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The origins of the Black Country accent and links to bare-knuckle brawls


The Black Country accent has associations with ‘rough manual work, bare-knuckle boxing and dogfights’, a linguist has claimed.

Ed Conduit carried out a comprehensive study of the Black Country tongue, analysing its history from Anglo-Saxon times through to the industrial revolution.

He compares it with other regional accents, such as those from Glasgow and Belfast, areas of ‘manual work’ which he says make ‘unpopular dialects’.

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In his book, The Black Country Dialect, Mr Conduit says many people ‘have experienced ridicule’ for their accent. But he explains why it is unique, describing its roots to Old English.

In fact, he believes the region has a dialect – a step further, with its own vocabulary and grammar – unlike nearby ‘Brummie’ which is only ‘an accent’.

He writes: “A dialect is more than an accent, as it also has syntax and word ending differences from the high language, but is not a separate language.

“Brummie might thus better be described as an accent rather than a dialect.

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“Speakers with Edinburgh accents are often seen as more knowledgeable than those with Glasgow accents.

“The perception of high prestige is strongly associated with education, and low prestige with heavy manual work.

“Belfast accents (or more accurately, the Lallands dialect) are particularly unpopular in other parts of the UK.

“Unpopular dialects suggest manual work, especially in the shipyards, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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“Black Country Dialect (BCD) has not been studied very much, but it has the same associations of rough manual work, and rough sports like bare-knuckle boxing and dogfights.

“It may be thought of as the language of steel mills, mines, and canals, and the homes of the people who worked there.”

He claims that more than 80 per cent of Black Country words originate from the Anglo-Saxons – people that settled in England from northern Europe during the first millennium – describing the Black Country dialect as ‘Germanic’.

The dialect has an ‘Anglo-Saxon history and resisted the influence of Norman French’, his book explains, which was spoken by the Normans who invaded England in 1066.

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He says the best known Black Country word is ‘bostin’, meaning excellent, and is typically used with the word ‘fittle’, which is a Midlands variant of victuals, meaning food. A pub located near to the Showcase Cinemas, in Dudley, was formerly called The Bostin Fittle.

Other well-known Black Country words are blart and yampy, he says, but added that ‘some industrial words have also fallen into disuse’.

“Few young adults had heard ‘tacky bonk’, ‘ladegorn’ or ‘sough’,” he writes.

A recent study by scientists estimated that northern accents in England could be wiped out within 50 years, due to factors such as migration, teaching in schools and television.

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Mr Conduit discusses this aspect in his book, claiming that Black Country vocabulary is ‘shrinking’.

He called for more research into dialects and believes ‘separate grammar’ should be given greater acknowledgement in schools.

He writes: “Is Black Country a dialect in terminal decline? One consideration is employment.

“Workers who lived around the big steel mills could spent most of their lives using only the dialect.

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“The break-up of such closed industrial villages means that nearly every adult has to be able to speak and write fairly standard English to have any kind of job.

“While vocabulary of Black Country is shrinking, its phonetics, phonology and morphology remain strong.”

He said ‘small children in Tipton, Lower Gornal and Pensnett’ are continuing to learn the Black Country grammar, adding: “This is often despite the best efforts of teachers to teach ‘good English’.

“Primary education does not recognise Black Country as a legitimate grammatical dialect.

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“This may put dialect speakers at a disadvantage, as they in effect have to learn a second language in order to learn to read.

“There are implications for self-esteem, research, and educational policy.

“Black Country speakers could take pride in their Anglo-Saxon roots.

“Dialect research is greatly needed.

“At the educational level, it would help children’s learning if the speech of the neighbourhood were valued, and the separate grammar were acknowledged.”

The Black Country Dialect is available to buy on Amazon, on paperback and Kindle.




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