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Location of Norfolk within the UK
The Norfolk dialect, also known as Broad Norfolk, is a dialect spoken in the county of Norfolk in England. While less widely and purely spoken than in its heyday, the dialect and vocabulary can still be heard across the county, with some variations. It employs distinctively unique pronunciations, especially of vowels; and consistent grammatical forms that differ markedly from standard English.
The Norfolk dialect is very different from the dialects on the other side of the Fens, such as in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. The Fens were traditionally an uninhabited area that was difficult to cross, so there was little dialect contact between the two sides of the Fens.
The Norfolk dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Geographically it covers most of the County of Norfolk apart from Gorleston and other places annexed from Suffolk. The dialect is not entirely homogenous across the county, and it merges and blends across boundaries with other East Anglian counties. From the early 1960s, the ingress of large numbers of immigrants to the county from other parts of the country, notably from the environs of London, together with the dissemination of broadcast English, and the influence of American idioms in films, television and popular music, and Anglophone speakers from other countries, has led to dilution of this distinctiveness and a dilution of the idiomatic normality of it within the population.
The Norfolk accent sounds very different from that of London and the Home Counties. The main characteristics of the accent are set out below, usually with reference to the standard English accent known as Received Pronunciation (RP). Phonetic symbols (in square brackets) and phonemic symbols (in slant brackets) are used where they are needed to avoid ambiguity (brackets in IPA). Five characteristics are particularly important:
The accent is generally non-rhotic, as is RP, so /r/ is only pronounced when a vowel follows it.
Unlike many regional accents of England, Norfolk does not usually exhibit H-dropping. The phoneme /h/ is generally pronounced in 'hat', 'ahead' by most, though not all, Norfolk speakers.
Norfolk speech has a distinctive rhythm due to some stressed vowels being longer than their equivalents in RP and some unstressed vowels being much shorter.
The distinction between /?/ and /?/, often known as the foot-strut split is developed; the quality of /?/ ('strut') is more back and close than that of contemporary RP. It can be described as a centralized mid back unrounded vowel. A similar vowel, though somewhat lower  can be heard from older RP speakers.
Yod-dropping is common between consonants and /u:,?, u, / resulting in pronunciations such as /mu:z?k/ for 'music' and /ku:/ for 'cue'.
Single-syllable words with the vowel spelt 'oo' such as 'roof' and 'hoof' have the vowel [?] to give [r?f] and [h?f] respectively.
Single-syllable words with the vowel spelt 'oC' or 'oCe' such as 'boat' or 'home' may be pronounced with the FOOT vowel [?].
Where RP has the rounded LOT vowel /?/ in words containing the spellings 'f', 'ff', 'gh' or 'th' (such as 'often', 'off', 'cough', 'trough' and 'cloth'), Norfolk may have /?:/ as in the vowel of THOUGHT. This is a manifestation of the lot-cloth split.
The vowel /?/ of LOT is usually realized as a long unrounded vowel [?:].
The GOAT vowel // of RP generally has a quality that can be represented as [?u] in Norfolk: thus words with the spelling 'oa', 'oe' and 'oCe' such as 'boat', 'toe', 'code' sound to outsiders like 'boot', 'too', 'cood' respectively. An exception is that of words spelt with 'ou', 'ow', 'ol' such as 'soul', 'know', 'told' which have a diphthong quite similar to the RP //. This is a preservation of the toe-tow distinction that has since been lost in most modern accents of English.
In the speech of older Norwich residents and in rural areas, a distinction exists which is absent in RP: where the latter has the FACE vowel /e?/, the former accent has [æ?] in words spelt with 'ai' or 'ay' such as 'rain' and 'day', but [?:] (similar to 'air') in words spelt 'aCe' such as 'take', 'late'. This is a preservation of the pane-pain distinction that has since been lost in most modern accents of English.
The distinction between the NEAR and SQUARE vowels // and /e?/ does not exist in Norfolk. Thus 'beer' and 'bear' sound the same, the vowel quality being [?:]. This may be considered to be a related case to that of smoothing. This is a manifestation of the near-square merger.
Where RP has a sequence of two or three vowels in succession, Norfolk smoothing results in a pronunciation with a single long vowel; for example, 'player' is [plæ:] rather than /ple/. Where the suffix '-ing' is preceded by a vowel or diphthong, there is a smoothing effect that results in a single vowel. Thus 'go+ing' is usually pronounced as a single syllable [:n] rather than as a two-syllable word ending in /?n/, and 'doing' is [d?:n] rather than /du:/.
Yod-dropping after alveolar consonants (/t, d, s, z, n, l/) is found in many English accents, and widely in American pronunciation, so that words like 'tune', 'due', 'sue', 'new' are pronounced /tu:n/, /du:/, /su:/, /nu:/, sounding like 'toon', 'doo', 'soo', 'noo'. However, in Norfolk yod-dropping is found after non-alveolar consonants as well, and this seems to be unique. Yod-dropping therefore seems to happen after all consonants, so that RP [Cju:] is pronounced as Norfolk [Cu:] (where C stands for any consonant). For example, 'beautiful', 'few', 'huge', 'accuse' have pronunciations that sound like 'bootiful', 'foo', 'hooge', 'akooz'. A parallel case involves the vowel of CURE: in RP the word is pronounced with initial /kj/, but Norfolk speakers omit the /j/ and smoothing results in /?:/ so that 'cure' sounds like 'cur'.
Glottal stops[?] are found widely in Norfolk speech. The consonant /t/ when following a stressed vowel is often realized as [?] so that 'better' is pronounced as [be]. Alternatively, /p, t, k, t?/ may be pronounced with the glottal closure slightly preceding the oral closure, so that 'upper' is pronounced as [p?], 'better' is pronounced as [be?t?], 'thicker' as [k?] and 'butcher' as [bt]. This pronunciation is also found when another consonant follows.
In contexts where RP pronounces /l/ as "dark L" ([?]), some older Norfolk speakers have "clear L" so that the sound in 'hill' and 'milk' sounds similar to the clear L heard at the beginning of words such as 'lip'. The process known as L-vocalization (whereby, for example, the /l/ in 'hill', 'well', 'help' is pronounced as a back rounded vowel like /?/) is not as widespread in this accent as elsewhere in Southern England.
The suffix with the spelling '-ing' found at the end of a word like 'coming', which has the pronunciation // in RP, is usually pronounced [?n]; 'coming' /k?m/ sounds like [k?m?n]. This is commonly known as g-dropping.
In older Norfolk dialect the spelling 'thr' may be pronounced as /tr/ and the spelling 'shr' as /sr/; thus 'three' sounds the same as 'tree' and 'shriek' is pronounced as /sri:k/.
It used to be the case that words spelt with initial 'v' were pronounced with /w/, giving the pronunciation 'wicar' for 'vicar', 'winegar' for 'vinegar' and so on. This pronunciation is thought now to be extinct.
The study of intonation remains undeveloped in linguistics. Writing in 1889, the phonetician Alexander John Ellis began his section on East Anglian speech with these comments:
Every one has heard of the [Norfolk] 'drant', or droning and drawling in speech, and the [Suffolk] 'whine,' but they are neither of them points which can be properly brought under consideration here, because intonation has been systematically neglected, as being impossible to symbolise satisfactorily, even in the rare cases where it could be studied.
There does appear to be agreement that the Norfolk accent has a distinctive rhythm due to some stressed vowels being longer than their equivalents in RP and some unstressed vowels being much shorter. Claims that Norfolk speech has intonation with a distinctive "lilt" lack robust empirical evidence.
In the third person present tense, the s at the end of verbs disappears so that 'he goes' becomes 'he go', she likes > she like; she reckons > she reckon etc. Doesn't and wasn't become don't and weren't.
The word that usually denotes it when it is the subject of the clause, so that "it is" becomes "that is" and "it smells funny" becomes "that smell funny". This does not imply emphatic usage as it would in Standard English and indeed sentences such as "When that rain, we get wet", are entirely feasible in the dialect. (Incidentally, it is almost never heard as the first word of a sentence in the speech of a true Norfolk dialect speaker, e.g. "It's a nice day today" is virtually always rendered by "Thass a nice day today".) It however, is used for the direct and indirect object, exactly as in Standard English, cf. "When that (subject) rain, I don't like it (object)"/"I don't like it (object), when that (subject) rain".
The word one when preceded by a descriptive word such as good or bad can become an "un" so that you have "good'un" and "bad'un". Some local sports papers in the Norfolk region have embraced this part of the dialect with the Pink'Un and the Yellow & Green'Un (a Norwich City FC supplement that comes with the Eastern Daily Press) being such examples.
The word 'do' has a wider range of uses and meanings than it does in standard English. The sentence "Do he do as he do do, do you let me know", meaning 'If he does as he usually does, then be sure to let me know', is perfectly possible and indeed correct grammar in Norfolk. The first 'do' replaces 'if' as in "Do that rain, git you under a tree " (If it rains, get under a tree). The second and third instances are examples of the normal third-person Norfolk conjugation of 'does' (see above). The fourth 'do' is exactly the same as it would be in standard English. But the fifth 'do' is an example of the Norfolk use of 'do' in the imperative. Rather than saying simply 'sit down', in Norfolk they might say 'sit you down', but to achieve emphasis 'do you sit down'. Equally 'keep you a dewun' might be rendered 'do you keep a-dewun'. This form is used particularly when urging someone, such as 'Do you hurry up'.
The same word 'do' has yet further uses in Norfolk. One of them renders the standard English form 'if that be the case'. The expression 'Do he dint know n'different' means the subject's actions could only be explained by his ignorance (e.g. of the circumstances). A near-translation into standard English would be 'If that was the case he did not know differently'. 'Do' in Norfolk, can also often mean 'otherwise', as in to someone doing something dangerous 'Be you careful, do you'll have an accident'.
The word 'yet', pronounced 'yit' in Norfolk, often has a meaning more like 'nor' or "neither'. For example, if it is said to a Norfolk speaker that: 'I've never known such weather in January', the speaker might reply 'Yit hent I!', meaning 'Neither have I'. Or at a greengrocers the speaker could say 'There are no cabbages, yit n'carrots', meaning 'There are no cabbages, nor any carrots'.
The word 'any' is frequently abbreviated to n'. e.g. To a butcher, 'H'yer got n'sausages?' meaning 'Have you got any sausages?' 'He dornt know n'different', meaning 'He doesn't know differently'.
In Norfolk the word 'on' sometimes means 'of' such as 'One on yer'll hetter lead the hoss' meaning 'One of you will have to lead the horse'. In strict Norfolk 'of' is always 'on'. It gets a lot of use in the Norfolk dialect due to the tendency to include of (or in dialect 'on'), as in Old English, as part of the verb form. e.g. 'He's a-sortun on em out', meaning he is sorting (of) them out; or 'She's a-mearken on 'em bigger', meaning 'she is making (of) them bigger'.
Some verbs conjugate differently in Norfolk. The past tense of 'show', for example is 'shew', and of the verb to snow, 'snew', swam becomes 'swum'. The past of drive is 'driv'. e.g. 'I driv all the way to Yarmouth, and on the way back that snew.' 'Sang' is always 'sung' ('She sung out of tune'), and 'stank' is always 'stunk' ('After they had mucked out the pigs their clothes stunk'). Many verbs simply have no past tense, and use the present form. e.g. 'Come', 'say' and 'give'. 'When my husband come home, he say he give tuppence for a loaf of bread' meaning 'When he came home, he said, he gave tuppence...'. This even applies to a verb like 'go'. 'Every time they go to get the needle out, it moved'. Verbs whose past participles differ from their active past tenses e.g. 'spoken', are mostly ignored in Norfolk. e.g. 'If you were clever you were spoke to more often by the teacher', or 'If I hadn't went up to Mousehold that night'.
The verb 'to be' conjugates variously in the negative. 'I'm not' can be 'I en't' or 'I in't', or often 'I aren't'. 'He/she isn't' is usually 'he en't'. 'We/you/they are not' is as elsewhere 'we/you/they aren't'. Ethel George says 'I in't going out no more'. It could be that 'I in't' is the Norwich form of the Norfolk 'I en't'.
The relative pronouns, 'who', 'which' and 'that' are mostly replaced with 'what' in Norfolk. e.g. 'That was the one what I was talking about' or 'He was shaking Pimper Wiley...what lived a few doors from us'. Adjectival use of 'those' usually becomes 'them', e.g. 'I was as bad as them what done it'.
The adverb endings of standard English are little used in the Norfolk dialect. 'She sung bootiful' means 'she sang beautifully'. This even applies to adjectives derived from nouns. 'The gravy was too salt', simply means 'too salty'.
The word 'above' is much used in the Norfolk dialect when indicating 'more than'. e.g. when talking of a person's age, 'She could not have been above eight'; or 'I was not doing above 50' meaning 'more than 50 mph'.
The word 'never' has wider use in Norfolk dialect than in standard English where it only means 'not ever'. Norfolk people will frequently use never simply as a way of saying 'did not' as in 'he never went', meaning 'he did not go'. It is also used in Norfolk as an interjection. Someone who is suddenly shocked by some remarkable fact they have just heard may say abruptly 'Never!'. e.g. Person A says: 'They are expecting their 14th child'; Person B says 'Never!'
The word 'together', pronounced 'tergether' is widely used as a form of address in Norfolk dialect. When speaking to two or more people it is usual to say something like 'Come here, tergether'. This does not mean, 'come here at the same time', but 'both of you, come here'. Someone might say 'What do you think of this, tergether?' The term 'tergether' simply indicates that you are addressing everyone and not just one person.
The present participle, or ...ing, form of the verb, such as running, writing etc. is mostly rendered in the Middle English form of 'a-running', 'a-jumping' etc. 'She's a robbing me'.
The word 'time' is often used to replace 'while', for example 'I go shopping in the city, time my husband's at the football' or 'Time you were fooling about, you could have been doing your homework'.
Some of these grammatical features are often present also in neighbouring dialects, in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire etc. Some of them are merely the retention of older speech forms, once more extensively used throughout the country. Expressions such as 'abed' meaning 'in bed' (see below), still used in Norfolk in 2009, was undoubtedly used by Shakespeare. At parting, Norfolk people often say 'fare yer well', a local version of the old English expression 'fare thee well'.
at that time of day (in those days, e.g. "beer only cost tuppence a pint at that time of day")
bred and born (used instead of "born and bred")
co ter heck (go to hell, an exclamation of amazement)
come on ter rain (starts to rain, as in "if that come on ter rain we shall get wet")
cor blarst me (oh blast me, when expressing, shock, surprise or exasperation)
dew yar fa' ki' a dickir, bor? (Does your father keep a donkey, mate?) (See Dickir/Dickie in vocabulary, below)
dew yew keep a troshin (means "carry on with the threshing" on its own but also means goodbye or "take care of yourself")
directly ("as soon as" or "immediately"), as in "Directly they got their money on Friday nights, the women would get the suits out of the pawn shop"
fare y'well (goodbye)
finish, at the/in the (eventually, as in "he gave it to her at the finish"; or "You might as well have went in the beginning, 'cause you had to go in the finish".)
fumble fisted (clumsy)
get on to someone (to tell someone off, as in "They all went quiet, but they never got onto father no more")
get wrong (told off)
getting again (born again pronounced gittin agin )
good on'yer (good for you or good of you) [this is also common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians]
he'll square yew up (he will chastise you)
The Fenians are coming (Phrase, typically referring to a commotion nearby. An old phrase originally referring to Irish travellers, who normally caused a commotion in towns they passed through)
he dint ortera dun it. (he ought not to have done it).
high learned (well-educated, clever)
hoddy-doddy (very small)
hold you hard ("hang on", or "wait a moment", from the practice of holding a horse's rein hard to stop it moving forward)
how much did you give for it? (How much did you pay for it?) [this is also common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians.]
I/we/you will hetter keep a dewun (no alternative but to keep going)
ill a bed an wus up (very sick)
lend us a lug (when asking someone else to listen in to a conversation for you)
let the dog see the rabbit (your getting in the way, I can't see. dog pronounced dorg)
lolloping along (strolling along)
mind how you go (good-bye)
mobbed a rum'un (made a lot of fuss)
my heart alive! (expression of surprise, similar to "good gracious me!", sometimes shortened to "my heart" as in "my heart thas dear" meaning "good heavens, that's expensive". When Norfolk people use the term "good gracious", they will sometimes say "good gracious on to me".)
over Will's mothers (black sky in any direction)
slummocking great mawther (fat girl)
suffun savidge ("something savage" - very angry)
thas a rummun (it's very strange)
that craze me! (that really annoys me)
war up (worn out)
Archaic combinations may be found, as in the double negative, "Oi hent nart gart none", i.e. "I haven't got any".
Extra words may be inserted, e.g. "Do you go hoom", meaning "Go home". Also, "Go you arn alarng tergether", meaning, "Go along with you", where tergether (together) may be, seemingly redundant and used even in the singular case, (i.e. to a solitary person).
The following exchange is a shibboleth for Broad Norfolk speakers.
Question : He yer fa got a dickey, bor? (Has your father got a donkey, boy?)
Required response : Yis, an' he want a fule ter roid 'im, will yew cum? (Yes, and he wants a fool to ride him, will you do it?)
bor (pronounced 'buh' in West Norfolk) (a term of address, boy or neighbour often used as 'ah bor', an exclamatory confirmation, such as in the following exchange: Jimmur -'Thas suffun hot today ent it', Arnie - 'Ah bor'.)
craze (nag. e.g.he kept crazing me to buy him sweets, or 'I'd craze her and craze her her')
deen (a 'sound', usually to emphasise that someone who was in pain did not cry out, as in 'when she bumped her head, she never made a deen'.)
dickey (donkey; however note that the word 'donkey' appears only to have been in use in English since the late 18th century. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes 'dicky' as one of the alternative slang terms for an ass.)
drift (a lane)
dudder (shiver or tremble. It is not unique to Norfolk. Appears in the OED as 'dodder'.)
dussent (dare not, as in 'he dussent do it') Likely to have originated as the Old English "(thou) dost not".
dwile (floor cloth, sometimes dishcloth, from the Dutch "dweil" meaning mop)
feeby (the sun, from "Phoebe", the goddess of Greek mythology. For example, "Come on Phoebe", said during a cloudy sky, encouraging the sun to get out.)
fillum (film/movie) [this was once common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians, though is rarely heard nowadays.]
gawp (look or stare (what you gawpin at?)
guzunder (goes-under - another word for chamber-pot)
hap'orth (halfpenny worth)
harnser (heron or more usually, a goose for which the Latin name is Anser)
hant, hent, hint (have not)
hintut (Isn't it, as either statement or question)
huh (also on the sosh)
hopp'n toad (frog)
hull(throw - from 'hurl'e.g. 'Hull us that spanner' meaning 'Throw me that spanner')
jip (feeling, sense of pain, as in 'that give me jip')
jollificeartions (to have fun)
larn (to learn, used in place of to teach: "he larned me how to ride a hoss",)
mine (my husband or wife, as in "I shall see mine when I get home")
mob (to tell off. e.g. 'his missus mobbed him for going to the pub', also to complain e.g. 'he was always mobbun about suffun'. In Allan Smethurst's song 'Hae the bottum dropped out' there are two lines that run 'A fisherman's life's a rum ole job; the winter winds blow, and the women, they mob.))
pingle (to mess about with food, especially when talking to children - 'stop pingling')
pippen (the weakling of a litter)
puckaterry (stress, panic)
pootrud (putrid, meaning awful, terrible, useless, particularly when applied to the performance of a sports player such as a footballer; 'the centre-forward was pootrud' means he had an awful game. This particular meaning of 'putrid' is, according to the OED, available in standard English, but it is rarely heard, the term almost always being associated with decomposition of organic material.)
push (boil, pimple, spot, from the Dutch "puist")
queer (ill, but not unique to Norfolk)
red beet (beetroot)
rum (odd or unusual; often used with ?un to describe a particular thing that is odd or unusual; rum'un)
scolder (collective noun for a lot of people) 'a fair scolder'
shew (show, shown showed)
shink (I should think so)
slummockun (overweight and perhaps inclined to idleness, e.g. 'a slummockun gret mawther'.)
skoots (The ever-diminishing rows on an irregular field.)
sky pilot (parson)
slar (spread - usually meaning spread thickly or crudely)
Sol (to hit something/someone hard from hitting in the solar plexus).
sola (that's a sola meaning 'that's a big'n')
sosh (also on the huh)
span (verb to kick)
spike (name for the workhouse)
squit (nonsense); onomatopeioc word, Norfolk slang for diarrhoea, "the squits".
skew wiff (unlevel, on the huh/sosh, not straight; not unique to Norfolk)
skerrick (a morsel of food)
terl or tarl (towel)
thack (push hard or hit - as in "you betta thack it koz i'is a bit stiff" - written on door of Fakenham post sorting office)
tricolate verb to clean or improve superficially, to tart up.
troshel (the threshold)
gret (great, big, or significant)
loight (light) [this was once common in New England, an area that was originally settled by East Anglians, though is rarely heard nowadays.]
troshin (originally 'threshing,' now working in general)
Portrayal of the Norfolk dialect and accent in films and TV is often regarded as poor. It is notoriously difficult for 'foreigners' to imitate, and even an actor of the distinction of Alan Bates did not adequately achieve an authentic Norfolk accent in his portrayal of the character Ted Burgess in the highly acclaimed film The Go-Between. The treatment of it in the television drama All the King's Men in 1999 in part prompted the foundation of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND), a group formed with the aim of preserving and promoting Broad Norfolk. The group campaigns for the recognition of Norfolk as a dialect, and for the teaching of "Norfolk" in schools. FOND aims to produce a digital archive of recordings of people speaking the dialect's traditional words. In July 2001 the group was awarded £4000 from the National Lottery in aid of recording equipment for this purpose.
During the 1960s, Anglia Television produced a soap opera called "Weavers Green" which used local characters making extensive use of Norfolk dialect. The programme was filmed at the "cul-de-sac" village of Heydon north of Reepham in mid Norfolk.
An example of the Norfolk accent and vocabulary can be heard in the songs by Allan Smethurst, aka The Singing Postman. Smethurst's undisputed Norfolk accent is well known from his releases of the 1960s, such as "Hev Yew Gotta Loight Bor?". The Boy John Letters of Sidney Grapes, which were originally published in the Eastern Daily Press, are another valid example of the Norfolk dialect. Beyond simply portrayers of speech and idiom however, Smethurst, and more especially Grapes, record their authentic understanding of mid-twentieth-century Norfolk village life. Grapes' characters, the Boy John, Aunt Agatha, Granfar, and Ole Missus W, perform a literary operetta celebrating down-to-earth ordinariness over bourgeois affectation and pretence; their values and enduring habits instantly familiar to Norfolk people.
Charles Dickens undoubtedly had some grasp of the Norfolk accent which he utilised in the speech of the Yarmouth fishermen, Ham and Daniel Peggoty in David Copperfield. Patricia Poussa analyses the speech of these characters in her article Dickens as Sociolinguist. She makes connections between Scandinavian languages and the particular variant of Norfolk dialect spoken in the Flegg area around Great Yarmouth, a place of known Viking settlement. Significantly, the use of 'that' meaning 'it', described in the grammar section below, is used as an example of this apparent connection.
The publication in 2006 by Ethel George (with Carole and Michael Blackwell) of The Seventeenth Child provides a written record of spoken dialect, though in this case of a person brought up inside the city of Norwich. Ethel George was born in 1914, and in 2006 provided the Blackwells with extensive tape-recorded recollections of her childhood as the seventeenth offspring of a relatively poor Norwich family. Carole Blackwell has reproduced a highly literal written rendering of this, such that anyone familiar with the dialect can recognise an authentic Norfolk/Norwich voice speaking to them from the page.
An erudite and comprehensive study of the dialect, by Norfolk speaker and Professor of Sociolinguistics, Peter Trudgill can be found in the latter's book 'The Norfolk Dialect' (2003), published as part of the 'Norfolk Origins' series by Poppyland Publishing, Cromer.
George, Ethel (2006), The Seventeenth Child, with Carole and Michael Blackwell, The Larks Press, ISBN1904006302. Original tapes of interviews are held by the Norfolk Sound ArchiveCS1 maint: postscript (link)