The Essex dialect is a traditional dialect mainly confined to the north and the east of Essex. It is similar to some forms of East Anglian English, including both the Suffolk and Norfolk dialects, but has its own peculiarities. With rapid urbanisation in the twentieth century, as well as the impact of the London overspill, Estuary English, a milder form of the London accent predominant largely along the Thames Estuary and thus the name, has become common, mainly in the southern portion of the county. As a result of the growing London influence, the usage of rural accents everywhere and the rural Essex dialect is now normally, but not always, confined to older generations in some of the areas affected and the dialect itself stands in a vulnerable state in those affected parts of the county. Elsewhere in Essex, the dialect and rural accent continues.
For example, in the coastal town of Harwich the Essex dialect is still common, even among the town's youth, and is a defining feature of the area. Harwich is pronounced as "arridge" in the local dialect, and nearby Manningtree is pronounced "mannintree", dropping the "g".
Many of the unique patterns of speech, as well as vocabulary were recorded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries The Survey of English Dialects investigated 15 sites in Essex, most of which were in the rural north of the county and one of which was on Mersea Island. This was an unusually high number of sites, being second only to Yorkshire. It was originally planned to survey only five sites in Essex, but research in Essex by a visiting Fulbright scholar named Howard Berntsen in the early 1960s was incorporated into the framework of the Survey to increase the number.
- The diphthong of [aɪ] which is common amongst East Anglian English and other predominantly English rural dialects, e.g. right > ‘roight’
- The shortening of certain elongated vowel sounds from [iː] to [ɪ], e.g. been > ‘bin’, seen > ‘sin’
- Yod-dropping is common, as in the Norfolk and Suffolk dialects
- Dropping of Ls, e.g. old > ‘owd’
- th-fronting, a feature now widespread in England, was found throughout Essex in the 1950s Survey of English Dialect.
- Essex speech is non-rhotic, although Mersea Island was rhotic until the mid-20th century.
Frequently sounds are elided to allow the easy flow of speech; e.g.,
- Wonderful > 'wunnerful'
- Correctly > 'creckly'
- St Osyth > 'Toosie' (*meaning 'To Saint', as in the place, Saint Osyth*)
- Benham, Charles Edwin (23 October 2017). "Essex ballads and other poems". Colchester : Benham – via Internet Archive.
- Gepp, Edward. "A contribution to an Essex dialect dictionary". London G. Routledge – via Internet Archive.
- Craig Fees, The Imperilled Inheritance: dialect and folklife studies at the University of Leeds 1946-1962, Part 1: Harold Orton and the English Dialect Survey, page 20
- "Essex". John Nickalls Publications. Archived from the original on 30 October 2010.
- "Essex County Council". www.essexcc.gov.uk.
- "Archivists launch campaign to save Essex accent". 10 June 2009 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- Britain, David; Cheshire, Jenny, eds. (2003). "Dialect levelling and geographical diffusion in British English". Social Dialectology: In Honour of Peter Trudgill. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. p. 233.
- http://roa.rutgers.edu/content/article/files/1208_amos_1.pdf page 44