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The big county in northern England retains words from centuries past to form a dialect that delights Brits and puzzles visitors. Writer and native yorkie, Emma Shires translates.
Text by: Emma Shires
Photos: Shires Family
Country: England

he county of Yorkshire is the largest in the United Kingdom and is found in the North of England. It’s known as ‘God’s own county’ because of its beautiful green landscapes: the dales, the moors and some fantastic coastlines. With its own flag, day (1 August), and traditions in literature, folk, and popular music, Yorkshire has a unique identity.

The county covers four separate regions: North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire. I was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and although my immediate family moved away when I was young, my grandparents and extended family still live there. As a result, I have always felt a very strong tie to this part of the UK and visit regularly. I have always noticed that Yorkshire people have a special pride for their region.

Among Brits, the Yorkshire accent is frequently voted one of the most popular in surveys. Many say they associate the accent with honesty, warmth and intelligence. However, to non-natives the accent and sayings used in this part of the UK can be confusing, particularly as accents from the US and South of England are dominant in the media. Of course, any Yorkshire resident will tell you that there are actually a whole range of accents in this part of the country. However, some basics apply that can help a non-native understand the way people speak in this part of England.

Yorkshire sounds

Although I certainly don’t have a Yorkshire accent, for my friends from the South of England, my roots are revealed when I say certain words. One very noticeable feature in even a soft Yorkshire accent is the flat vowels. This means that, for example, instead of saying a long, soft ‘ah’ sound in words like bath, I pronounce the ‘a’ in a short, hard way. Although this might sound like just a small difference, it’s a big subject of discussion among Brits.

This is best encapsulated by one question that we frequently ask each other: ‘scone or scone?’ The first scone is pronounced like the word ‘on’, with the ‘sc’ sound added at the beginning. In the second version, the ‘sc’ sound is the same, but the end of the word sounds like the word ‘own’. The first version is the flat vowel Yorkshire way of speaking, and the second is used by Southerners.

There are many other features to the Yorkshire accent. Notably there are several sounds that true Yorkshire speakers drop. For example:

● ‘To’ and ‘the’ are replaced by ‘t’, followed by a guttural ‘uh’ sound.
● ‘Him’ and ‘her’ lose their ‘h’ and become ‘im and ‘er.
● ‘Gs’ at the end of words are dropped, e.g. dancin’.
● There is no ‘th’ in with: wi’.

As a result, someone with a real Yorkshire accent would say ‘I’m goin’ t’u town wi’ ‘er’, or “I’m going to town with her”.

Yorkshire sayings

Of course as with all regional accents, these sounds are accompanied by a variety of sayings and words. For example,

● Women in Yorkshire are referred to as lasses.
● Some old English words you thought didn’t exist any longer are still common, such as thou, thine, and thee.
● ‘Nothing’ becomes nowt, and ‘anything’ is replaced by owt.

My family offered some other examples of classic Yorkshire phrases.

Many consider this song to be the unofficial Yorkshire anthem, and it is one of the most famous dialect songs in the United Kingdom. You can listen to it in the following video. See how many of the lyrics you can catch before reading them, along with their meaning, at the end of this article.

One of my Mum’s favourite Yorkshire phrases is: Ear all, see all, say nowt. Eat all, sup all, pay nowt. And if ever thou does owt fer nowt—allus do it fer thissen. This literally translates as ‘Hear all, see all, say nothing. Eat all, drink all, pay nothing. And if you do anything for nothing—always do it for yourself.’

I’ve read that some people consider this the Yorkshire man’s motto, which is not particularly flattering, but the phrase certainly illustrates some of the common features of the accent.

Origins of the Yorkshire accent

The Yorkshire way of speaking is often mistakenly thought to be just an accent with some colloquialisms. In fact it stems from a whole regional dialect, which is still spoken by some people, particularly in very rural parts of the county.

This dialect is related to Norse, taking many of its words from Celtic and Viking languages. For example, the phrase commonlyused to ask children to behave, stop laikin’ ‘bout, uses the Yorkshire dialect word laik. This word means play and is derived from the old Norse word leika.

Similarly, the term riding, used to refer to the separate parts of the area, e.g. the North Riding of Yorkshire, comes from the Norse word thridding, which means a third. This makes sense because originally the area just had three, the North, West, and East Ridings.

Old Norse words are common all over the region in place names, so you can find names in Yorkshire that are similar to those found in modern-day Scandinavia. For example, in Leeds, one of the main streets is called Kirkgate. In Norse this means ‘church street’, and you will find many streets referred to as gates across the region, just as they are called gatas in Oslo or Stockholm.

Yorkshire is linked to Scandinavia because the North of England was invaded by Danish Vikings in 866 AD. They made York the capital of a new kingdom called Jórvík. The modern name York is derived from this original title. Although the same Viking army also conquered other parts of England, it was the area around York that was the only real Viking territory in Britain, lasting for around 100 years.

Learning more about Yorkshire

One of the best ways to get a feel for the way people speak in Yorkshire, other than visiting, of course, is to watch some classic Yorkshire films and television shows. I recommend the following to get you started.

Films
● ‘Kes’
● ‘Billy Liar
● ‘The Full Monty’
● ‘Brassed Off’

Television series
● ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
● ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

On Ilkla Morr baht ‘at

N.B. The chorus (repetitions of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at) has been left out after its first appearance to avoid repetition.

Lyrics

Meaning

Wheear ‘as ta bin sin ah saw thee,
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!
Wheear ‘as ta bin sin ah saw thee?

Where have you been since we last met?
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Where have you been since we last met?

Chorus:
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at?!

Chorus:
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
On Ilkley Moor without a hat

Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane

You have been dating Mary Jane
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
You have been dating Mary Jane

Thou’ll ‘t go and ge’ thi deeath o’cowd
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Thou’ll ‘t go and ge’ thi deeath o’cowd

You are going to catch a deadly cold
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
You are going to catch a deadly cold

Then we shall ha’ to bury thee
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then we shall ha’ to bury thee

Then we will have to bury you
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Then we will have to bury you

Then t’worms ‘ll cum and eat thee oop
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then t’worms ‘ll cum and eat thee oop

Then the worms will eat you
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Then the worms will eat you

Then t’ducks ‘ll cum and eat oop t’worms
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then t’ducks ‘ll cum and eat oop t’worms

Then the ducks will eat those worms
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Then the ducks will eat those worms

Then us’ll cum and ate oop t’ducks
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then us’ll cum and ate oop t’ducks

Then we will eat those ducks
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Then we will eat those ducks

Then us’ll all ‘ave etten thee
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
Then us’ll all ‘ave etten thee

Then we will have ended up eating you
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
Then we will have ended up eating you

That’s wheer we’ll get our oahn back
On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at
That’s wheer we’ll get our oahn back

So we will get our revenge on you
On Ilkley Moor without a hat
So we will get our revenge on you

Fact box: Fun facts about Yorkshire

● The first ever football club was formed in Yorkshire, Sheffield FC, in 1857.

● The county has produced so many great sportsmen and women that if Yorkshire were an independent country, it would have been 12th on the 2012 Olympic league table.

● The city of York contains the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York Minster.

● The Yorkshire town of Ripon is technically Britain’s oldest city; it was granted a charter by King Alfred the Great in 886.

According to many good restaurant guides, Yorkshire has more top quality restaurants than any other British region, outside of London.

● The Yorkshire coastal town Scarborough became England’s first seaside resort in 1926. The town’s Grand Hotel was the largest purpose-built hotel in Europe at its time of opening in 1967.

● Yorkshire contains a third of the area of England’s National Parks.

● Yorkshire has had high levels of immigration in recent years, meaning that English is the second language of 43% of school children in Bradford.




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Get thee to Yorkshire


The county of Yorkshire is the largest in the United Kingdom. It is in the North of England and is known as 'God's own county' because of its beautiful green landscapes: the dales, the moors and some fantastic coastlines. Yorkshire has a unique identity. It even has its own flag, its own day (1 August), and traditions in literature, folk, and popular music.

The Yorkshire accent is one of the most popular among Brits. It is associated with honesty, warmth, and intelligence. However, the Yorkshire accent and sayings can be very confusing for non-natives.

One very noticeable feature in even a soft Yorkshire accent is the flat vowels. This means that, for example, instead of saying a long, soft 'ah' sound in words like bath, they pronounce the 'a' in a short, hard way.

In Yorkshire, women are called 'lasses', nothing becomes 'nowt' and anything is replaced by ‘owt’. They also use some old English words that are not used in other places such as thou, thine, and thee.

 

Comprehension

Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

Get thee to Yorkshire

Quiz

 

Grammar in Use

Below you will find PDF documents with the Grammar in Use.

Elemntary: Prepositions of place

Advanced: British Expressions

Vocabulary

Yorkshire Accent

Summary Vocabulary

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