Skeat's English Dialects

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Skeat's English Dialects

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jan 4, 2015, 1:53am

A word of explanation: I have decided to spend about half of my reading time this year on languages and linguistics. I know a bit, but I'm sure there are many in this very silent group who know a lot more than I do, so I have volunteered everyone here to help me on my project. And I thank you for all the help you will give me!

A friend that runs a used book store gave me a thin volume, English Dialects from the Eighth Century to the Present Day by W. W. Skeat. It's only about 140 pages, but most of it deals with the major dialects of Old English, which is what I'm interested in. Unfortunately I ended up being more frustrated than anything since Skeat gives only a brief overview of each of the major dialects without much details on actual structure and development. On the positive side, I did like all the references to texts that have been published (before 1911) -- I have a much better idea of what is available and what isn't.

So, questions:
-- This book was published in 1912. Is there a more recent and thorough book on the dialects of Old English?

-- Are there any grammars on the dialects?

-- BTW, what is the standard grammar for Old English now?

jan 5, 2015, 2:25pm

I am an ignoramus really, but I suspect not. Much recent work is published in articles not books, and since the surviving texts in dialects other than West Saxon are relatively small in number, it might not seem worth constructing an entire grammar of each: they generally get dealt with as variants. I haven't a clue if there is a standard grammar, but I'm sure the experts will know.

jan 5, 2015, 3:33pm

>2 MyopicBookworm: Thanks! I figured much of the very recent stuff has not made it into a book, but since Skeat's book was from 1912, I thought something might have.

jan 5, 2015, 8:59pm

It's not really what you're talking about - but this YouTube video of (modern) English dialects is fantastic.

I'll be watching your project with interest - I'm not fascinated by Old English, but English dialects in general are an interest of mine.

jan 6, 2015, 4:22am

>4 jjmcgaffey: Thanks for the link, Jennifer.

jan 10, 2015, 5:37pm

>4 jjmcgaffey: Thanks for the link! It was interesting. I really regret now that when I lived in England I didn't pay more attention to things like dialects, but then I wasn't interested in linguistics then.

I'm going to have to dig out my Old English grammars and start through them. From poking around, it seems the only way for me to look at the dialects is to know the West Saxon one very well and really do my own comparison.

But then at some point I would also like to look at the origin of Old English to begin with.

jan 10, 2015, 6:09pm

LOL - couldn't resist.

"English is the result of Norman men-at-arms attempting to pick up Saxon barmaids and is no more legitimate than any of the other results." - H. Beam Piper

I grew up with Nicol Williamson's audiobook of The Hobbit, in which each group/race had a different English regional accent. I don't know for certain what any of them are (I _think_ the trolls speak Yorkshire...) but as an exposure to different dialects it was fantastic. It's on YouTube, or on Nicol's site - public domain, by his choice.

Hmmm, I should integrate Nicol's audiobook with that tour of dialects, and figure out who speaks what.

jan 12, 2015, 2:02pm

>7 jjmcgaffey:

Love Williamson's idea! It's unlikely I'll find the time to actually listen, but a fabulous concept and probably adds a layer of humour when identifying which dialect is selected for which race. Wish he would comment on his thinking behind his various choices, though. That would be as edifying and interesting as hearing the audiobook.

jan 12, 2015, 2:07pm

I thought that I read someplace that Tolkien modelled the speech for each race on a different English accent. The way the troll dialog is written is certainly different from the Hobbit dialog.

jan 13, 2015, 4:00am

>4 jjmcgaffey:

On that video it is hard to judge his accents because in most of them he only says one or two words, maybe a sentence for some.

I can comment on his Cambs / Norfolk accent - which wasn't all that good IMO but he only said one word in each. I also think he was incorrect to say that Cockney is based on East Anglian. Influenced by the general East Anglian group, yes, based on, no.

He also doesn't use any dialect words or grammar. So he tries a Norfolk accent, but doesn't try to do Broad Norfolk (the Norfolk dialect).

For Norfolk one could do worse than listen to The Nimmo Twins (a comedy duo) -

As for Cambridgeshire - it doesn't really have one accent that can stand in. The accent of the fens (in the North) is totally different to that of the south of the county. There is also a big urban vs rural difference (especially with Cambridge itself).

jan 13, 2015, 4:48am

University towns are usually dialect islands, in that they attract multitudes of non-locals who move there and settle, even back in the days when people were less mobile than today.

jan 13, 2015, 1:54pm

The current tour de force of British accents is David Tennant's audiobooks of Cressida Cowell's "How to Train Your Dragon" series (which are, by the way, very British and nothing at all like the animated spin-offs). Being Scottish, he is no doubt most comfortable with the numerous Scottish accents used for the Hooligan tribe, but he uses Welsh for the Bogburglars, Ulster for the Meatheads, and cod-Italian for the Romans; one of the bad guys is extremely Liverpudlian, and there is one point at which Tennant successfully manages to imitate someone with a South Yorkshire accent pretending to be French.

jan 13, 2015, 1:56pm

11 > There is an apocryphal story about the foreign (?Japanese) scholar of English who learned perfect "Oxford" English (i.e. educated University English) and was then baffled to discover, on arriving in Oxford, that he couldn't understand the people on the local buses (who were, of course, using the local Oxfordshire accent).

jan 13, 2015, 11:16pm

>1 LMHTWB: The best choices of current grammars are likely to come out of a Google search on something like 'text "course description" "old english"'

My suggestion is that if you don't already have a grounding in German, you'll find OE very, very difficult.

One site I find interesting is Oxford's Woruldhord. Putting 'audio' into the search field produces sound clips.

jan 13, 2015, 11:46pm

>14 librorumamans: Thanks for the suggestion on finding a newer grammar.

I do have some background in German and 30 years ago I could read OE, but I have lost it and I never really learned the grammar thoroughly... But I never thought OE was difficult.