Q& A and quiz
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.