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City to County: Going Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 February 2016

James Matthews finds himself being picked up on his Norfolk accent by his wife

James Matthews finds himself being picked up on his Norfolk accent by his wife

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“Er, what did you say?” My wife, Abby stopped me mid-sentence.

“I said I showed the ...”

“You didn’t,” she interrupted, “you said you SHEW!” It had happened again - I’d “gone Norfolk” and been caught out.

Not being from Norfolk herself, it’s a game my wife loves to play, pointing out when I slip into my Norfolk accent and quoting words and phrases back to me with, in my opinion, a little over-exaggeration.

But she’s right (wives always are, of course). After more than a year back in the county the Norfolk twang is taking hold. It sneaks up on me when I’m least expecting it - when I’m chatting to a broad-accented Norfolkian, if I’m talking too quickly or when I’m just trying to tackle certain vowels us natives have been programmed to pronounce differently. Here can easily become “hair” or beer “bare” without me noticing.

I’d certainly spent my teenage years asking friends if they were “goin’ up ci’y?” and enquiring how they were - “aryallroight?” - over a pint of “bare”, but after 13-odd years in London I thought I’d lost the accent for good.

In my time in the capital there were two distinct occasions when I remember basking in the familiar warmth of our unique dialect. The first was when Norwich would take over a London boozer on a Norwich City away day. The novelty of walking into a mini Norfolk in Fulham, Charlton or West Ham never wore off.

The second was the tannoy announcement introducing the buffet car as I rolled out of Liverpool Street station on the Norwich train. The ability to say “wide range of hot and cold snacks” in the broadest Norfolk accent possible must have been part of the catering job interview - and the joy of hearing it would almost make up for the train’s inevitable delay.

The first Norfolk village we moved to from London - and its surrounding towns - immediately gave us a friendly reminder of Norfolk’s wonderful language, with quirky road signs demanding “Slow yew down bor” as we drove between places like Dear’m (Dereham), Cossey (Costessy) and Wind’m (Wymondham). A year or so after our return my wife’s education on the pronunciation of Norfolk place names continues. And when you consider Norfolk still argues with itself over the pronunciation of some of them, it’s easy to see how it can be mindboggling for newcomers. Ask two locals how you pronounce Sprowston or Trowse and you’ll probably get two different answers.

I think we secretly all love the fact Norfolk has quirks of the English language known only to the initiated. And we’re often protective over our dialect too. Should anyone dare try to mimic us with a West Country-inspired “ooh-ah”, they’ll quickly be corrected. Norfolk’s distinctive pronunciations are not heard anywhere else in the country. We have our very own soundtrack - a soundtrack I’m increasingly contributing to it seems. So until next month, fare y’well and keep yew a troshin’. ◆

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