The dialect has existed for centuries and is distinct from standard British English. The works of the 14th century poets; such as, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Gawain poet are written in this dialect. This also includes the religious poem St. Erkenwald, which dates from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. Cheshire author Alan Garner states "Of course [the Cheshire dialect] has changed, as all living language changes, since the time of the Gawain poet. But when I read sections of the poem aloud to my father, he knew, and used, more than 90% of the vocabulary; and the phonetics of the vowels have scarcely changed."
Early references include English proverbs and dialect words collected by John Ray in the 17th century, and a glossary of Cheshire words, compiled by Roger Wilbraham in 1817 and expanded in 1826. These sources were expanded by Egerton Leigh in a glossary published posthumously in 1877, which was an attempt to preserve a way of speech that was already under threat from "emigration, railways, and the blending of shires." Leigh notes that some words collected by Ray had already disappeared. Later reference works include Thomas Darlington's Folk-speech of South Cheshire (1887) and Peter Wright's The Cheshire Chatter (1979).
Characteristics and usage
Cheshire dialect contains some words that are distinct from standard English, such as "shippen" for cattle-house. According to Leigh, most unique Cheshire words derive from Anglo-Saxon; "shippen" is from scypen. Other words derive from transposition, for example, "waps" for "wasp" and "neam" for "name". The British Library Sound Archive contains recordings of the dialect from various parts of the county. A number of authors have written in Cheshire dialect, including poetry by H. V. Lucas (Homage to Cheshire; 1939–60) and Rowland Egerton-Warburton (Hunting Songs; 1877), and prose by Beatrice Tunstall.
- Leigh E. Introduction in: A Glossary of Words Used in the Dialect of Cheshire (Hamilton, Adams, and Co./Minshull and Hughes; 1877) (accessed 14 July 2010)
- Wilson E. Gawain Poet (fl. c.1375–1400). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press; 2004) (accessed 14 July 2010)
- Wallace D. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, p. 627 (Cambridge University Press; 1999) (ISBN 0521890462)
- Renner B. An Interview with Alan Garner. elimae (2002) (accessed 14 July 2010)
- Wilbraham R. An Attempt at a Glossary of Some Words Used in Cheshire, 2nd edn (T. Rood; 1826)
- Harrison S. Leigh, Egerton (1815–1876). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press; 2004) (accessed 14 July 2010)
- The National Archives: Photographs related to Gladys Threadgold and family (accessed 14 July 2010)
- British Library Sound Archive Catalogue: Accents and dialects - English language - England: Cheshire (accessed 14 July 2010)