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Suffolk dialect is an English dialect. Like many English dialects it is rapidly disappearing, with the advent of increasing social and geographical mobility and the influence of the media. Despite this, there are still many people who profess some knowledge of Suffolk dialect, and there is an increasing number of young speakers who have a distinctive Suffolk accent, if not dialect.
Suffolk dialect has many characteristics, some of which are similar to its northern neighbour's, Norfolk dialect. Yet it retains many specific and unique terms and phrases which are instantly recognisable. A closely related accent can still be heard in the speech of older people in Colchester and its surrounding towns in northern Essex, where it has not yet quite been displaced by Estuary and Cockney.
- "boi" (with an emphasis on the 'i') – a term of familiar address, equivalent to mate, but can be used for a female (rarely) as well as a male addressee.
- "dag" = early morning or evening mist, especially associated with coastal / marsh areas, possibly also general eastern England dialect
- "bibble" = (of animals, esp. birds) to drink
- "hull" or "hoss" = throw
- "on the huh" (pronounced 'hə') = uneven, unbalanced
Mutations to certain words
- "tomorrow" becomes "'amara" (with a hard glottal stop at the beginning).
- "I'll" becomes "oi'll" (as in "oil") e.g. "Oi'll see yer 'amara". This also happens to other words with the 'ae' sound in, such as "five", which becomes "foive". (This was once common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians, though is rarely heard nowadays.)
- "you" becomes "yer".
- Yorkshire puddings are commonly referred to as 'batter puddings', pronounced 'batta puddins'.
- "Mother" becomes "Ma'" as with many regional accents.
- "rope" is pronounced "roup", with an emphasis on the 'u'. Likewise, "road" also sounds like "rud" ("rood" in the north of the county and in Norfolk) and "soap" sounds like "soup". This shows that Suffolk dialect is a context language.
- most words ending in '-ing' become '-en', as in "Oi'm busy worken".
- "seen" and "been" become "sin" and "bin" respectively.
- words such as "picture" and "lecture" become "pitcher" and "letcher". [this was once common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians, though it is somewhat dated there today.]
- the perfect tense of "to show" changes from "showed" to "shew", e.g. "Oi shew er a pitcher". Also of "to snow". "That snew last night" - although becoming far less common.
- words such as "shopping" and "office" mutate to "sharpin" and "arfice" as in "Oi'm gorn sharpin" or "Oi'm gorn down-a poost arfice".
- "going" becomes "gorn", but unlike Norfolk, "doing" becomes "do-en".
- "int" is used for "have not", and is similar to "ain't" in London English.
- "ant" is used for "has not".
- "Can I have a..." becomes "C'I've a..." (similar to "cover")
- "yesterday", as well as any other words ending in '-day' becomes "-di" as in "yesterdi" and "Toosdi". [this was once common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians, though it is somewhat dated there today.]
- "it" often becomes "e'", an approximate schwa sound, somewhere between an 'e' and a 'u', like a short 'er', e.g. "Oi int gorn-a do e'".
- "to" becomes "a", another schwa sound, after the compound future i.e. "I am going to" becomes "Oi'm gorn-a"
- "go" and other words with an 'o' sound become 'oo', such as "Oi'm mooing the lawn".
- words containing // sounds (as in 'ouch!') become something resembling 'e-oo'. This affects words like "now" which becomes "ne-oo". This is very similar to the Welsh 'ew' sound (see the diphthongs on the bottom right) and is quite difficult to explain in writing – it should be heard to get the full gist of it. A particularly interesting website contains a dialect map, which has an example of this pronunciation.
- Pronunciation of words such as "bear" and "care" resemble New Zealand English in that they sound like "beer" and "keer".
- In the Waveney area (and parts of Norfolk) there is a difference in the vowel sounds in "rowed" and "road".
- Past participles are pronounced with an extra syllable. "Stewed" (as in to have slowly cooked) is not pronounced "stued", but "stue-uh" with the last syllable being more like a glottal stop. "Saved" is "sayv-uh", "cooked" is "cook-uh" etc. Some irregular verbs' past participles change to regular using this glottal stop formulation. "Ran" is replaced with "run-uh" and swam with "swim-uh".
Grammar and linguistics
Yod-droppings is very common, so words like "dew", "queue", "new" and "tune" will become "doo", "koo", "noo" and "toone" respectively.
Suffolk dialect is non-rhotic, i.e. the 'r' in "hard" and similar words is not pronounced, unlike West Country English.
Suffolk dialect has a strong use of the glottal stop. This is shown in words like "'amara" and "e'" ('tomorrow' and 'it').
It is common for "that" to replace "it".
The intonation of words in Suffolk is very peculiar. Words have a notable range of rise and fall in pitch and can often sound as if the speaker were asking a question. This is one of the main features that distinguish Suffolk speech from Norfolk, which is characterised by a distinctive 'drawl'.
Verbs very rarely conjugate, the only exceptions being 'to be' and 'to have'. Other verbs do not conjugate whatsoever, and the present and perfect tense is often the same, and context is used. This is shown in "Ee say he goo down-a poost arfice" for "he said he went to the post office".
- Norfolk dialect, Suffolk dialect's closest relative with which it shares many characteristics. A comprehensive survey can be found in "Suffolk Dialect", by A.O.D.Claxton, published by The Boydell Press.
Notes and references
- Upton and Widdowson: An Atlas of English Dialects, BCA, 1996. p.179
- A site containing geographically located accents on an interactive map of East Anglia – the one in Thorington Street is particularly helpful in the pronunciation of "now" and similar words.