Word perfect

HAVE you ever left the county only to realise people do not understand you? As a tv programme bidding to add more words in to the dictionary gains in popularity, LISA WOOLLARD looks at the history of Suffolk words - and asks whether they will soon be history.

HAVE you ever left the county only to realise people do not understand you? As a tv programme bidding to add more words in to the dictionary gains in popularity, LISA WOOLLARD looks at the history of Suffolk words - and asks whether they will soon be history.

ARE you ever accused of “mawthering” people? Would you say it “snew” last week? And do you stop for a Beaver's break?

Today a new interest is rising into the history of words, after the launch of the BBC's television programme Balderdash and Piffle and here in Suffolk we are renowned for having our own lingo - but where does it come from and where is it going?

Looking at Suffolk's dialect it is often easy to see where we get our lannguage from. Suffolk word historian, Charlie Haylock, explains that Suffolk is generally accepted as being where the English language started. It is where the Angles and Saxons first settled in the country and started to form the language we now call English.


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Suffolk is a complex mix of all of those who settled here, bringing with them an influence on the way we speak. The Normans, Danes, Jutes, Fresians, Vikings, Celts, Dutch and Romans all played a part in making our county sound the way it does.

Mr Haylock said: “A lot of the words used everyday in the county were used all over Britain several years ago.

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“When the Angles came in the 5th century they divided the country up into areas and that is when they called this area the East Angles. Then they divided the East Angles into the North Folk and the South Folk.

“Several of the place names such as these have stuck with us and the same thing has happened to the language we use.

“The Angles made the 'G' sound soft so it sounded more like a 'Y'. That is why Gippeswyk became Ipswich.

“The only difference is that in Suffolk we have kept the old ways of saying things as well as the new and that is why we still have places called Gippeswyk Park and the River Gipping running alongside names such as Ipswich. We are the only county in the UK to keep both ways of pronunciation like this.

“One of the main traits of this country is that we have kept the Middle English ways of pronouncing our past tenses.

“We would say 'I shew him.', 'It snew last week' and 'The cock crew'. These words have evolved in the English language and are now showed, snowed and crowed.

“However there are still words used in that context in the English language today such as grew, knew and flew.

“Younger generations are less likely to use these words as the only way they would learn them is in the home. However I wouldn't say the county will lose its dialect. It is simply going to change.

“As long as there is a Suffolk there will be a Suffolk dialect.

“If you go through the history of the language you will see how it changes with the times.

“Languages that are precise and do not change, such as Latin, die out.”

John Alexander is an English teacher and head of media studies at Northgate High School in Ipswich.

He feels the Suffolk dialect is becoming a thing of the past because children are watching a lot of television and are getting a national influence on the words they use.

He said: “I do not hear many of the words from the Suffolk dialect in school today.

“But I do not really remember them from when I was at school either. I think Ipswich has its own dialect and is somewhat different from the rest of the county.

“Having said that the miss-use of the past tense is something that pops up from time to time and I often hear the word shew instead of showed.

“Media seems to influence the way children speak these days and they pick a lot of it up from the television. We are losing our local culture.”

N What's your favourite Suffolk saying? Write to Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

WE tested three generations of the same family to see how many words from the Suffolk dialect they would recognise.

Each member was given nine words and were asked what they meant. Have you heard of them?

They were:

Bor - An Anglo-Saxon word use as a term of endearment for a male friend. “How you doing bor?”

Absy - Used by the Normans but originates from France as the word for a pimple or spot. Later evolved into the word for abscess.

Mathwer or mawthering - Comes from Danish word Moer meaning girl. If you are mawthering someone you are cuddling them in excess. This is usually done by women.

Beaver's break - from the Norman word Beivre and means a snack eaten during a break by arable farmer.

Mardle - from old English word Moedlam meaning to gossip.

Shew - Middle English word for showed.

Snew - Middle English word for to gossip.

Airy-wiggle - Anglo-Saxon word for earwig.

Huh (sloigthly on the huh) - From Anglo-Saxon word Arigh and middle English word Awrie meaning not straight.

Mary West is 86 years old and lives in Parkview Road, Ipswich. She has lived in Suffolk her entire life. Out of the nine words she was able to recognise seven of them.

Her answers were -

Bor - man

Mawther - woman

Beaver's break - packed lunch

Shew - to show someone

Snew - to snow

Airy-wiggle - insect

Huh - not straight

Ivan West is 56 years old and lives in Parkview Road, Ipswich. He has lived the majority of his life in Ipswich. He recognised four of the words.

His answers were -

Bor - man

Shew - show

Snew - snow

Huh - on the slope

Mandy King, 31, lives in Henniker Road and has lived in Ipswich all her life.

She recognised five of the words.

Her answers were -

Bor - boy

Mawthering - mothering someone

Shew - showed

Snew - snowed

Huh - not straight

Source: Sloightley on the Huh! By Charlie Haylock.

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