Introduced By Holly King
Did you know that the Eskimo language has 30 words for snow? It’s said that the number of words a culture has for something is an indication of its importance (I cast my mind back to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, Frau Freud, and wonder what that claim means for English people…). Language unites us. It also identifies us. From the words we choose to use, the colloquialisms between cultures, friends, families, and even our accents, we create bonds with our speech and our writing. We offer new ways to communicate and, with our individual use of language, dialect, and syntax, we leave our identity on the page, in the air, on the message.
Language is a core part of any culture and is something that is living. Formally learning a language does not necessarily prepare you for a conversation with a native speaker. I attempted to learn Italian at university and remember my friend telling me that, because they were Sicilian and each region of Italy had a very specific dialect, I’d never be able to understand them when they spoke, even if I learned fluent formal Italian through lessons.
That same person also spoke fluent English (or Canadian English, eh?) and Quebecoise. Once, they were speaking to their parents in English and, without pause, switched to Italian mid-sentence. They carried on for a while, before again switching to Quebecoise mid-sentence, and returning to English to finish the conversation. That was my first exposure to a multi-lingual conversation and yet it was so innate to them to converse this way: when the language you’re using doesn’t have the word, you switch to the language that does!
So for this Monday Moments page, our contributors are speaking their language and hoping we can understand them. First, let’s introduce how language can be portrayed in art, with two pieces by Patricia Bidi:
Connect with Patricia: Instagram: @patriciabidi and website: patriciabidi.com
Now, we have a feature from Amber Hall, who describes how different England can be between the A65 and the M25:
I’m not a native Londoner but, after spending over a decade here, it’s become home. This vast metropolis drew me in long before I arrived; long before I’d even visited the place. But it’s a world away from where my life began.
For 16 years, my mum and I made our way up the A65, moving from one humdrum village to the next. We never settled anywhere for more than a year; sometimes, we’d move with boxes still unpacked from the last venture northbound. My semi-nomadic early years set me in good stead for the life I’d come to build for myself in London. I’m adaptable, resourceful. I can strike up conversations easily, and I’m rarely, if ever, fazed by new faces.
And what I learned, fairly quickly, was that my northernness could be a kind of currency here. There’s something comforting, I think, about regional accents; they have a homespun charm that puts people at ease. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, as I’m wont to do. But I can’t deny it: I doubled-down on my northernisms the more I settled into life here.
It’s funny, because for years I had tried to quash my accent, so this reverse My Fair Lady schtick came as a bit of a surprise. I had been bullied for my hardened Lancashire twang during a brief stint in Cumbria, and made a concerted effort to change the way I spoke. It’s funny what a 40-mile journey up the A65 can do to a person’s dialect. Anyone south of Doncaster wouldn’t notice the (albeit almost imperceptible) nuances between a Lancastrian accent and a Cumbrian one, but when you’re there it’s obvious.
At school in Cumbria, I was one of the only kids to come from a single-parent household. People were moneyed there; the popular girls had horses and wore Chanel studs in their ears, and we barely had enough money to pay the bills. It was the first time in my life that I became painfully aware of my working classness–and my accent was the thing to betray me, time and again. So I tried to fit in by softening it. Until then, my voice had a hardened, outdoorsy edge; it had a wildness that was fostered on moor and marshland walks with my dad, in the villages where we’d lived.
But while I no longer share the dialect of my family, there are some ‘northernisms’ I still can’t shift.
For example, it’s ‘a brew’ not ‘a cup of tea’. Incidentally, ‘tea’ is the last meal of the day–and should always be followed with a lovely brew (Yorkshire tea bags, no sugar, a splash of milk). I’ve never been able to adopt a southern accent (it’s ‘bath’ not ‘barth’), and I’ve always viewed the South – and London specifically – with a tourist’s eye. Sometimes, when I’m in the heart of the city, it hits me: I can’t quite believe I’m here. I feel like Dick Whittington without the cat. I came to the city to find myself and have done, I think. I’m sure that, had I kept making my way up the A65, I’d have become resentful. I’d be grieving for this life, if I were still there.
The trouble is, I exist in a kind of no-man’s-land, belonging neither here nor there. I’ve spent as much time in the South as I did in the North, but my accent–and those northernisms I just won’t let go of–alludes to my roots.
There’s connection in the ‘isms,’ in the nuances of language. Rural villages enjoy a kind of coded dialect that unites everyone; it’s more than ‘brew’ vs. ‘tea’ and I’m always reminded of this whenever I go back to visit. And perhaps this is where the disconnect is for me, now that I’ve settled into a new way of life in the capital.
I’m conflicted by my roots. I think that if I’d have grown up here, my formative years would have looked different. Maybe no one would have cared, like they did in Cumbria, about my Lancastrian twang. Perhaps some of my innate, feral nature – vanquished somewhere around the age of 13 – would have remained. Who knows?
What I do know is that London is my home. And, while it may still feel like a protracted holiday some of the time, I can be myself–northernisms and all–in this bewildering, beautiful city. I hope to never lose my sense of wonderment at it all. Because, for a girl like me, being here is no mean feat.
© Amber Hall, 2022
You can connect with Amber on Instagram: @amber.marie.123
Next up, an illustration from Danny Baxter titled The Influencer. He tells us:
“The idea behind the illustration is that the Influencer is delivering what they want to say through the mouthpiece of executives, like ventriloquism, because the Influencer is representing and setting the trends that the executive wants to be seen to be championing. But we don’t know who the Influencer is affiliated with, hence the question mark on the lanyard: maybe another set of executives, maybe social engineers, or maybe a personal motivation?”
© Danny Baxter, 2022
Connect with Danny on Instagram: @dan_lbbd
Lastly, we have two poems from Gertcha, the Cockney Poet:
A Day In The Life Of A Cockney Poet!
When I woke up from me Beau Peep
and got out of me born ‘n’ bred,
the morn was proper ‘tatties in the mould;
so I stretched and flexed me sticks and stones
and scratched me loaf o’ bread!
Clearing sleep from me mincers
I hobbled towards the cat and dog
in need of an urgent pie and mash,
Though not quite compos mentus
I miss-aimed and made a splash!
With a parched north ‘n’ south
I switched on the Hansel ‘n’ Gretel
for me morning cup ‘o’ Rosie,
I then put ‘arry in his place
And switched on the Auntie Nelly!
With a rumbling in me New Delhi
it was time to break one’s fast
with some Calcutta on holy ghost,
Just in time to hear a box of toys
as some lemon squeezer delivered
I did me regular morning Tom Tit;
and did me regular Chas ‘n’ Dave
having to be ready in an hour,
I brushed me Hampstead Heaths
and I had a hot Dwight D Eisenhower!
After I dried off me Barnet
I put on a pair of Tilbury Docks
and a clean pair of Jack Pallance,
I picked out the day’s Dickie Dirt
And did my ‘put me Marilyn’s on’ dance!
Though the currant bun was shining
it was proper George and Zippy,
So I put on me turtle doves
and I put on my tit for tat;
also me centre ‘arf and me Billy!
I left behind me garden gnome
as I walked off up the Kermit
so I could go and meet my ole China,
We rabbit ‘n’ pork(ed) the bird away
then got back for me Tommy Tucker!
© Gertcha Cowson, 2022
A Cockney Poet Visits The Seaside!
The current bun was shining on high
the day was Dad’s Army with heat
So me and me trouble thought a day
a’ da seaside would be luvly and sweet!
Me, I got ready for our sunny Beano,
dressed in sherry ‘n’ ports and a Fred West
She put on her wide brimmed titfer,
Roman candles and a current bun dress!
We met our China’s Burt and Beryl
and their two Saucepan Lids came
Smiles a beaming we got to the station
and we boarded the Danny Mc Grain!
Well the Saucepan’s were getting excited
being a rare tweet to be out of the town
Soon we all reached our London-on-Sea
with boats beaming, we made our way down!
We went straight to the burn’ toast first
we had a dip in the housemaid’s knee
Littluns built sandcastles while we arf-inched
some deckchairs and drunk a flask of Rosie Lee!
We went for jockey’s whips and Lilian Gish
with saveloys and sausage in batter
Saucepans had ice cream and lemonade
we had ice cream and light ‘n’ bitter!
After that we went to for a stick of chalk
we jauntily made our way to Southend pier
Had a good butcher’s at the salty housemaid
and then we all headed towards the fun-fair!
We went round and round; up and down
as we all enjoyed the helter-skelter
We went round and round; up and down
and upside-down on the roller coaster!
We swivelled around on the wurlitzer
went up on high on the Ferris wheel
We had some fun on the bumper cars
where Beryl’s Bristol’s nearly had a spill!
After a while we had more than enough
we had the barrel, the cock and the lock!
I looked at the trouble, Burt looked at Beryl
Little Chas looked at his skin ‘n’ blister
while delivering a Jackson Pollock!!
As Beryl cleaned up the saucepan lids
we found a Battle Cruiser to enjoy a pint
Then we joined up to relax in the glow
of a loverly Southend on Sea night!
© Gertcha Cowson, 2022
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From the words we choose to use, the colloquialisms between cultures, friends, families, and even our accents, we create bonds with our speech and our writing.