Fight to save Norfolk dialect

Champions of the Norfolk dialect have hit back at claims that they are fighting a King Canute-style battle against a tide of London-driven accents that threaten to swamp the county's spoken language.

Champions of the Norfolk dialect have hit back at claims that they are fighting a King Canute-style battle against a tide of London-driven accents that threaten to swamp the county's spoken language.

University academics say urban accents such as Geordie, Scouse, Mancunian and Brummie, are getting stronger, and spreading, but some more localised ones are in danger of disappearing, with small town and rural voices being subsumed into wider regional “super-accents”.

One of those behind the theory, Dominic Watt, a lecturer in forensic linguistics at York University, told the EDP that once deep-rooted local accents from two or three generat-ions ago were evolving because of greater social mobility, with the biggest influences coming from people moving out of urban areas and into the countryside.

On a weekend social trip to Norwich, his trained ear stayed on duty and he came to the conclusion that the number of local accents was “not as marked as I expected to be” for a place still relatively off the beaten track.

Norfolk remained within the zone of influence for London and its transport links. Parts of Essex and Cambridgeshire had already been affected, and there was evidence of larger regional accents evolving and a general convergence towards some-thing sounding more like standard English.

Dr Watt praised the work of organisations such as Fond - Friends of the Norfolk Dialect - for working to document local accents but felt they were “a bit like King Canute” trying to stop an inevitable tide. However, Norfolk's own linguistics expert, Peter Trudgill, president of Fond, thinks Norfolk's relative remoteness from urban influence should save its spoken word from falling into major danger despite a gradual outwards spread of London and home counties accents.

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“It is true there are fewer accents and a levelling-out of the differences because of the influence of large urban centres. The London accent now covers a large part of the south- east, and the Birmingham one more of the west Midlands. But there are peripheral areas, such as the Welsh marches, the south-west and East Anglia, which are not being affected,” said Prof Trudgill.

It has been suggested that the survival and strength of some accents, such as Geordie, has been helped by their increased presence and the popularity on television of personalities such as Ant and Dec.

But Prof Trudgill said face-to-face contact was the main influence.

“If it was TV, we would all be talking like Americans. The biggest danger to Norfolk is the influence of people who move to the county,” he added.

We could not fight the demographic battle, but we could fight the attitudinal one by making people more confident to embrace with pride the local accent, he argued.

Fond tried to encourage people not to have an inferiority complex about speaking in a Norfolk accent, which did not always have the same social cachet as city accents such as Geordie. “What really bothers me is when people move in from outside because they like the area, then get upset if their children come home from school with a Norfolk accent,” said Prof Trudgill.

EDP columnist and Fond founder Keith Skipper did not agree with the academic findings either, having seen similar surveys come and go, with differing results. He was happy to back Prof Trudgill as the Friends' resident expert. There certainly was no East Anglian super-accent - for, while people from Norfolk sounded similar to their Suffolk counterparts, Essex was entirely different and a “foreign language to us,” said Mr Skipper.

Rather than being seen as King Canute, he hoped Fond would be regarded as “Nelson's crew - ready to expect true Norfolk men to do their duty and talk proper; the fight

goes on.”

And Mr Skipper mused that the county's cause could be helped

if Ant and Dec were replaced by a Norfolk duo, such as Olly Day

and Keith Loads, fresh from

their successful teaming-up at Cromer Pier's Christmas show.

A taste of Norfolk language will be showcased on Sunday at the Fond panto, My Ol' Bewty and the Beast, at North Elmham Village Hall at 2pm; tickets �3 on the door.

The script was written by the late Tony Clarke (Boy Jimma), and the parts for the show will be cast over a cuppa on the day. Fond chairman Norman Hart said: “It is based on the panto story with a Norfolk twist - actually very twisted! It will be a laugh and simple, old-fashioned fun.”

The event will also see the announcement of who has won the annual Trosher Prize short story competition run by the Friends.