment that old tools were often hand made in village by blacksmith for particular job. Remark that people would only use old words for tools in the past when in conversation with people in those occupations. Description of different types of trug, word still recognised by people now, still made locally but very expensive. Amusing story about old couple selling house with toilet in back garden. Story of local pub not having ladies toilet in the past, women had to go behind bushes in field. Story of looking round house in Lewes in 1974 with toilet at end of garden. Discussion of words used to mean drunk. Words for main room of house with television, comment that what you call it depends on what kind of house you live in. Mention that it used to be called front room in the past, was kept for best/visitors, was always damp because it was rarely used, sat in there when recovering from illness. Comment that houses were small with lots of people living there but one room was always kept for best and never used. Remark that nearly every house in the country would have had a piano in front room where people gathered to sing songs together. Story of pedalling foot pedals of harmonium in grandparents house. Comment that there should be a smoking room in pubs, like there was in the past, rather than a full smoking ban, this annoys speaker. Discussion of words used to describe long soft seat in main room. Comment that speaker had armchairs and seat in window in front room but no sofa, still not sure what to call it now.[01:39:39] Discussion of words used to mean rich. Remark that being rich was always associated with being supercilious and holding onto wealth. Story of local builder describing Rottingdean as now being full of three bob millionaires, the women are all fur coat and no knickers, same phrase used in Edinburgh. Remark that more money than sense expresses jealousy and resentment towards rich people. Discussion of distinction between old money/gentry and new money/nouveau riche, derogatory terms are used to describe the latter. Grandparents and parents worked in service, were treated differently by different types of rich people, nouveau riche didnt know how money should be handled or responsibilities that came with having money. Comment that working class people and gentry had better rapport with each other than with people in the middle. Story of mother placing importance on looking after the staff, gave presents at Christmas. Remark that it might be construed as charity or patronising these days but poverty was much worse then than it is now.[01:45:41] Discussion of words used to mean pregnant. Comment that speaker didnt learn pregnant till age 15/16, was never used, embarrassed about using it when pregnant for first time, still cant say it in front of mother, always used euphemisms. Story of being asked when are you better? when pregnant in Scotland. Mention euphemisms for pregnant in folk songs contrasted with those used in pubs. Discussion of how language has changed as a result of media influence, think it is now coarser, more transient, trendy, disrespectful. Examples of words that have come and gone very quickly, shows that language changes much more rapidly now, reflects quicker pace of life. Comment that children speak short hand form of English now, as used in text messages, not learning enough of the language. Stories of misspellings seen in writing. Young people are embracing new words and ways of speaking, speakers worry what will happen to the language. Discussion of keeping regional accents alive, would be good if older people spoke about their memories and life experiences in schools, speakers earliest memories are of listening to old relatives speaking in his house, thinks young people dont experience this today, they are always watching television. Comment that accents are diluted because families are spread out now and children dont speak to their grandparents anymore. Story of listening to grandparents talking when young, they lived next door to speaker. Speaker thinks that new words coming into English language narrows it instead of enhancing it, it cuts out regionality. Comment that it would be better for children to listen to older people talking instead of teaching regional accents in schools. Speaker thinks that BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) is finding it difficult to find people to work in the media who speak Standard English, there is so much emphasis on regional accents/dialects. Story of being surprised at hearing Afro Caribbean people speaking with broad Birmingham accent on bus thirty years ago. Discussion of attitudes towards regional accents, reasons for favouring particular accents. Comment that Scottish accent varies across Scotland. Remark that lots of Celtic-based languages are very poetic. Comment that older people used to be able to tell which village someone came from by their accent, particularly in Cornwall, very subtle differences that most people wouldnt be aware of. Story of Gordon Hall who could do that, almost inherited from mother who couldnt read or write and was of Romani extraction so was aurally sensitive and had huge memory for songs. Discussion of words used to mean moody. Comment that the blue devils was used in Shakespeare to describe miserable moodiness long before the blues in music. Speakers re-introduce themselves.

  • Description

    Recording made for BBC Voices project of a conversation guided by a BBC interviewer. The conversation follows a loose structure based on eliciting opinions about accents, dialects, the words we use and people's attitude to language. The five interviewees are retired friends from a mixture of backgrounds. All have well-rooted ancestry in Sussex except Vic who was born in Edinburgh, but has been living in Sussex for over 10 years.

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