Evolving English at The British Library

It’s always fascinated me that Britain is such a tiny island and yet has such a hugely diverse range of accents and dialects.

Although I’ve lived in Manchester for nearly a decade, I’m originally from the Black Country, where many people speak in dialect, as well as having very strong accents. I’ve never had a particularly strong accent, often resulting in fellow West Midlanders telling me “Yo ay from rahnd ere, am ya?” and my having to explain that, actually I’m from just down the road.

Of course, when I meet people and tell them that I’m from near Dudley, their first reaction is often to put on what they probably consider to be a “comedy” Black Country accent and say “Ooooo, Dudlaay! Lenny Henraay!” Hilarious, I’m sure you’ll agree.

One thing that will immediately offend someone from the Black Country is to be called a Brummie, which we often are. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Brummie, I think it’s a great accent, but it’s really very different from Black Country.

It wasn’t until I was doing my teacher training course in Solihull, that I discovered that Brummies often refer to us as “yo-yos” or “yam-yams”, because of the way Black Country dialect speakers say “you” (yo) and “you’re” (yow’m).

When I qualified as a teacher and got my first job at a Black Country high school, I loved the pupils’ favourite morning greeting of, “Safe Miss!”. A friend from my teacher training course joked that at his, much posher, school the pupils greeted him with “Secure!” I don’t think they did though.

The diversity of the English language really is astounding, and I love this poster advertising the new exhibition at The British Library:

The free exhibition, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices opens at the British Library on 12 November and is open until 3 April.

It will be the first ever exhibition to explore the national and international diversity of the English language. If you visit, you can record your voice reading Mr Tickle and be added to the British Library audio archive as part of their collection

Evolving Words will feature historical gems, such as the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf alongside children’s books, text messages and dialect recordings.

I hope there’s a bit of Black Country in there somewhere.

British Library

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2 Responses to Evolving English at The British Library

  1. Jude says:

    I’d love to see this exhibition, it sounds really good – I’m fascinated by language and it’s development.

    • Parklover says:

      Me too. I think it must be partly because of where I’m from, the dialect can sound like another language. I seem to remember hearing that it is the closest thing to old english remaining.

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