Yorkshire Folk Talk





Written in 1892 by the

Rev. M.C.F. Morris B.C.L., M.A.




FEW writers ever had a closer acquaintance with the folk-speech of their country than Sir Walter Scott. The frequent illustrations he gives of the Lowland Scottish tongue, so closely allied to our East Yorkshire vernacular, give additional life and interest to his ever-fresh writings. Another Sir Walter Scott there can never be again; still, it may be wished that we had some native Yorkshireman of literary fame who would take up our own folk-talk somewhat in the same spirit at least as the author of Waverley did that of his country.

The attempts which authors sometimes make to introduce touches of the Yorkshire tongue into their writings are, it must be confessed, for the most part failures; the older country-folk would, I feel sure, be generally at a loss to know what such parodies of their parlance were meant for. This failure can only be explained by the fact that it is not altogether an easy thing for those who live at a distance from it to know any country speech well. Even the mighty literary gifts of Sir Walter Scott would have failed him in this particular had he not lived all his life among the people whose language he so often reproduced; nor would that have sufficed had he not besides constantly held intercourse with the country folk themselves, and so become at first hand thoroughly in touch with their habits of life as well as with their modes of thought and expression in short, had he not been perfectly 'at home' with them. In this way, and in this way only, can a folk-talk be really known.

Our country people here are in a sense bi-lingual, like the Welsh ; with this difference, that the two varieties of speech which the Yorkshireman makes use of are not so widely dissimilar as in the case of the Welshman. Still, our people have the language which they employ when talking freely among themselves, and that which they make use of when conversing with strangers or those of another class than their own these two modes of speech are quite distinct. And here one of the great - perhaps I should say the great - difficulty in acquiring a thorough mastery of the Yorkshire dialect presents itself. The people are most reluctant to address an outsider, so to speak, in terms they would employ amongst themselves; as before stated, to do so would be thought disrespectful. I am speaking now, be it observed, of what remains of the dialect in all its purity, which is quite another thing from indifferent English with a strong provincial accent and a quaint word or two thrown in here and there. It is only by stealth as it were, and that 'by habs and nabs,' as we say, that a stranger can learn much of the true folktalk of the country; and even then his ear must be quick and sensitive, for the chances are ten to one if you ask a Yorkshireman to repeat again a sentence containing some out-of-the-way word or phrase which you failed at first to catch, that on the second occasion he will make use of a different word altogether, and perhaps will reconstruct his sentence in the mould of every-day English.

And further, your difficulties will not be lessened if your friend has the least inkling that you are attempting to extract information of a literary kind from him; in that case your chance is wellnigh hopeless, and you may as well lap up at once : it is only when they are absolutely at their ease that they will converse freely in their mother-tongue. Sometimes too their homelier phrases may he best heard when under the influence of excitement or strong emotion. Frequently has it occurred to me, in the ordinary course of conversation with our country-folk, that I have caught the first syllable or perhaps only the first letter of some every-day and familiar word which, before the utterance was completed, has been replaced by some supposed more polite but, perhaps, in reality far less expressive one. It is naturally, as I have said, when under excitement or the influence of deep feeling that their language is of the purest.

A rather remarkable instance of this I well remember. I was visiting a poor woman some years ago, whose son had recently died: she was describing to me minutely the course of the lad's long illness, and especially the final phases of it; but when she came to tell me of his last moments, what he said to her and she to him, her words suddenly changed from those of more or less ordinary English, in which she had up to that point been speaking, to those of the broadest dialect: her deep feeling seemingly drew forth the language of her heart, and she fell back instantly and unconsciously upon her mother-tongue.

Another case comes to me which further illustrates the point. On this occasion I was visiting a parishioner who was dangerously ill. The aged mother of the sick man was standing by as I was enquiring about his malady. He was in a very weak state: he could do scarcely anything for himself. Says the mother, 'he 's neea f--- : he can deea nowt for hissen.' There was a sudden pull up at the letter f. I knew what it meant she was going to say 'he 's neea fend aboot him'; only she thought it would be a little more polite to turn the expression in the way she did.

In speech the utterance of the Yorkshire people is for the most part somewhat slow and deliberate. Words are not wasted in the expression of thought; and although the vocabulary of the older people may be rather limited, yet this deficiency is more than made up for by the force of the words which they have at command, and by the manner and intonation with which they are spoken. In the language of the blue jacket, they may not have many shot in their locker, but every shot tells.

In the following remarks upon the pronunciation of our dialect I cannot hope to do more than give but a very imperfect idea, to those unacquainted with it, of what it sounds like. It must be heard to be appreciated: no amount of explanation of which my limited powers are capable can convey an absolutely correct impression of certain of the vowel-sounds: they can only be approximated by the ordinary methods of pen and ink.

A former Bishop of St. David's, so the story goes, on first coming to take up his abode in Wales, was wishful to learn something of the language. The pronunciation proved a difficulty, and especially that of the Welsh ll. It was a veritable crux. The learned prelate did not like to be beaten, and so with a view to overcoming, as he thought, all obstacles, he engaged a native Welsh scholar to give him instruction in the language. The Welshman, who was very obsequious in manner, saw that the Bishop had great difficulty with the ll, but how to explain accurately the lingual process by which this formidable sound was to be correctly uttered be knew not. He was almost at his wits' end for an explanation. At last a bright thought struck him, though he felt a little shy in putting it point-blank to his illustrious pupil; accordingly, he coated the pill with as much sweetness as he was able, and with deferential utterance addressed the Bishop thus: 'Your Lordship must please to put your episcopal tongue to the roof of your apostolic mouth, and then hiss like a goose!' I do not think we have anything quite as bad in the Yorkshire dialect as the Cymric ll; still, the same kind of difficulty attends it that there does any foreign tongue; the southerners can never frame to pronounce it aright, or as I once saw it rather oddly expressed somewhere, 'It takes a Yorkshireman to talk Yorkshire.'

By no ordinary method of spelling is it possible, as I observed, in all cases to give the true and exact pronunciation of our folk-talk, and the scientific devices adopted by modern philologists in recording the finer gradations of the vowel-sounds, valuable though they might be, would be out of place in these pages; but even with these aids errors are liable to creep in, for the specimens given in those philological treatises dealing with the subject are often of necessity received second or third hand. Some of those interested in the dialect have suggested half-jokingly that the phonograph should be brought into requisition in registering the tones of the folk-speech. The idea is a delightful one, no doubt, but there is one insuperable difficulty in the way of its being carried out. It is no easy matter to get the old folks to talk their broadest every-day speech to you in the ordinary interchange of ideas; there is always a certain unwillingness about it; and I am thoroughly convinced that one would have about as much chance of inducing them to talk their archaic Yorkshire into a phonograph as of getting them to play a sonata of Beethoven.

And so I have fallen back upon the more easily understood, if less scientific, plan of using the ordinary letters and spelling in writing the dialect. This, I admit, is not always satisfactory, for some of the dialectical vowel-sounds are so unlike anything we find in standard English that it requires a certain amount of artifice to indicate them. Let me, by way of explanation, take a single example. There are few vowel-sounds more difficult to pronounce than that in the common word owt (anything). This word is not pronounced as out nor as ought, nor yet as ote in wrote. The best indication I can give of the true sound is to say that it is about half way between ote and out. It is a very shibboleth. The pronunciation of the following short sentence would be no bad test as to whether a man is a native or not: Dust thoo knaw owt aboot it? (Do you know anything about it?)

There is, unfortunately, no recognised system of spelling in the dialect. It is hardly to be looked for that there should be. Our native writers of the folk-speech are few and far between, at least those of any note. Of dialect poets worthy of the name we have none. In our wide county and with our rich vocabulary this failure is rather remarkable: but with a people so eminently practical and matter-of-fact as the Yorkshire folk are there is perhaps not so much room for wonder after all. This lack of high-class dialectical literature throws one upon one's own resources a good deal in the matter of orthography.

My aim on this point has been to give, by aid of the spelling, some indication of the pronunciation by a comparison with a corresponding spelling in 'Queen's English.' I am afraid that the spelling may not be found to be quite consistent throughout. Still, I trust it may be thought sufficiently so, and that it may be easily read, at least by those who are acquainted with the dialect at all.

The letter-sounds will be briefly touched upon presently; but there is one letter so especially characteristic of the dialect, that a few preliminary words may be said upon it. That letter is a. I know of no other part of England where it is pronounced exactly as it is in Yorkshire. It is heard to greatest advantage when uttered by itself as an interjection expressive of admiration.

I remember very well a woman once describing to me a big Sunday School gathering which she had seen when on a visit to a relative in the West Riding. It was a gigantic affair ; and the children, dressed in a sort of uniform, passed by her in hundreds, if not thousands. From the way she spoke I imagined my friend had never before witnessed such a spectacle. She described minutely every detail, and summed up with the remark, 'Aa! they did leeak bonny.' The words were simple, but there was an indescribable expressiveness in the pronunciation of the introductory interjection which spoke volumes. It was drawn out to a great length, and in sound approached closely the a in air, care being taken to detach it from the 'ir.' I draw special attention to this letter-sound and the description of it, because essentially the same, though not so extended a pronunciation of it, takes place in every word where the a-sound, as in 'rate,' occurs: of such words there are, of course, a large number. The pronunciation in these cases is generally indicated by aa, e. g. laate, braad, maade, flaad, 'caashon, raade, saave, braay, a-gaat, waay, saay, &c.

The ordinary middle a which is found in such words as 'back,' 'man' 'hand,' is in the dialect changed to a broader sound, not easy to indicate accurately, but unmistakable when heard; it is not so extended as ah, nor yet is it by any means equivalent to the short o, as is sometimes supposed : it may be best likened to the short ah, only that the sound is abrupt; so that 'hack,' 'man,' 'hand,' and all similar words might be written hahk, mahn, hahnd, &c. But this spelling looks awkward, and might easily be misunderstood; I have therefore adopted the ordinary spelling in these cases.

The ah-sound pure and simple occurs very frequently; we have it in ah (I), mah (my), thahn (thine), also in wahrm (warm), dwahrf (dwarf), tahm (time), stthrahd (stride), rahd (ride), and in numberless other words.

The short a-sound is also of frequent occurrence; we meet with it, for instance, in ma (me), tha (thee), wa (we), fra (from); also very generally in all words ending in ay or ey, as Sunda (Sunday), Bev'la (Beverley), &c. in all such cases it is sounded rather abruptly, as in enigma.

A great amount of expression can be thrown into the Yorkshire a by the modulation of the voice; so much so as to give quite a different meaning to the same word when it occurs. This, for instance, is the case with naay in such sentences as 'Naay, ah deean't knaw' (I am sure I cannot tell), and 'Naay, noo, ah 's nut boun' ti beleeave that' (you are mistaken if you suppose I am going to believe that). The difference in the modulation of the voice in pronouncing the word naay in these two examples at once prepares us for a different frame of mind in each case. In fact, the altered tone gives practically an altered meaning to the word. The same thing occurs in ordinary English. There are many ways, for example, of saying 'yes'; it may be pronounced so as to mean 'I assent to that,' or 'I am doubtful,' or 'indeed?' and so forth. Professor Max Muller, in alluding to this point, in his Lectures on the Science of Language, gives an amusing illustration of these modulations in the Annamitic language, where the word 'ba' pronounced with a grave accent means a lady, an ancestor; pronounced with the sharp accent it means the favourite of a prince; pronounced with the semi-grave accent it means what has been thrown away; pronounced with the grave circumflex it means what is left of a fruit after the juice has been squeezed out; pronounced with no accent it means three; pronounced with the ascending or interrogation accent, it means a box on the ear.

Thus 'Ba bà bâ bá,' is said to mean, if properly pronounced, 'Three ladies gave a box on the ear to the favourite of a prince.'

Now, although the modulations of the voice of the Yorkshireman are said to be expressive, yet I think it will be admitted that he must yield to the men of Annam in that respect. Still, in our dialect a good deal may be expressed in a small compass by merely giving different modulations to the letter a for instance ; and the different gradations of the vowel-sound are numerous. These will be alluded to presently. In our every-day speech we might have at least three different a-sounds in one short sentence, thus

A, bud a an 't.

This would be equivalent to, 'Indeed I have not.' The first a is the peculiar Yorkshire a, the pronunciation of which is indicated on another page, and for convenience might be written aa; the second is the ordinary Italian a, and may be written ah; the third is shorter than the first, and is perhaps best described in writing as ae, though it should be noted that there is here but one vowel-sound. It may be observed that none of the three a-sounds here given is anything like the ordinary English a; that sound does not exist in the dialect at all: it is quite foreign to it. All the different gradations of this vowel in our folk-speech are single, and therefore purer vowels than the ordinary English a. We may illustrate this by a single instance. Take, for example, the word 'made'; here the a is pronounced as a double vowel, the latter part of which is a distinct e or ee; but in the Yorkshire form of the word maade there is hut one vowel-sound pure and simple. It is the same in principle with the other two examples given above. In the latter of them the sound corresponds very closely with that of the Danish w. It is important to notice these distinctions in pronouncing the dialect, for mistakes are frequently made on this point.

In so large an area as that comprised within the limits of the North and East Ridings, one might reasonably expect certain diversities of pronunciation and expression; nor are such diversities wanting: still, they are, comparatively speaking, few, and need not be dwelt upon. The main features of the dialect are identical all the district through.

What then, it may be asked, are the leading characteristics of the dialect ? I will try and point them out.

First, the pronunciation of the letter 'u.' In no part of England is this vowel uttered with a closer adhesion to its correct and ancient sound than here; it is the true u-sound, and cannot be mistaken. We have it indeed in certain words still in standard English, e. g. full, pull, bull, put, push, &c., but these instances are, comparatively speaking, few; the sound is quite lost in such words as sun, must, run, but, rub, up, under, hunt, and many other which might be named; but in Yorkshire the genuine u-sound is retained in all these words without exception; we delight in it. In some words it is rather more strongly marked than in others, especially, e.g., in bud (but), where the u treads closely upon the heels of the oo-sound, but never quite reaches that limit. Who that has ever heard the expression, Cum thi waays, huney, as spoken by a mother to her bairn, can doubt for a moment what the true pronunciation of the old English, or Norse, or Anglo-Saxon u must have been?

One of my early recollections when coming home from school was to hear called out at Milford Junction 'Change here for Hull,' the u being always given with its characteristic Northern accent. The pronunciation of that single vowel told me that I was not far from the borders of Northumbria.

Closely connected with the u-sound pure and simple is the oo-sound, which may be regarded as an extension of it. A large number of words which in standard English take the ou-sound, as in 'out,' in the dialect rigidly keep to the oo or u-sound. Such, e. g., is the case with cow, now, house, ground, mouse, town, gown, found, round, out, brown, &c.; in all such words the oo-sound predominates over the u, but in these cases it is not easy to draw the line which separates the two, so gradually do they shade off into one another.

It may, however, be said without hesitation that the ou-sound of standard English is never heard in the dialect at all; the nearest approach to it is perhaps in the isolated word pownd (a pond) the pronunciation of which is peculiar and exceptional, the ow being like neither that in 'own' nor in 'frown,' but between the two. The pronunciation of owl 'anything), already alluded to, and lowze (to loose), are also approximations to the ou sound, but yet quite distinct in each case. On the other hand, by a strange perversity, certain words which in ordinary English possess the true u-sound, are in the dialect changed variously. Take, for instance, such words as book, cook, foot, &c. The first of these has no less than three pronunciations, viz. beeak, bewk, and book, in which last the oo is pronounced as in 'root'; 'cook' has two pronunciations, viz. ceeak and cook, the oo being here again long. 'Foot' is invariably pronounced feeat.

As a general rule, then, the pure u-sound is retained in the dialect in all those words which in standard English are spelt with a u, and adopted or preserved in many others which are spelt with ou or simple o. This, as I said, forms a very marked feature of our dialect, and not the least pleasing one; for when the ordinary ow-sound, as in 'how,' and the Yorkshire u or oo are sounded side by side, it is not difficult to decide which of the two is the more euphonious.

The second strong characteristic of the pronunciation of the dialect is the prevalence of the eea-sound. It is quite remarkable what a large proportion of our vowel sounds take this form. Nearly all standard English words in which the e and a are found in juxtaposition and form one syllable, are in the dialect distinctly and almost invariably sounded as two syllables, a certain amount of stress or accent being laid upon the e.

It would perhaps be more correct to say that formerly the ea was pronounced as two syllables, and while in course of time this double sound has gradually merged into one in the English language of the present day, in the Yorkshire dialect the old double sound goes on as of yore.

The word 'meat,' for example, is in the dialect pronounced meeat; so too, dread, dream, head, bread, instead, lean, mean, speak, team, leave, leaf, &c., become dreead, dreeam, beead, breead, insteead, leean, meean, speeak, teeam, leeave, leeaf, &c. 'Lead' (the verb) is generally, however, pronounced in the ordinary way, while 'learn' and 'earn' are changed to lam and am in the dialect. Again, words having the ordinary English a-sound generally, but not invariably, come under this head, and take the eea-sound in the folk-speech. For instance, cake, dame, name, lame, same, safe, tale, waste, &c., are changed to ceeak, deearn, neeam, leearn, seeam, seeaf, teeal, weeaste, &c. Sometimes, when the pronunciation is very broad, the eea almost develops into a y-sound; but it is incorrect to write it so ; I have therefore in all cases disregarded this tendency in the examples given. But a much larger class of words, containing the vowel-sounds o or oo, are attracted as it were by main force to the eea sound. Thus 'stone' becomes steean (though stane, and very rarely stein, are also used), 'fool' becomes feeal, and floor, roof, door, noon, school, soon, no, do, so, spoke (of a wheel), bone, cool, whole, boot, foot, root, look, home, proof, with many others that might be named, are pronounced fleear, reeaf, deear, neean, scheeal, seean, neea, deea, seea, speeak, beean, keeal, heeal, beeat, feeat, reeat, leeak, heeam (also yam), preeaf.

Again, some words in 'ough 'namely, enough, plough, tough, bough, &c., in the dialect must be written as they are pronounced, eneeaf, pleeaf, teeaf, beeaf (also bew), &c. 'Rough' is, however, pronounced with the u-sound, and the same may be said of brough. From the above few examples I have given, it will be seen what a strong leaning there is in our dialect towards this eea-sound; so much so, indeed, that I have no hesitation in regarding it as one of its three most salient marks.

The third 'feature of the dialect to which I shall draw attention, is the very peculiar use of an abbreviated form of the definite article in particular, and of abbreviations generally. The abbreviation of 'the' to t' is practically a universal rule.

It is scarcely to be wondered at that strangers are given to think that the definite article is omitted in our dialect, if not generally, at least in a great number of cases, for it has that effect with south-countrymen. The truth is that their ears being unused to this shortening of the article, they fail to catch the t'-sound, lightly touched by the tongue as it generally is, especially before consonants. I grant that sometimes it may be omitted in rapid speech, just as in ordinary English words and letters are not unfrequently slurred. But that is not the rule. The rule is in all cases to sound it and sounded it always should be, however lightly in some connections. In the following sentence it maybe thought difficult to pronounce the article before each word, where it occurs, e.g. T' bairns drave t' coo ti t' pastur aback o' t' toon; but even where the word following begins with t, the article may be invariably detected, not indeed by a double movement of the tongue, but, as in the two words t' toon in this sentence, by a very slight and almost imperceptible pause between the t and toon.

As regards abbreviations generally, I need hardly do more here than merely allude to them; they will be best understood by examining the numerous examples of the dialect I have given in the vocabulary at the end, and in other specimens of the folk-talk throughout the volume. Let the following instances suffice to indicate what is meant. The conjunction 'and' and the noun 'band' always have the d elided; 'than' becomes an ; 'with' is changed to wi, 'it' is shortened to 't, especially at the end of a sentence; but in Cleveland this abbreviation is universal: 'of' very commonly becomes o' and 'have, 'a'e. It would perhaps be incorrect to say that our Yorkshire at is an abbreviated form of 'that' e.g. ah tell'd him at, &c., for it is by no means improbable that this may be the traditional usage of the old Norse or Danish at in the same sense. That i is not an abbreviation of 'in,' but the Danish i pure and simple, I have no doubt; this conclusion becomes almost irresistible when one hears such a sentence as T'keeam brak itu it' bairn han' (the comb broke in two in the child's hand.

It may lead to a more correct idea of the pronunciation of the dialect if under the head of each letter a few of the peculiarities are pointed out, and their correct rendering illustrated by examples, though in many cases the true pronunciation can only be approximated by this means.


There are several sounds belonging to this vowel, which is one that is never pronounced as in ordinary English. The principal of these sounds are the following:-

  1. The long a (aa) in such words as grate, slate, wait, ail, which may be written for convenience graate, slaate, waate, aal. The expression of the 'tone-hold' of this vowel has been alluded to on another page.
  2. The middle a, as in can, ran, gan, &c. This sound is broader than the common English a as in man,' but not equivalent to ah. Its pronunciation has been explained above.
  3. The short a, as in the abbreviated form for 'have' (a'e); this is sounded without any of the e-sound, as in the ordinary English a, thus a'e ya? (have you?)
  4. A followed by r, as in part, arm, park, &c. In such cases the r is scarcely, if at all, heard, and the vowel-sound corresponds to something between aa and ai.
    The words just quoted might perhaps best be written pairt, airm, pairk, &c. 'Dark' and 'hark,' however, do not follow this rule, but more nearly approach the ordinary pronunciation.
  5. A in the sense of I is sounded as in the standard English word 'father,' and is generally written ah; the a in 'father' (dialectic) is pronounced almost as in (4).


This consonant follows the rule of ordinary English, except that it is not heard in such words as tumble, nimble, bramble, thimble, tremble, ramble, gamble, &c., which are pronounced tumm'l, nimm'l, bramm'l, thimm'l, tthrimm'l, ramm'l, gamm'l, &c.

In the word 'hobble,' the equivalent for which in the dialect is hopple, b is changed into p; but in 'cobble' the b is retained.


C followed by h is sometimes pronounced hard, as k. This is the case in the following words:- bench, chaff, churn, chest, thatch, birch ; these are changed to bink, kaff, ke'n (the r not being sounded) kist, theeak, birk.


The ti-sound plays a distinctive part in the dialect, especially in connection with th and t, which it very frequently takes the place of. Thus, e. g., 'without' becomes bedoot or widoot; 'but' is changed to bud; and 'bottom,' 'farthing,' are sounded boddom, fardin.

In the middle of a word ti is often pronounced like a soft th (as in 'then') which we may call dh or dth. For instance, nidder, murder, binder, under, wonder, window, &c., become in the dialect nidther, mo'dther, bindther, undther, wondther, windther &c.

It is difficult to describe accurately the precise rules of pronunciation of this letter, but it will be alluded to subsequently.

D final is frequently suppressed: thus fand (the perfect tense of 'find') is pronounced fan' ; so too 'bound' is boun'; also stand, and, hand, grand, &c., are changed to stan', an', han', gran', &c.

When preceded by n and followed by l, d is mute, as in candle, handle, randle-bauk, &c., which are sounded cann'l, hann'l, rann'l-bauk. On the whole, there is a decided tendency for the d to be softened or omitted altogether in folk-speech, thus following a general rule with regard to it in Danish.


There are not such marked changes in this vowel-sound as in a or o; still we have several variations from ordinary rules.

They are as follows:-

  1. In the pronouns me, she, we, the e is changed to short a, as ma, sha, wa.
  2. The c-sound when followed by r is changed into long a in some words: for instance, serve, certainly, discern are pronounced sarve, sartainly, disarn.
  3. In the word 'errand,' e becomes ea.
  4. In a large class of words, of which get, yet, dress, ready, friend may be quoted as examples, the e is changed to a distinct i, and these words should be written git, yit; driss, riddy, frinnd.
  5. Words or names ending in el or ell of more than one syllable, change the e into i; thus Morrell, parcel, chancel, chisel, garsel, are pronounced Morrill, parcil, chancil, chisil, garsil.
  6. There is a strong tendency to drop the e-final in monosyllables; thus, make, game, take, shame, gate, wake, came, shake, ale, &c., are pronounced mak, gam, tak, sham, yat, wak, cam, shak, yal, &c., but no general rule on this point can be laid down, many of these forms being Norse derivatives. In tame, mane, and some others, the c-final is retained.


The following are some of the changes under this head.

  1. G preceded by n is never sounded as in 'finger,' but as in 'singer'; that is to say, the g is not dwelt upon or doubled. Such words as anger, monger, longer, single, swingle, mangle, new-fangled, and all words of more than one syllable, follow this rule, which admits of no exception.
  2. In the words 'length,' 'strength,' and any others like them, the g is omitted, and the words pronounced lenth, strenth, &c.
  3. G-final preceded by n is generally mute in words of more than one syllable; thus middling, parting, reading, &c., are pronounced middlin', partin', readin', &c., while ling, ding, bring, &c., are sounded as written.
  4. In adverbs ending in ings, as partlings, mostlings, aiblings, &c., the g is mute.


As a rule, the aspirate is omitted in words requiring it, but not by any means so invariably as in some parts of England, and it is seldom inserted in words that do not need it where it is so inserted the object apparently is to give additional emphasis, e. g. hivvry yan on 'em (every one of them); not infrequently the aspirate is prefixed to the affirmative aye (yes), though it is not strongly sounded.

A peculiar aspirate is given to some words beginning with ho, e.g. 'hope,' 'hole,' &c.; these are pronounced somewhat as whooap, whooal, &c., and although yam and heeam are the usual and more correct equivalents of 'home,' yet in the East Riding wom is also frequently heard.


The principal sounds of this vowel are the following:-

  1. Ah; as in the equivalent for 'I' (pers. pron.), 'mind,' 'mine,' &c., which are pronounced ah, mahnd, mahn, &c.,' though in the case of 'mind,' minnd is also heard.
  2. ah; as in fine, line, wine, &c., pronounced almost as fahin, lahin, wahin, &c., the ah not being very strongly emphasized: thus, for instance, it would be wrong to pronounce 'fine' as fahn pure and simple, the ah-sound not being simply open.
    The border-line between (1) and (2) is sometimes not very clearly defined: it is only use that can give the true pronunciation in every case. Thus, in the case of 'mine' the pronunciation is mahn, without any trace of the i-sound, while in the case of 'fine' the i is distinctly blended with the ah-sound.
  3. Ey; as in kite, like, sike, lite, hipe, wipe, pipe, ripe, &c., which are pronounced somewhat as keyte, leyke, seyke, leyte, heype, weype, reype, &c., or approximately so.
    Certain words in which ight is a component part follow this pronunciation, e. g. fight, might, blight, &c.; others take the ee-sound; vide infra.
  4. Ee; as in bright, frighten, light, night, right, &c., which are sounded breet, freeten, leet, neet, reet, &c. Certain words in which ia occur in juxtaposition also follow this rule, as e.g. briar, liar.
  5. Words in which the i is long frequently take short i in the dialect; thus bind, blind, climb, find, &c., are changed to binnd, blinnd, climm, finnd, &c.; while on the other hand, 'little' is pronounced lile as well as lahtle, and 'wind' is pretty often pronounced wind.
  6. I followed by r is pronounced nearly as o. Thus, first, third, bird, dirt, thirty, mirth, &c., become fo'st, tho'd, bo'd, do't, tho't-ty, mo'th, &c. On the other hand, as exceptions to this rule we have girl, girth, and girn pronounced gell, geth, and gen.

It should be borne in mind that the description of the pronunciation given above is only an approximate one, the actual utterance in these cases being by no means in perfect unison with the ordinary o-sound; it is something between that and a very short au-sound.


This letter follows the ordinary pronunciation.


K before s is sometimes omitted, especially in place-names, as 'Stokesley,' Stowsla.

As observed above, this letter-sound is retained in the dialect in certain words which in standard English begin or end with ch ; these words are for the most part of Norse origin.


When l precedes d, t, f, k, especially when it follows a, o, u, and the diphthongs au and ou, it is silent: thus, salt, cold, old, hulk, fault, shoulder, &c., are pronounced sau't, cau'd, au'd, boo'k, fau't, shoo'dher, &c.

M and N.

(No change).


The principal changes of this vowel are the following:-

  1. Eea; for instance, words ending in o, as who, do, so, two, &c., are sounded wheea, deea, seea, tweea, &c.
  2. A; thus, long, among, wrong, &c., are changed to lang, amang, wrang, &c.
  3. Aw; thus, low, toe, snow, crow, blow, row, &c., are pronounced law, taw, snaw, craw, blaw, raw, &c.
  4. Long o is sometimes changed to short o, as 'post,' post.
    Also in a large class of words, such as lost, tossed, frost, cost, &c., the o is pronounced perceptibly shorter than in ordinary, especially Southern, English.
  5. The diphthong oa is generally pronounced aw; for instance, foal, load, toad, road, &c., become fawl, lawd, tawd, rawd, &c.
  6. Ow, pronounced as in 'how' in the dialect, is changed to co; thus bow (a salute), brow, now, &c., are changed to boo, broo, noo, &c.
  7. Oo becomes eea, e. g. (look) leeak, (crook) creeak, (took) teeak, (fool)feeal, (soon) seean.
  8. Ou becomes oo; e. g. thou, round, sound, hound, &c., are pronounced thoo, roond, soond, hoond, &c.


(No change.)


Qu is sometimes changed to w, as in 'quick' (wick), 'quaint' (waint or went), 'quean' (weean).


The nasal r, so common in the South of England, is a sound quite unknown among Yorkshire folk; indeed, this letter is but little heard at all, and is hardly ever rolled or trilled.

In such words as 'bairn' or 'arm' the r is mute, and the a is changed to aa or ay. Again, it is silent in such words as forty, word, world, burnt, &c.: the pronunciation of these has been already described. At the end of a word the r is sometimes doubled, as e.g. what forr?

In words where the vowels e, i, or n are followed by r, these are often transposed, thus, e. g. lantern, curd, burst, &c., are pronounced lantthron, crud, brust, &c.


The sibilant, so unpleasant a feature in English generally, is slightly toned down in the dialect:-

  1. By the omission of the s altogether in the possessive case, as William hast, Mary book, for 'William's hat,' 'Mary's book.'
  2. In certain words where the sibilant is a very pronounced feature it is somewhat mitigated or evaded in the folk-talk; thus the place-name 'Sessay' is sounded Sezza, and 'scissors' is pronounced sithers.


T in the middle of a word is frequently changed to th, or, to speak more correctly, th is added to the t-sound, which is very lightly touched with the tongue; thus 'water' becomes watther, 'alter' altther, 'enter' entther &c.: this pronunciation is a universal and strongly marked characteristic in the folk-speech.

Th is not heard in 'than,' 'them' (except at the beginning of a sentence), and 'that' (except as a demonstrative pronoun). Participles ending in pt, as kept, slept, crept, &c., sometimes have the t omitted.

The interchanges of t with th and dh are so numerous and various, that it is impossible to formulate rules with regard to them.


This vowel has the following sounds

  1. As in the ordinary pronunciation of 'full' in all words where u occurs; which is quite one of the most striking points in the dialectical pronunciation.
  2. The o-sound (approximately) when followed by r, as in ' hurt,' 'durst,' &c., which are sounded somewhat as ho't, do'st, &c.
  3. The i-sound, as mich (much), sich (such) or sike.
  4. The eea-sound, as seeagar (sugar), seear (sure).
  5. The oo-sound, as boo'k (bulk).
  6. The iew-sound, as fliewte (flute', rhiewbub (rhubarb). Many words in ue or ui also take this sound; thus, triew (true), bliew (blue), friewt (fruit), &c.


Sometimes this letter is substituted for f, as in shav (sheaf). In 'over' and its compounds v is always changed to w.

The v-sound in 'of' is omitted, thus following the rule of Danish speech.


In the words 'who' and 'whose' the w is very distinctly pronounced ; the dialectical forms of these words are wheea and wheeas.


In some words this letter is changed to the s-sound simply, as e g. ass'l (axle).

And the same remark applies to place-names in which x occurs, as Asby (Haxby), Wheesla (Whixley).


Some words beginning with a, o, or ho prefix y before the vowel-sound, as yal (ale), yance (once), yat (hot), &c.

Ey or ay final is generally pronounced as short a, especially in place-names or surnames, as Harlsa, Helmsla, Pockla, Bev'la, Sprautla, Yearsla, Hartla, Bentla, Payla, &c.
The old pronunciation of 'oven' was yewn; it is still occasionally heard.


This letter sometimes takes the place of s, as doze (dose), uz (us); but in such cases it is only lightly sounded, and the z-sound, which is a leading feature in some of the Southern dialects, is by no means so in our own.

In the above alphabetical summary I have only been able to give a very brief and imperfect outline of the pronunciation of the folk-speech in some of its leading features and other peculiarities. I have but one or two further remarks to make here.

It should be observed that the e-sound as in me is comparatively seldom heard in the dialect; a somewhat shortened use of it occurs in the case of the personal pronoun I, in place of the ordinary ah, the rule being that oh is always used at the beginning of a sentence and generally elsewhere, though occasionally the short e-sound takes its place. Thus, ah 'll cum i can, the i being sounded as a short e.

Again, the e-sound in friend is changed into short i, and that in settle into a.

The two-fold pronunciation of wind has been already alluded to; it may be noted however that the verb to wind, is pronounced winnd, while the noun wavers, perhaps not inappropriately, between winnd and wind, the former being somewhat the commoner, though Dr. Johnson seemed to prefer the other when he said, on being questioned on the point, 'I cannot finnd it in my minnd to call it winnd, but I can find it in my mind to call it wind.' This argument by alliteration falls to the ground, however, with the Yorkshireman, who always pronounces 'find' as finnd, 'mind' sometimes as minnd but never as mind, and 'wind' about equally as winnd and wind.

Eight and weight are pronounced as height in ordinary English, while in the dialect this latter word is sounded as heyte, or nearly so. The i-sound pure and simple, as in pine, is very rarely, if ever, used. The pronunciation of o as ow has been mentioned above. But before concluding my remarks on the pronunciation of the dialect, I will give a little incident which came under my own observation, and which illustrates the strong leaning there is towards this treatment of the vowel. sound. It was at a school inspection not far from York. The inspector was giving a class of eleven boys a test in dictation; the subject was the Bear, and the beast's claws were not unnaturally spoken about several times in the passage read. When all was done, and the work was being looked over, the inspector (who, by the way, was from the South of England), was 'stagnated as we say, to find that four out of the eleven boys, whenever the word claws was read, invariably wrote it clothes. The poor lads must have been sorely puzzled to think what a bear could possibly require clothes for, but on this occasion their mother-tongue overpowered their reasoning faculties. I confess I felt, as a Yorkshireman, not altogether displeased at this indication that the old speech had not quite lost its hold on the rising generation, even though it might be the means of bringing some of the youngsters to grief on the day of the school inspection.

There is one rule of pronunciation which admits of scarcely an exception, and that is with regard to the a in such words as fast, glass, grass, grant, nasty, answer, draft, laugh, task, &c.; in these and in all similar cases the a is sounded as in gas or mass. Master however, is pronounced maasther.
The c-sound in lost, cost, foster, and all words of that kind, is short, and is never heard as if spelt an, which is so universally the case in Southern England.

I must conclude this chapter with a few words as to the way in which th is treated in our folk-talk. Speaking generally, there is a decided tendency to evade its use. Apart from the fact that the definite article is always abbreviated to t', whether before a vowel or consonant, there are other usages which lead to a similar elision of the aspirate; for instance, as already mentioned, than is shortened to 'an, them into 'em, though this latter is not peculiar to the district, and smother is pronounced smoor.

On the other hand, a sound approaching the th is introduced into a large class of words which do not ordinarily contain it; thus the Yorkshire for strong, stride, strange, &c, is stthrang, stthrahd, stthraange, &c. It is not easy to make clear in writing what this sound is; it may be said, however, that the aspirate is made with the extreme tip of the tongue, and that only very slightly, while the closely preceding t-sound is also distinctly heard. Also in words beginning with dr, such as drain, dream, dress, &c., the d is changed to soft dh or ddh - dhreean, dhreeam, dhriss, &c. There is again in these cases a doubling of the d, like that of t in words beginning with thr.

It is no easy matter for educated people to learn the pronunciation of our vowel-sounds unless they have from their earliest years been in the way of hearing them; for not only are they quite unlike those of ordinary English in many cases, both in their formation and the way they are applied, but, as I have said, the difficulty of hearing the dialect spoken in its freedom and fulness is also an obstacle. Education too, is doing its work, and among other results the young people are many of them, I regret to say, ashamed of their mother-tongue. And what is the consequence? Frequently either a mongrel, nondescript, neither-fish-flesh-nor-fowl, semi-slang kind of lingo, hateful to hear, or else a hum-drum, matter-of-fact, education-department English, as dull and uninteresting as the Fens, with no ups and downs, such as we find in our Yorkshire folk-talk, to break the monotony of things. In either case the result is not satisfactory. I remember once speaking to an old Yorkshire body about the speech of the present day as compared with what it was half a century back. 'Aye,' said she, 't' yung 'uns dizn't talk noo leyke what tha did when ah wer a lass; there 's ower mich o' this knackin' noo: bud, as ah tells 'em, fooaks spoils thersens sadly wi' knackin. An' then there's anuther thing ; when deean, they can mak nowt bud mashelshon on't!' She said truly, and the metaphor was an apt one; it is only too often the case that the rising generation make nothing but 'mashelshon' of their 'knackin,' or fine-talk. The 'mashelshon' is a mixture of wheat and rye, and like it, much of the young folks' speech now-a-days is neither one thing nor the other. I for one, at all events, prefer the racy and forcible old folk-talk of Yorkshire as it is still here and there spoken by natives who have seen three score and ten or four score summers, have not had to submit to the tortures of English grammar, and who have never wandered far from their own heeaf.

Transcribed by Colin and Pauline Hinson © 1997