- Not to be confused with the Celtic Cumbric language
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The Cumbrian dialect is a local English dialect spoken in Cumbria in northern England, not to be confused with the extinct Celtic language Cumbric that used to be spoken in Cumbria. As in any county, there is a gradual drift in accent towards its neighbours. Barrow-in-Furness (within the historic boundaries of Lancashire) has a similar accent to much of Lancashire whilst the northern parts of Cumbria have a more North-East English sound to them. Whilst clearly being an English accent approximately between Lancashire and the North-East it shares much vocabulary with Scots.
'Cumbrian' here refers both to Cumbria and also to Cumberland, the historic county which, along with Westmorland, has formed the bulk of Cumbria since the enactment of local government re-organisation in 1974. There is a Cumbrian Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore, which was written by William Rollinson, but is much harder to find a copy of than the respective dictionaries for Lancashire and Yorkshire. There is, however, a more contemporary and lighthearted "Cumbrian Dictionary and Phrase Book" available (Print: ISBN 1481095307, eBook: ISBN 1230000038740) based on the long running online GonMad Cumbrian Dictionary (See #External links).
History of Cumbrian language
Despite the modern county being created only in 1974 from the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and north Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire, Cumbria is an ancient land. Before the arrival of the Romans the area was the home of the Carvetii tribe, which was later assimilated to the larger Brigantes tribe. These people would have spoken Brythonic, which developed into Old Welsh, but around the 5th century AD, when Cumbria was the centre of the kingdom of Rheged, the language spoken in northern England and southern Scotland from Lancashire and Yorkshire to Strathclyde had developed into a dialect of Brythonic known as Cumbric (the scarcity of linguistic evidence, however, means that Cumbric's distinctness from Old Welsh is more deduced than proven). Remnants of Brythonic and Cumbric are most often seen in place names, in elements such as caer 'fort' as in Carlisle, pen 'hill' as in Penrith and craig 'crag, rock' as in High Crag.
The most well known Celtic element in Cumbrian dialect is the sheep counting numerals which are still used in various forms by shepherds throughout the area, and apparently for knitting. The word 'Yan' (meaning 'one'), for example, is prevalent throughout Cumbria and is still often used, especially by non-speakers of 'received pronunciation' and children, e.g. "That yan owr there," or "Can I have yan of those?"
The Northern subject rule may be attributable to Celtic Influence.
Before the 8th century AD Cumbria was annexed to English Northumbria and Old English began to be spoken in parts, although evidence suggests Cumbric survived in central regions in some form until the 11th century.
A far stronger influence on the modern dialect was Old Norse, spoken by Norwegian settlers who probably arrived in Cumbria in the 10th century via Ireland and the Isle of Man. The majority of Cumbrian place names are of Norse origin, including Ulverston from Ulfrs tun ('Ulfr's farmstead'), Kendal from Kent dalr ('valley of the River Kent') and Elterwater from eltr vatn ('swan lake'). Many of the traditional dialect words are also remnants of Norse settlement, including beck (bekkr, 'stream'), laik (leik, 'to play'), lowp (hlaupa, 'to jump') and glisky (gliskr, 'shimmering').
Old Norse seems to have survived in Cumbria until fairly late. A 12th century inscription found at Loppergarth in Furness bears a curious mixture of Old English and Norse, showing that the language was still felt in the south of the county at this time, and would probably have hung on in the fells and dales (both Norse words) until later.
Once Cumbrians had assimilated to speaking English, there were few further influences on the dialect. In the Middle Ages, much of Cumbria frequently swapped hands between England and Scotland but this had little effect on the language used. In the nineteenth century miners from Cornwall and Wales began relocating to Cumbria to take advantage of the work offered by new iron ore, copper and wadd mines but whilst they seem to have affected some local accents (notably Barrow-in-Furness) they don't seem to have contributed much to the vocabulary.
One of the lasting characteristics still found in the local dialect of Cumbria today is an inclination to drop vowels, especially in relation to the word "the" which is frequently abbreviated. Unlike the Lancashire dialect, where 'the' is abbreviated to 'th', in Cumbrian (as in Yorkshire) the sound is harder like the letter '?' or simply a 't' and in sentences sounds as if it is attached to the previous word, for example "int" instead of "in the" "ont" instead of "on the".
Another common addition to words is the letter y... Cumbrians often change the way a word spelt and sounded by adding a y as in byat = boat; cyak = cake.
Accent and pronunciation
Cumbria is a large area with several relatively isolated districts, so there is quite a large variation in accent, especially between north and south or the coastal towns. There are some uniform features that should be taken into account when pronouncing dialect words.
|/æ/ as in 'bad'||[a]|
|/ɑː/ as in 'bard'||[aː]|
|/aʊ/ as in 'house'||[uː] (North only)|
|/eɪ/ as in 'bay'||[ɪə] in the North-East, and between [eː] and [ɪː] elsewhere|
|/eə/ as in 'bear'||[ɛː]|
|/aɪ/ as in 'bide'||[ɐː] (South), [eɪ] (North)|
|/əʊ/ as in 'boat'||[oː]|
|/ʌ/ as in 'bud'||[ʊ]|
|/uː/ as in 'boo'||[əw], [ɪw] or [uː]|
- 'feel' > [ˈfiəl]; 'fear' > [ˈfiə]
- 'fool' > [ˈfuəl]; 'moor' > [ˈmuə]
- 'fail' > [ˈfɪəl]
- 'file' > [ˈfaɪəl]; 'fire' > [ˈfaɪə]
The pronunciation of moor and poor is a traditional feature of Received Pronunciation but is now associated with some old-fashioned speakers. It is generally more common in the north of England than in the south. The words cure, pure, sure may be pronounced with a triphthong [ɪuə].
Most consonants are pronounced as they are in other parts of the English speaking world. A few exceptions follow:
<g> and <k> have a tendency to be dropped or unreleased in the coda (word- or syllable-finally).
<h> is realised in various ways throughout the county. When William Barrow Kendall wrote his Furness Wordbook in 1867, he wrote that <h> 'should never be dropped', suggesting the practice had already become conspicuous. It seems the elision of both <h> and <t> began in the industrial towns and slowly spread out. In the south, it is now very common.
<l> in the word final position may be dropped or realised as [w]: woo wool [ˈwəw]; pow pole [ˈpɒw].
<r> is realised as [ɾ] following consonants and in word-initial position but is often elided in the coda, unless a following word begins with a vowel: ross [ˈɾɒs]; gimmer [ˈɡɪmə]; gimmer hogg [ˈɡɪməˈɾɒɡ].
<t> is traditionally always pronounced as a voiceless alveolar plosive, although in many places it has been replaced by the glottal stop [ʔ] now common throughout Britain.
<y> may be consonantal [j] as in yam home [ˈjam]. As the adjectival or adverbial suffix -y it may be [ɪ] or [iː] as in clarty (muddy) [ˈklaːtɪ]. Medially and, in some cases, finally it is [ɐː] as in Thorfinsty (a place) [ˈθɔːfɪnstɐː].
Finally, in some parts of the county, there is a tendency to palatalize the consonant cluster <cl> in word-initial and medial position, thereby rendering it as something more closely approaching [tl]. As a result, some speakers pronounce clarty (muddy) as [ˈtlaːtɪ], "clean" as [ˈtliːn], and in some cases "likely" and "lightly" are almost indistinguishable.
Stress is usually placed on the initial syllable: yakeren acorn [ˈjakɜɾən].
Unstressed initial vowels are usually fully realised, whilst those in final syllables are usually reduced to schwa [ə].
- aboot About
- ars I am
- as I am (West Cumbria)
- Aye Yes
- how-ee Come on
- thew you
- you's you (plural) / you are
- yat gate
- us, es me
- wherst where is the
- djarn doing (as in 'whut yer djarn? - what are you doing?)
- divn't don't (as in 'divn't do that, lad')
- hoo'doo How are you doing? (strain of 'How do?')
- canna can't (as in 'ye canna djur that!' - 'You can't do that!')
- djur do
- frae from
- yon that (when referring to a noun which is visible at the time)
- Reet Right
- Harreet All right? (Greeting)
- Be reet It'll be all right
- Nae No
- Yonder there (as in 'ower yonder')
- owt anything (got owt? - got anything?)
- bevvie drink (alcoholic)
- clarty messy, muddy
- kaylied intoxicated
- kystie squeamish or fussy
- la'al small
- ladgeful embarrassing or unfashionable
- slape slippery or smooth as in slape back collie, a border collie with short wiry hair
- yon used when indicating a place or object that is usually in sight but far away. abbreviation of yonder.
- barrie good
- geet very
- gey very
- owwer/ovver over ("ars garn owwer yonder fer a kip" - I'm going over there for a sleep)
- secca such a
- vanna/vanya almost, nearly.
- bab'e baby
- bait packed meal that is carried to work
- bait bag bag in which to carry bait
- bar pound (money) (used in Carlisle)
- biddies fleas or head lice or old people "old biddies"
- bift/bifter cannabis joint
- britches trousers
- byat boat
- cheble or chable table
- clowt/cluwt hit "al clout ya yan"
- crack gossip "ow marra get some better crack"
- cyak cake
- cur dog sheepdog - collie
- den toilet
- fratch argument or squabble
- fyass face
- dookers Swimming Trunks
- garn going to somewhere
- jinnyspinner A Daddy Long Legs
- kets sweets
- lewer money
- mebby maybe
- mockin faeces / turd "I need to have a mockin"
- peeve drink (alcoholic)
- push iron bicycle
- scran food
- scrow a mess
- shillies small stones or gravel
- skemmy or skem beer
- snig small eel
- wuk work, as in: as garn twuk (I'm going to work)
- yam home, as in: as garn yam (I'm going home)
- bowk retch (as in before vomiting)
- bray beat (as in beat up someone)
- bubble cry
- chess chase
- chor steal (Romany origin, cf. Urdu chorna)
- chunder vomit
- clarten messing about
- deek look (Romany origin, cf Urdu dekhna)
- doss Idle or skive. To mess about and avoid work
- fettle to fix or mend. ("as i' bad fettle" - I'm not very well)
- fistle to fidget
- gander look
- gar / gaa go
- garn / gaan going
- hoik to pick at or gouge out
- hoy throw
- jarn or jurn doing
- laik play
- lait look for
- liggin lying down
- lowp jump
- nash run away
- radge to be angry or mental
- ratch to search for something
- scop to throw
- scower look at
- sow sexual intercourse
- skit make fun of
- Smowk smoking ("As garrn out for a smowk")
- twat hit someone ("I twatted him in the face")
- twine to whine or complain
- wukn working
- bairden/bairn/barn child
- boyo brother/male friend (Carlisle)
- buwler/bewer ugly girl
- cus or cuz friend (from cousin) (East Cumbria)
- gammerstang awkward person
- mot woman/girl/girlfriend
- offcomer a non-native in Cumbria
- potter gypsy
- gadgey man
- charva man/friend (West Cumbria, Carlisle)
- marra friend (West Cumbria, Furness)
- t'ol fella father
- t'ol lass mother
- our lass wife/girlfriend
- laddo male of unknown name
- lasso female of unknown name
- jam eater used in Workington to describe someone from Whitehaven, and vice versa.
- boose a division in a shuppon
- cop the bank of earth on which a hedge grows
- dyke raised bank, often topped with a hedge. Many small roads are flanked by dykes
- fodder gang passage for feeding cattle (usually in a shuppon)
- liggin' kessin when an animal is lying on its back and can't get up
- stoop a gate post
- lonnin country lane
- yat gate
- ky cow
- yow sheep (ewe)
- yakka farmer
- hossing raining heavily (it's hossing it doon)
- glisky when the sky is really bright so you can't see properly
- mizzlin misty drizzly rain
- syling pouring rain
- gey windy 'appen very windy
- hoyin it doown teeming it down with rain
- Barra Barrow
- Merrypoort Maryport
- Spatry Aspatria
- Whitehebben, White'evan Whitehaven
- Wukington, Wukinton, Wukiton, Wukitn, Wuki'n, Wucki'n Workington
- Penreth Penrith
- Kendul Kendal
- Cockamuth Cockermouth
- kezik, kesik Keswick
- Sanneth Sandwith
- Trappena Torpenhow
- i owp thou's garna put that in thys' pocket I hope you're going to put that in your pocket
- ars garn yam I'm going home
- hasta Have you?
- en wo? and what?
- i yurd fathas a gay fettal I heard your father was in a bad way.
- werst thew of te where are you going
- wh'ista Who are you? (especially used in Appleby)
- wer'st thou frae Where are you from?
- owz't ga'an? How is it going? (how are you)
- how-ee then provoke fight
- wha ya de'yan? What are you doing?
- where y'ofta? Where are you off to? (Where are you going?)
- ahreet, marra. All right, mate?
- Gammy illness
- Bay gud Excellent
- Appen is nabbut bovver 'ist lad that young man is always in trouble
- Tha wants f'ot git thasel 'a pint a 'strangba You really ought to be drinking strongbow
- Vaas boddy Who is that (female)
- Hoo`ista How are you
- Sum reet tidy cluwt oot on tuwn like There are some nice looking girls out
- Tha' yung lass barters a pocket as tigh a' Jewish nun That girl is particularly good looking
- hasta iver deeked a cuddy loup a 5 bar yat have you ever seen a donkey jump a 5 bar gate
Barrow-in-Furness is unique within Cumbria and the local dialect tends to be more Lancashire orientated. Like Liverpool this is down to the large numbers of settlers from various regions (including predominantly Scotland, elsewhere in England and Ireland amongst other locations). In general the Barrovian dialect tends to drop certain letters (including h and t) for example holiday could be pronounced as 'oliday, and with the drop of the h there is more emphasis on the letter o. Another example is with the letter t where twenty is often pronounced twen'y (again an emphasis on the n could occur).
- Iya Hello/ hi
- After Later e.g. "see you after"
- In'it Isn't it?
- Recke'd Intoxicated
- Shadda Shadow
- Where y'at Where are you?
- Where y'ofta Where are you off to? (Where are you going?)
- Y'orite Are you all right?
- 'Im/'Er Him/ Her
- Flarcher a smooth talker esp. of a salesman
- Smart as owt Very good
- Barra The town itself
- Yous You (plural)
- Us Me e.g., "give us it"
- Off-door Off-license
- Rite dosser Really dirty person
- Monkey round An extra drink covertly purchased outside the round system to facilitate rapid intoxication
- Sin seen
- Sin his arse a contraction of "We have seen his arse" meaning "he has lost his temper"
- Put it away please calm down (see "sin his arse" above)
- ...or? Ending a question with "or" e.g. "salt and vinegar luv...or?"
- Yah Wha! You what!
- Uh'Day Today (What y'upta uh'day?)
- Uh'Morra Tomorrow (Wha yer doin uh'morra?)
- Now Then Hello. Most often heard in the small villages of rural Furness
- 'Ows it goin'? How are you?
- marra lyyyk a gesture of companionship
The Cumbrian numbers, often called 'sheep counting numerals' because of their (declining) use by shepherds to this very day, show clear signs that they may well have their origins in Cumbric. The table below shows the variation of the numbers throughout Cumbria, as well as the relevant cognate in Welsh, Cornish and Breton, which are the three geographically closest British languages to Cumbric, for comparison.
NB: when these numerals were used for counting sheep, reputedly, the shepherd would count to fifteen or twenty and then move a small stone from one of his pockets to the other before beginning again, thus keeping score. Numbers eleven, twelve etc. would have been 'yandick, taendick', while sixteen and seventeen would have been 'yan-bumfit, tyan-bumfit' etc.
Although yan is still widely used, wan is starting to creep into some sociolects of the area.
Survey of English Dialects sites
There were several villages in Cumbria that were used during the Survey of English Dialects to minutely detail localised dialects. At the time, Cumbria did not exist as a unit of local government; there were 12 sites within modern Cumbria spread across four different counties:
- Longtown (Cu1)
- Abbey Town (Cu2)
- Brigham (Cu3)
- Threlkeld (Cu4)
- Hunsonby (Cu5)
- Great Strickland (We1)
- Patterdale (We2)
- Soulby (We3)
- Staveley-in-Kendal (We4)
- Coniston (La1)
- Cartmel (La2)
- Dent (Y5)
The following poets are known for writing about the area:
- William Wordsworth was born and lived in Cockermouth.
- Norman Nicholson lived in Millom and wrote many poems about his native county
- Wm. Barrow Kendall 'Forness Word Book', 1867; PDF version available at
- "Who are the Jam-eaters". Whitehaven News. CN Group. 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
- "The_Evolution_of_an_Anglo-Saxon_Place-name". workington.wikia.com. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- Sounds Familiar? — Listen to examples of regional accents and dialects from across the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
- Listen to Pronunciation
- Lakeland Dialect Society
- The GonMad Cumbrian Dictionary (online since 1997)
- The BabelSheep - An online English to Cumbrian translator
- 2000 B.B.C. radio programme on the Cumbrian dialect
- Low Nest Farm's webpage with many useful references