Q& A and quiz

BBC History Magazine - - Contents - Eugene Byrne is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist

Emma Lash­wood, Bris­tol AIt’s a big ques­tion, so let’s keep it

close to home. How about the di­alects of the Chan­nel Is­lands – Nor­man-de­rived Jersey French (Jèr­ri­ais) and Guernsey French (Guernési­ais)? There are less than 3,000 flu­ent speak­ers of ei­ther now.

Ned Mad­drell, fa­mously the last na­tive speaker of Gaelg, the his­toric lan­guage of the Isle of Man, died in 1974, though many peo­ple are now work­ing to pre­serve it as a val­ued part of the is­land’s her­itage. Gaelg is a rel­a­tive of Ir­ish and Scot­tish Gaelic, both also classed as en­dan­gered lan­guages by Unesco. Both cur­rently have tens of thou­sands of flu­ent speak­ers, but this may not be the case in 100 years or less. Re­gional di­alects in Eng­land have been eroded so much that few of us now have any idea of how rich and var­ied re­gional English once was. In­creas­ing ease of travel from the mid-19th cen­tury on­wards, and then ra­dio, TV and the so­cial stigma of sound­ing ‘pro­vin­cial’ did them fa­tal dam­age. It may be that the last ves­tiges will be found in rel­a­tively iso­lated places like Lin­colnshire or the For­est of Dean. The process is on­go­ing. Old-school Cock­ney, for ex­am­ple, will prob­a­bly be gone com­pletely in a few decades, re­placed by a mod­ern mul­ti­cul­tural Lon­don English sim­i­lar to that spo­ken in other UK cities. Di­alect in Bri­tish English nowa­days is usu­ally lit­tle more than a few words, though lo­cal ac­cents are still alive and well as a way for peo­ple to re­tain re­gional or so­cial iden­ti­ties. Ac­cents, in fact, are con­stantly evolv­ing thanks to new in­flu­ences, par­tic­u­larly im­mi­gra­tion. Some di­alects dis­ap­pear be­cause they are sim­ply not needed any­more. Po­lari – de­rived from Ital­ian, Ro­mani, Cock­ney and other in­flu­ences – was a di­alect that emerged from crim­i­nal and show­biz sub­cul­tures, and was in­tended to be in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to out­siders. Most fa­mously used by ho­mo­sex­u­als, Po­lari dis­ap­peared quite quickly when gay sex was par­tially de­crim­i­nalised in the 1960s and se­crecy was no longer nec­es­sary.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.