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The Dialect of the West of England Particularly Somersetshire by James Jennings

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metropolitan _literati_, those at least who are, or affect to
be the _arbitri elegantiarum_ among them, to consider the
_Scotch_ dialect in another light? Simply because such able
writers, as _Allan Ramsay, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott,_
and others, have chosen to employ it for the expression of their
thoughts. Let similar able writers employ our _Western
Dialect_ in a similar way, and I doubt not the result. And why
should not our Western dialects be so employed? If _novelty_
and _amusement_, to say the least for such writings, be
advantageous to our literature, surely novelty and amusement might
be conveyed in the dialect of the _West_ as well as of the
_North_. Besides these advantages, it cannot be improper to
observe that occasional visits to the _well-heads_ of our
language, (and many of these will be found in the West of England)
will add to the perfection of our polished idiom itself. _The
West may be considered the last strong hold of the Anglo-Saxon in
this country._

I observed, in very early life, that some of my father's servants,
who were natives of the _Southern_ parts of the county of
Somerset, almost invariably employed the word _utchy_ for I.
Subsequent reflection convinced me that this word, _utchy_,
was the Anglo-Saxon _iche_, used as a dissyllable
_ichA"_, as the Westphalians, (descendants of the Anglo-
Saxons,) down to this day in their Low German (Westphalian)
dialect say, "_Ikke_" for "_ich_." How or when this
change in the pronunciation of the word, from one to two
syllables, took place in in this country it is difficult to
determine; but on reference to the works of _Chaucer_, there
is, I think, reason to conclude that _iche_ is used sometimes
in that poet's works as a dissyllable.

Having discovered that _utchy_ was the Anglo-Saxon
_iche_, there was no difficulty in appropriating _'che,
'c',_ and _ch'_ to the same root; hence, as far as
concerned _iche_ in its literal sounds, a good deal seemed
unravelled; but how could we account for _ise_, and
_ees_, used so commonly for I in the western parts of
_Somersetshire_, as well as in _Devonshire?_ In the
first folio edition of tlie works of Shakspeare the _ch_ is
printed, in one instance, with a mark of elision before it thus,
_'ch_, a proof that the _I_ in _iche_ was sometimes
dropped in a common and rapid pronunciation; and a proof too,
that, we, the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, have chosen the
initial letter only of that pronoun, which initial letter the
Anglo-Saxons had in very many instances discarded!

It is singular enough that Shakspeare has the _'ch_ for
_iche, I,_ and _ise_, for I, within the distance of a
few lines, in _King Lear_, Act IV. scene 6. But perhaps not
more singular than that, in Somersetshire at the present time, may
be heard for the pronoun I, _utchy_ or _ichA", 'ch,_ and
_ise_. To the absence originally of general literary
information, and to the very recent rise of the study of
grammatical analysis, are these anomalies and irregularities to be

We see, therefore, that _'ch'ud, ch'am,_ and _'ch'ill_,
are simply the Anglo-Saxon _ich_, contracted and combined
with the respective verbs _would, am,_ and _will_; that
the _'c'_ and _'ch'_, as quoted in the lines given by
Miss Ham, are contracts for the Anglo-Saxon _iche_ or
_I_, and nothing else. It may be also observed, that in more
than one modern work containing specimens of the dialect of
Scotland and the North of England, and in, I believe, some of Sir
Walter Scott's novels, the word _ise_ is employed, so that
the auxiliary verb _will_ or _shall_ is designed to be
included in that word; and the printing or it thus, _I'se_,
indicates that it is so designed to be employed. Now, if this be a
_copy_ of the _living_ dialect of Scotland (which I beg
leave respectfully to doubt), it is a "barbarism" which the
Somerset dialect does not possess. The _ise_ in the west is
simply a pronoun and nothing else; it is, however, often
accompanied by a contracted verb, as _ise'll_ for I will.

In concluding these observations on the first personal pronoun it
may be added, that the object of the writer has been to state
facts, without the accompaniment of that _learning_ which is
by some persons deemed so essential in inquiries of this kind. The
best learning is that which conveys to us a knowledge of facts.
Should any one be disposed to convince himself of the correctness
of the _data_ here laid before him, by researches among our
old authors, as well as from living in the west, there is no doubt
as to the result to which lie must come. Perhaps, however, it may
be useful to quote one or two specimens of our more early Anglo-
Saxon, to prove their analogy to the present dialect in

The first specimen is from _Robert of Gloucester_, who lived
in the time of Henry II., that is, towards the latter end of the
twelfth century; it is quoted by _Drayton_, in the notes to
his _Pulyolbion_, song xvii.

"The meste wo that here _vel_ bi King Henry's days,
In this lond, _icholle_ beginne to tell _yuf ich_ may."

_Vel_, for fell, the preterite of to fall, is precisely the
sound given to the same word at the present time in Somersetshire.
We see that _icholle_, for _I shall_, follows the same
rule as the contracts _'ch'ud, 'ch'am_, and _'ch'ill_.
It is very remarkable that _sholl_, for shall, is almost
invariably employed in Somersetshire, at the present time.
_Yuf_ I am disposed to consider a corruption or mistake for
_gyf_ (give), that is, _if_, the meaning and origin of
which have been long ago settled by Horne Tooke in his Purley.

The next specimen is assuredly of a much more modern date; though
quoted by _Mr Dibdin_, in his _Metrical History of
England_, as from an _old ballad_.

"_Ch'ill_ tell thee what, good fellow,
Before the vriars went hence,
A bushel of the best wheate
Was zold for vourteen pence,
And vorty egges a penny,
That were both good and new,
And this _che_ say myself have seene,
And yet I am no Jew."

With a very few alterations, indeed, these lines would become the
_South_ Somerset of the present day.


There are in _Somersetshire_ (besides that particular,
portion in the _southern_ parts of the country in which the
Anglo-Saxon _iche_ or _utchy_ and its contracts prevail)
_two_ distinct and very different dialects, the boundaries of
which are strongly marked by the River _Parret_. To the east
and north of that river, and of the town of Bridgewater, a dialect
is used which is essentially, (even now) the dialect of all the
peasantry of not only that part of Somersetshire, but of
Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Surrey,
Sussex, and Kent; and even in the suburban village of
_Lewisham_, will be found many striking remains of it. There
can be no doubt that this dialect was some centuries ago the
language of the inhabitants of all the south and of much of the
west portion of our island; but it is in its greatest
_purity_[Footnote: Among other innumerable proofs that
Somersetshire is one of the strongholds of our old Anglo-Saxon,
are the sounds which are there generally given to the vowels A and
E. A has, for the most part, the same sound as we give to that
letter in the word _father_ in our polished dialect: in the
words tAcll, cAcll, bAcll, and vAcll (fall), &c., it is thus
pronounced. The E has the sound which we give in our polished
dialect to the a in pane, cane, &c., both which sounds, it may be
observed, are even _now_ given to these letters on the
Continent, in very many places, particularly in Holland and in
Germany. The name of Dr. Gall, the founder of the science of
phrenology, is pronounced GAcll, as we of the west pronounce tAcll,
bAcll, &c.] and most abundant in the county of Somerset. No sooner,
however, do we cross the _Parret_ and proceed from Combwich
[Footnote: Pronounced _Cummidge_. We here see the disposition
in our language to convert _wich_ into _idge_; as
_Dulwich_ and _Greenwich_ often pronounced by the vulgar
_Dullidge, Greenidge_.] to _Cannington_ (three miles
from Bridgewater) than another dialect becomes strikingly
apparent. Here we have no more of the _zees_, the
_hires_, the _veels_, and the _walks_, and a
numerous et cA|tera, which we find in the eastern portion of the
county, in the third person singular of the verbs, but instead we
have _he zeeth_, he sees, _he veel'th_, he feels, _he
walk'th_, he walks, and so on through the whole range of the
similar part of every verb. This is of itself a strong and
distinguishing characteristic; but this dialect has many more; one
is the very different sounds given to almost every word which is
employed, and which thus strongly characterize the persons who use
them. [Footnote: I cannot pretend to account for this very
singular and marked distinction in our western dialects; the fact,
however, is so; and it may be added, too, that there can be no
doubt both these dialects are the children of our Anglo-Saxon

Another is that _er_ for he in the nominative case is most
commonly employed; thus for, _he said he would not_, is used
_Er zad er ood'n--Er ont goor_, for, _he will not go_,

Again _ise_ or _ees_, for I is also common. Many other
peculiarities and contractions in this dialect are to a stranger
not a little puzzling; and if we proceed so far westward as the
confines of Exmoor, they are, to a plain Englishman, very often
unintelligible. _Her_ or rather _hare_ is most always
used instead of the nominative _she_. _Har'th a dood
it_, she has done it; _Hare zad har'd do't._ She said she
would do it. This dialect pervades, not only the western portion
of Somersetshire, but the whole of Devonshire. As my observations
in these papers apply chiefly to the dialect east of the Parret,
it is not necessary to proceed further in our present course; yet
as _er_ is also occasionally used instead of _he_ in
that dialect it becomes useful to point out its different
application in the two portions of the county. In the eastern part
it is used very rarely if ever in the beginning of sentences; but
frequently thus: _A did, did er?_ He did, did he? _Wordn er
gwain?_ Was he not going? _Ool er goo?_ will he go?

We may here advert to the common corruption, I suppose I must call
it, of _a_ for _he_ used so generally in the west. As
_a zed a'd do it_ for, lie said he would do it. Shakespeare
has given this form of the pronoun in the speeches of many of his
low characters which, of course, strikingly demonstrates its then
very general use among the vulgar; but it is in his works usually
printed with a comma thus 'a, to show, probably that it is a
corrupt enunciation of he. This comma is, however, very likely an
addition by some editor.

Another form of the third personal pronoun employed only in the
objective case is found in the west, namely _en_ for him, as
_a zid en_ or, rather more commonly, _a zid'n_, he saw
him. Many cases however, occur in which _en_ is fully heard;
as _gee't to en_, give it to him. It is remarkable that
Congreve, in his comedy of "_Love for Love_" has given to
_Ben the Sailor_ in that piece many expressions found in the
west. "Thof he be my father I an't bound prentice to en." It
should be noted here that _he be_ is rarely if ever heard in
the west, but _he's_ or _he is_. _We be, you be_,
and _thAc be_ are nevertheless very common. _Er_,
employed as above, is beyond question aboriginal Saxon; _en_
has been probably adopted as being more euphonious than
_him_. [Footnote: I have not met with _en_ for him in
any of our more early writers; and I am therefore disposed to
consider it as of comparatively modern introduction, and one among
the very few changes in language introduced by the
_yeomanry_, a class of persons less disposed to changes of
any kind than any other in society, arising, doubtless, from their
isolated position. It must be admitted, nevertheless, that this
change if occasionally adopted in our polished dialect would
afford an agreeable variety by no means unmusical. In conversation
with a very learned Grecian on this subject, he seemed to consider
because the _learned_ are constantly, and sometimes very
capriciously, introducing _new_ words into our language, that
such words as _en_ might be introduced for similar reasons,
namely, mere fancy or caprice; on this subject I greatly differ
from him: our aboriginal Saxon population has never corrupted our
language nor destroyed its energetic character half so much as the
mere classical scholar. Hence the necessity, in order to a
complete knowledge of our mother tongue, that we should study the
Anglo-Saxon still found in the provinces.

_Het_ for _it_ is still also common amongst the
peasantry. In early Saxon writers, it was usually written
_hit_, sometimes _hyt_.

"Als _hit_ in heaven y-doe,
Evar in yearth beene it also."
_Metrical Lord's Prayer of_ 1160.

Of _theeA¤ze_, used as a demonstrative pronoun, both in the
singular and plural, for _this_ and _these_, it maybe
observed, as well as of the pronunciation of many other words in
the west, that we have no letters or combination of letters which,
express exactly the sounds there given to such words. TheeA¤ze is
here marked as a dissyllable, but although it is sometimes
decidedly two syllables, its sounds are not always thus apparent
in Somerset enunciation. What is more remarkable in this world, is
its equal application to the singular and the plural. Thus we say
_theeA¤ze man_ and _theA¤ze men_. But in the plural are
also employed other forms of the same pronoun, namely _theeA¤zam,
theeA¤zamy_ and _thizzum_. This last word is, of course,
decidedly the Anglo-Saxon A issum. In the west we say therefore
_theeA¤zam here, theeA¤zamy here_, and _thizzam here_ for
these, or these here; and sometimes without the pleonastic and
unnecessary _here_.

For the demonstrative _those_ of our polished dialect
_them_, or _themmy_, and often _them there_ or
_themmy there_ are the usual synonyms; as, _gee I themmy
there shoes_; that is, give me those shoes. The objective
pronoun _me_, is very sparingly employed indeed--I, in
general supplying its place as in the preceding sentence: to this
barbarism in the name of my native dialect, I must plead guilty!--
if barbarism our metropolitan critics shall be pleased to term it.
[Footnote: By the way I must just retort upon our polished
dialect, that it has gone over to the other extreme in avoidance
of the I, using me in many sentences where I ought most decidedly
to be employed. It was me [Footnote: I am aware that some of our
lexicographers have attempted a defence of this solecism by
deriving it from the French c'est moi; but, I think it is from
their affected dislike of direct egotism; and that, whenever they
can, they avoid the I in order that they might not be thought at
once vulgar and egotistic!] is constantly dinned in our ears for
it was I: as well as indeed one word more, although not a pronoun,
this is, the almost constant use in London of the verb to lay for
the verb to lie, and ketch for catch. If we at head-quarters
commit such blunders can we wonder at our provincial detachments
falling into similar errors? none certainly more gross than this!]

Thic is in the Somersetshire dialect (namely that to which I have
particularly directed my attention and which prevails on the east
side of the Parret) invariably employed for that. Thic house, that
house; thic man, that man: in the west of the county it is thiky,
or thecky. Sometimes thic has the force and meaning of a personal
pronoun, as:

Catch and scrabble
Thic that's yable:--
Catch and scramble
He who's able.

Again, thic that dont like it mid leave it,--he who does not like
it may leave it. It should be noted that th in all the pronouns
above mentioned has the obtuse sound as heard in then and this and
not the thin sound as heard in both, thin, and many other words of
our polished dialect. Chaucer employed the pronoun thic very
often, but he spells it thilk; he does not appear, however, to
have always restricted it to the meaning implied in our that and
to the present Somerset thic. Spenser has also employed thilk in
his Shepherd's Calendar several times.

"Seest not thilk same hawthorn stud How bragly it begins to bud
And utter his tender head?" "Our blonket leveries been all too sad
For thilk same season, when all is yclad With pleasance."

I cannot conclude without a few observations on three very
remarkable Somersetshire words, namely twordn, wordn, and zino.
They are living evidences of the contractions with which that
dialect very much abounds.

Twordn means it was not; and is composed of three words, namely
it, wor, and not; wor is the past tense, or, as it is sometimes
called, the preterite of the verb to be, in the third person
[Footnote: It should be observed here that was is rather
uncommon among the Somersetshire peasantry--wor, or war, being
there the synonyms; thus Spenser in his 'Shepherd's Calendar.'"

"The kid,--
Asked the cause of his great distress,
And also who
and whence that he wer
You say he was there, and I say that _a wordn_;
You say that 'twas he, and I tell you that _twordn_;
You ask, will he go? I reply, not as I know;
You say _that_ he _will_, and _I_must _say, no,

and such is the indistinctness with which the sound of the vowel in
were is commonly expressed in Somersetshire, that wor, wer, or war,
will nearly alike convey it, the sound of the e being rarely if ever
long; twordn is therefore composed, as stated, of three words; but
it will be asked what business has the _d_ in it? To this it
may be replied that _d_ and _t_ are, as is well known,
often converted in our language the one into the other; but by far
the most frequently _d_ is converted into _t_. Here,
however, the
_t_ is not only converted into _d_, but instead of being
placed after _n_, as analogy requires thus, _twornt_, it
is placed before it for _euphony_ I dare say. Such is the
analysis of this singular and, if not euphonious, most certainly
expressive word.

_Wordn_ admits of a similar explanation; but this word is
composed of two words only, _war_ and _not_; instead of
_wornt_, which analogy requires, a _d_ is placed before
_n_ for a similar reason that the _d_ is placed before
_n_ in _twordn_, namely for euphony; _wordn_ is
decidedly another of the forcible words.

_Wordn fir gwain_?--was he not going, may compete with any
language for its energetic brevity.

_Zino_, has the force and application of an interjection, and
has sufficient of the _ore rotundo_ to appear a classical
dissyllable; its origin is, however, simply the contract of, _as
I know_, and it is usually preceeded in Somersetshire by
_no_. Thus, _ool er do it_? _no, zino_! _I thawt
a oodn_. Will he do it? no, as I know! I thought he would not.
These words, _Twordn_, _Wordn_, and _Zino_, may be
thus exemplified:


I cannot, perhaps, better close this work, than by presenting to
the reader the observations of Miss HAM, (a Somersetshire lady of
no mean talents), in a letter to me on these dialects.

The lines, of which I desired a copy, contain an exemplification
of the use of _utchy_ or _ichA"_, used contractedly [see
UTCHY in the _Glossary_] by the inhabitants of the
_South_ of Somersetshire, one of the strongholds, as I
conceive, of the Anglo-Saxon dialect.

In our polished dialect, the lines quoted by Miss HAM, may be thus

Bread and cheese I have had,
What I had I have eaten,
More I would [have eaten if] I had [had] it.

If the contradictions be supplied they will stand thus:--

Bread and cheese _ichA"_ have a had
That _ichA"_ had _ichA"_ have a eat
More _ichA"_ would _ichA"_ had it.

CLIFTON, _Jan._ 30, 1825


I have certainly great pleasure in complying with your request,
although I fear that any communication it is in my power to make,
will be of little use to you in your curious work on the West
Country dialect. The lines you desire are these:

Bread and cheese 'e' have a had,
That 'e' had 'e' have a eat,
More 'ch wou'd 'e' had it.

Sounds which, from association no doubt, carry with them to my ear
the idea of great vulgarity: but which might have a very different
effect on that of an unprejudiced hearer, when dignified by an
Anglo-Saxon pedigree. The Scotch dialect, now become _quite
classical_ with us, might, perhaps, labour under the same
disadvantage amongst those who hear it spoken by the vulgar only.

Although I am a native of Somersetshire, I have resided very
little in that county since my childhood, and, in my occasional
visits since, have had little intercourse with the
_aborigines_. I recollect, however, two or three words, which
you might not, perhaps, have met with. One of them of which I have
traditionary knowledge, being, I believe, now quite obsolete.
_Pitisanquint_ was used in reply to an inquiry after the
health of a person, and was, I understand, equivalent to _pretty
well_, or _so so_. The word _Lamiger_, which
signifies an invalid, I have no doubt you have met with. When any
one forbodes bad weather, or any disaster, it is very common to
say _Don't ye housenee_. Here you have the verbal
termination, which you remarked was so common in the West, and
which I cannot help thinking might have been originally vised as a
sort of diminutive, and that _to milkee_, signified to milk
_a little_.

As my knowledge of these few words is merely oral, I cannot answer
for the orthography; I have endeavoured to go as near the sound as
possible, and I only wish it were in my power to make some
communication more worth your attention. As it is, I have only my
best wishes to offer for the success of your truly original work.

I am, Sir, your most obedient,

Elizabeth Ham.

I have only one or two remarks to add to those of Miss Ham in the
preceding letter.

It will be seen, by reference to the exemplifications of the
dialect, that occasional _pleonasm_ will be found in it, as
well as, very often, extraordinary _contraction_. _I have
adone_, _I have a had_, are examples of the first; and
_'tword'n_, _gup_, _g'under_, _banehond_, &c.
[see Banehond in the _Glossary_] are examples of the last.
_Pitisanquint_ appears to me to be simply a contracted and
corrupted mode of expressing _Piteous_ and _quaint_,
[See Pitis in the _Glossary_.]

_Don't ye houseenee_ is _Do not stay in your houses_.
But the implied meaning is, _be active_; do your best to
provide for the bad weather which portends. In Somersetshire, most
of the colloquial and idiomatic expressions have more or less
relation to agriculture, agricultural occupations, or to the most
common concerns of life, hence such expressions have, in process
of time, become _figurative._ Thus, _don't ye housenee,_
would be readily applied to rouse a person to activity, in order
that he may prevent or obviate any approaching or portending evil.

I am still of opinion; indeed I may say, I am quite sure, that the
verbal terminations, _sewy, Tcnitty, &c.,_ have no relation
to _diminution_ in the district East of the Parret.

Upon the whole, it is evident that considerable care and
circumspection are necessary in committing to paper the signs of
the sounds of a language, of which we have no accredited examples,
nor established criterion. In making collections of this work, I
have not failed to bear this constantly in mind.

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