Mardle with a master

PUBLISHED: 07:41 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:27 18 March 2014

Professor Peter Trudgill speaking at his Norwich home. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norfolk

Professor Peter Trudgill speaking at his Norwich home. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norfolk

Archant © 2014

The first academic study of a British dialect focused on Norfolk. The man behind the research went on to become a professor of linguistics and work all over the world – but one of his favourite sentences, in any language, dialect or accent is: “Norwich City have won”.

Peter Trudgill was born and brought up in Norwich, and fell in love with languages as a small child. He won a place at Cambridge to read modern languages, but when he discovered the existence of academic research into how languages work, he realised he could study his own mother-tongue. He was soon noting the speech patterns of fellow Norfolk speakers and setting out on a career which took him all over the world.

“Anywhere in the world you want to go, they speak a language!” says the man who has enjoyed studying speech patterns in exotic locations ranging from the Caribbean to New Zealand. He has always returned to his home city, and retained the Norfolk accent spoken by generations of Trudgills. Fittingly, even Trudgill is a Norfolk dialect word - for an embroiderer of vestments.

Today Peter is a retired professor of linguistics and an expert in anything from a new Norwegian dialect emerging on an Arctic island to tribal tongues of Papua New Guinea. He is also president of Fond, the Friends of Norfolk Dialect.

He can not only tell you that Norwich people are more careless with their h’s than Norfolk people, but that the boundary between path, pronounced parth and path pronounced, well path, lies in the Fens between King’s Lynn and Sutton Bridge.

“For reasons we don’t really understand, languages change in different ways in different places,” says Peter. “One very distinctive innovation that we have come up with in Norfolk is to pronounce ‘here’ to rhyme with ‘there’.”

The Norfolk dialect also sensibly distinguishes between plural and singular “you” asking one person: “How are you?” and two: “How are you together?”

“You can even say, ‘How are you getting on together, together!’” laughs Peter.

But there is a serious side to studying languages and dialects.

“Ninety per cent of the world’s languages are in danger of dying out within the next 200 years, which is a colossal human tragedy. We have to distinguish between dialects dying out and dialects changing. The Norfolk dialect is not what it used to be, but it never was! Languages and dialects are always changing and as long as there is a distinctive way of speaking in Norfolk, there will be a Norfolk dialect.”

However, alongside the academic studies of dialect, he has also been involved in trying to solve the mysterious case of the missing Norfolk accent in just about any national radio or television drama.

Short of enforcing border controls on the A11 and A47 and a citizenship test based on the ability to tell a dickey (donkey) from a dockey (lunch,) it is about valuing dialect in the same way we value landscape and architecture.

“Be proud of your local dialect and don’t go around putting down other people’s dialects,” says Peter. “There is a lot of prejudice out there. There is a lot of linguicism. I think one of the main things is to try to engender an attitude that the Norfolk dialect is not wrong, it’s not ugly, it’s not backward; it’s a very good and legitimate way of speaking.”

And should teachers correct written grammar? “Not correct, change!” says Peter. It’s already correct Norfolk, but it can be changed because children need to be able to write in standard English too.

Some of Peter’s favourite Norfolk words:

Fye - as in fye-out, or have a good clear-out. One suggestion is that Fye Bridge in Norwich is where the river narrows and the water fyes out the channel.

Drawlatch - as in “He wus drawlatchen along”, meaning he was walking slowly.

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