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Why we should protect bostin' Black Country dialect for future generations

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

Now here's a bostin idea.

Black Country folk have a language of their own

Why not make the Black Country dialect a cherished and protected language, to rank with Welsh, Gaelic, and so on?

That's the suggestion of Lawrence McGowan, who found himself struggling to decipher the lingo of the locals when he arrived in the Midlands as a boy.

"It would be a shame if the way Black Country people speak, with a lineage that stretches back more than a thousand years, was educated out of the population," said Lawrence, who lives at Huntington, near Cannock.

"I did some research into it. At 79 it keeps my brain working.

"The Ten Commondments" in Black Country dialect

"When my family moved from Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire – now Merseyside – I was aged eight. We lived in Handsworth, Birmingham, just a short step from the boundaries of the Black Country towns of Smethwick and West Bromwich.

"On the street and at school understanding the way many of the words people used was a steep learning curve.

"It helped when I was a junior reporter with the Midland Chronicle and Free Press and chief reporter for the Express and Star at West Bromwich."

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He says that despite being mocked nationally, people shouldn't get on their high hoss as "nationally it is arguably the most comprehensive academic indication of how Anglo-Saxons in the Kingdom of Mercia, which stretched from the Welsh border to London and Chester to Cirencester, spoke and pronounced words a thousand years ago."

Lawrence has decided to spake out as he cor bear it to see Black Country language become jed.

"It is still a living language capable of adapting newly introduced words to fit a vocabulary that has an 80 per cent Germanic ancestry, compared to 25 per cent for the rest of modern English.

"Traditional Black Country also preserves words from Early and Middle English in a combination that confuses outsiders.

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"Pronunciations like 'bonk' for bank (hill), 'loff' for laugh, winder for 'window' and 'fer' for far are precisely how Chaucer's 12th century English was spoken.

"By the 14th century standard English had, in what academics describe as the 'great vowel shift', undergone extensive changes.

Lawrence McGowan

"Unimpressed Black Country folk stuck to their linguistic tradition and today use negative verb forms that are not found elsewhere in the English speaking world, like 'day' for did not, 'cor' for cannot and 'share' for shall not.

"There is also a difference in the sound of some individual and combinations of letters in the alphabet. Examples include 'mon' for man, 'rot' for rat, 'weark' for work, 'spake' for speak and 'pays' for peas.

"The 'u' and 'o' sounds are often reversed as in 'lung' for long and 'mom' for mum. The 'h' goes missing at the beginning of words like hungry and home. Hammer gets a double change in sound and is pronounced 'ommer'.

"In the past tense 'ed' is added to the word. Saw becomes si'd, caught cotch'd and gave or given, gi'd.

"The folk remain defiantly proud of their spoken heritage – like the part-time Wednesbury entrepreneur who, in a humorous dig at the toy store chain, used the title 'ComputersAmWe' for his hobby venture.

"Today the sounds of the Black Country are coming under increasing opposition from an education establishment – fearing damage to pupils' social and career prospects – that has attempted to ban, or at least discourage, its use in classrooms.

"There is also the problem of well-intended, but possibly incorrect interpretations of words.

"The name Wosson, an area on the border between Handsworth and West Bromwich, is officially believed to relate to the ancient Swan Pool. However, maps of the 1700s reveal that the pool is located in an area identified as Warstone Field, the old marker for the border between two parishes.

"If Cornish, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Northern Irish Scots deserve to be preserved there is strong reason why Black Country should have the same acceptance as a second language.

"I champion the cause. As a childhood incomer from Lancashire I was baffled to find that a 'wik' was not part of a candle but a period of seven days and a 'puss' was not a family pet but where a woman kept her money."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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