You only have to visit a country show to hear dialect used in conversation.
But its use is diminishing as the years go by. The importance of preserving local dialect was being addressed more than a century ago. In March 1847, the Yorkshire Dialect Society was formed in Bradford, to encourage the study and recording of dialect from across the region.
The oldest surviving dialect society in the world, it was formed from a committee that had already spent three years working on the Yorkshire section of the much celebrated English Dialect Dictionary, written by famous Bradfordian linguist Joseph Wright.
Member Roger Nelson, a regular contributor of poems to the society’s newsletters, has put together a collection of more than 50 poems in a book, Dales Dialect Verse.
The youngest son of a workman on the Bolton Abbey estate and a former pupil at Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton, Roger has written on a range of subjects, using dialect from both the West and North Riding.
In a career as a veterinary surgeon that took him across the world, from the mountains of Haiti and the savannahs and floodplains of Zambia, to the highlands of Papua New Guinea and the rain-forests of Guyana, he draws upon his passion for nature in evocative dialect. His poem ‘Swift’, is a joy:
‘Swaat scythe-winged sky racer, power proud, Slashin’ a t’belly o’t’ thunder cloud….
It ends wonderfully: ‘Though other birds knaw a deal ‘’things, He nobbut knaws he hez t’world’s best wings
An’ needs nowt else.’
While working in Yorkshire Roger was lead officer for the eradication of BSE, dealing with over 1,000 cases, and in Craven he personally diagnosed the first cases in modern times of foot-and-mouth disease, sheep scab, and bovine tuberculosis. Dealing with farmers and rural communities, he no doubt regularly encountered spoken dialect.
He is descended from a farming family: his grandfather, five great-uncles and two great-cousins farmed eight neighbouring farms. He later traced names, dates and locations for an unbroken ancestral line farming for 23 generations, back to about 1290. His 17-greats grandfather was mentioned in the Bolton Priory accounts in 1367.
Roger uses a wide variety of dialect words in the verses, clearly having a masterly command of the language of the area where he still lives. Subjects covered in a manner peppered with wry humour, range from the natural environment and the seasons, to soul music
I particularly like his poem ‘Hedgehog: ‘Tha’s primitive, it’s plain to see; Thi snufflin’ nooas, thi bleary e’e, Thi prickly coit, thi flea-wick fleece - There’s few ‘ud envy thee all these.’
And the distaste he expresses for fox - or ‘fooak’ - hunting in ‘Hunters and Harriers’, struck a chord. ‘Chassin’ to deeath’s not fair,’ he writes.
The book contains a series of charming illustrations, also by Roger, to accompany the verses.
The dialect used translated in a glossary at the back of the book. I recognise many of them from my own North Yorkshire childhood. I continue to say ‘watter’ as opposed to water, as my nan did, and my father often breaks into dialect. In Bilsdale, near my parents' home, I am often asked: "How's thissen?" (yourself).
The final poem, Market Talk, is full of exchanges typical of livestock marts.
“Awreight Jim?” “O, nathen lad!
Ista fit?” Aye, nooan so bad.
An’ thissen?” “Owd age, poor keep.”
“What’s fresh?” “Nay, nowt.” “How’s thi sheep?”
*Dales Dialect Verse by Roger Nelson is available at £5.95 plus £.80 p&p from the Yorkshire Dialect Society. Visit yorkshiredialectsociety.co.uk. For more information visit the website or ring Eric Scaife on 0113 260 5823.