An Introduction to Sheffield English

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For those who are completely unfamiliar with the variety of English that is found in the city of Sheffield, I thought I’d write about what constitutes the Sheffield accent – with more to follow soon on the local dialect. And if you are familiar with the Sheffield accent, or you have one yourself, then you might be able to relate! 

Sheffield is a large urban, post-industrial, British city, which has a city centre characterized by its multiculturalism, diversity and growing cosmopolitanism. As you travel outside of the inner city you will find densely populated suburbs and eventually quaint villages that border the peak district and North Derbyshire, or neighbouring Yorkshire towns such as Rotherham and Barnsley. The diverse social landscape of the city has had huge impact on the way that language is used amongst it’s in habitants, and this is the main topic of interest in my own PhD study. Sheffield is well-known for it’s pioneering impact upon the British Steel Industry which branded it with the name ‘Steel City’, as well as for the Cutlery industry that once thrived here. It is also well known for its fierce football rivalry between United and Wednesday, and is very popular with students with the two world-leading Universities which the city boasts, namely the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The friendly nature of the place has gained it the highest retention rates for graduates who finish studying in Sheffield and opt to stay here to work and live long term.

Photo taken by me from the Steel Steps behind Sheffield Train Station

As a native of the city, I grew up surrounded by the Sheffield accent in the East End of Sheffield, which is typically regarded as the working-class part of the city. Research has demonstrated a linguistic and socio-economic divide within the city between the East and the West, with the latter being home to more middle-class speakers (Finnegan 2015). Broadly speaking, one of the main trends in sociolinguistics across the UK demonstrates that middle class speakers are more likely to use standard variants to avoid stigmatization, whereas working-class speakers use non-standard variants and attach covert prestige to the use of such features. This means that working-class speakers in the East end of Sheffield might be more likely to speak with ‘broader’ accents and that it is desirable for them to do so, whereas in the West end you might hear people speaking more ‘proper.’ These evaluative terms often arise in the study of language attitudes where speakers are encouraged to express their beliefs and judgements towards particular ways of speaking.

What is the Sheffield Accent?

You might be wondering ‘what constitutes a broad Sheffield accent?’ – something which I will now consider, mentioning some of the phonetic variants that are typical of Sheffield speech – from my own experience as well as attestations in previous linguistic research.  It is impossible to fit the array of available features of the accent into one short blog post, but I will describe some of the more common and recognisable features as examples. There is also the consideration of dialect words and morpho-syntax – topics that I will be writing separate blogposts on soon.

In the rest of this blogpost I will be using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols (in square brackets) to represent speech sounds. If you are unfamiliar with the IPA and would like to know what sounds the symbols represent follow this link to listen to the sounds on an online interactive IPA chart. http://www.yorku.ca/earmstro/ipa/index.html I will also be using Well’s Lexical sets (1982) – for an introduction to these take a look at this Wikipedia site https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_set 

(Definitions of these as well as other linguistic jargon that you may be unfamiliar with are provided on the glossary page)

One interesting feature, that is significant enough to have branded Sheffielders with the name ‘deedah’s’  [diː dɑːz] (Stoddart and others 1999), is the use of Old English address terms ‘thee and thou’, when communicating with fellow locals. This is also paired with th-stopping, in which the dental fricative [ð] is replaced with a dental stop [d] – or the interchanging of the ‘th’ and ‘d’ sound initially so that you might hear the following sentence:

‘nah den dee how’s da doin?‘  [naː dɛn di aːs da duɪn]

Which translates to

‘now then you how you doing?’

Which in Standard English means

‘Hello you, how are you doing?’

However, research suggests that th-stopping is now in decline, and is most common in the speech of older speakers (Stoddart and others 1999).

A common division between Northern and Southern English is the distinction between the STRUT and BATH vowels. We expect to find the vowel in FOOT [ʊ] up North and in Sheffield, whereas in Southern varieties we would expect to hear the [ᴧ] in STRUT. As well this we hear the short [a] in the word TRAP up North and in Sheffield, whereas down south we would expect to hear the long [ɑ:] in BATH – which would sound something like ‘barth’.

Something that Sheffield speakers in my own previous research have been able to pick up on is the use of long vowels in the city, as in a lot of words we see monophthongization (a shift from a diphthong with two combined vowel sounds to a monophthong which has just one), with Sheffielders replacing Standard English diphthongs with an elongated monophthong so that for instance:

Price becomes ‘prahs’ or [praɪs]→[praːs]

Now becomes ‘nah’ or [naʊ]→[naː]

Rain becomes ‘rehn’ or [reɪn]→[reːn]

Another common feature is the use of short monophthongs [a] and [ɛ] in some FACE words, which are restricted lexically. This means that they only occur in certain words, which include ‘gave, make and take’, which sound more like ‘gev, mek and tek.’  The variant [ɛ] was evidenced in Stoddart et al.’s (1999) study (cited in Finnegan2015). However, interestingly recent research has demonstrated that the closing diphthong [ɛɪ] is favoured over the long close-mid monopthhong [eː], but mainly in the speech of Middle Class Sheffield speakers (Finnegan 2015:227). This demonstrates that within Sheffield there are a variety of accent pronunciations that each have the potential to index different types of local identity. This is something which I aim to explore further in my own project.

Sheffield is a border town of Yorkshire, and is in contact with Derbyshire linguistic features, which contain more stereotypically southern pronunciations. For example there are ‘frequent opportunities for Sheffield speakers to come into regular contact with speakers using the FACE and GOAT closing diphthong forms in their local accents’, which are regarded as more standard pronunciations, and this could behaving an impact upon the Sheffield dialect (Finnegan 2015:228). This could mean that we see Dialect change in Sheffield because of the influence of surrounding varieties.

Another common feature of the Sheffield accent is what linguists term happY-laxing. In the word happy for example, the last syllable is often pronounced as ‘eh’, as in ‘appeh’ or [apε]. As well as this we see regular H-dropping – the lack of word-initial [h] – evident in the previous example. Also a recognisable feature is the use of reflexives such as me’sen [miˈsεn]  for myself and his’sen [ɪzˈsεn] himself (Stoddart et al 1999), and yourself sometimes becomes thi’sen [ðɪˈsεn].

The prominence of these features is evidenced in the commodification of their use in Sheffield dialect branded products that can be purchased in the city as gifts and souvenirs. Cooper (2017) points out that the use of dialect on commodities demonstrates a wider awareness of the feature as part of a local vernacular. I often see examples when I’m in and around the city and take photos, and have added some examples below:


Found in Castle Market on the Moor.

Found in the Millenium galleries shop.

Also in the Millenium galleries shop.

Sheffielders are also known to pronounce the word right as reyt or rate, and this variant is often used as an intensifier in the local lexis or dialect (Beal 2009). This means that you would expect to hear it in phrases like ‘that is reyt good’ or ‘i am reyt chuffed!’

[raɪt] → [reɪt] or [reːt]

The last feature which I will mention is the realisation of Definite Article Reduction, or in other words ‘the tendency in Yorkshire to drop the definite article ‘the’, or to reduce it to a glottal stop’ (Cooper 2013). This is something that is common across the whole of Yorkshire, and most commonly discussed in the example ‘goin’ t’shop.’ In Sheffield we see glottalisation and the zero article (‘goin shop’), in which ‘the’ is omitted completely.

I hope this has been an informative introduction! Any feedback is welcomed as it will help me to improve my future posts and to make sure that I am putting out useful and interesting content. Please either comment below or contact me. My next blog post will look into dialect more specifically.

References

Beal, Joan C. 2009. ‘“You’re Not from New York City, You’re from Rotherham”: Dialect and Identity in British Indie Music’, Journal of English Linguistics, 37.3: 223–40 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424209340014&gt;

Chambers, J. K. 2013. ‘Patterns of Variation Including Change’, in The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 2nd edn, ed. by J. K. Chambers and Natalie Schilling-Estes (Oxford:Wiley-Blackwell), pp. 297–323

Finnegan, Katie. 2015. ‘Sheffield’, in Researching Northern English, ed. by Raymond Hickey (Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company), pp. 227–50

Stoddart, Jana, Clive Upton, and J.D.A Widdowson. 1999. ‘Sheffield Dialect in the 1990s: Revisiting the Concept of NORMs’, in Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles, ed. by Paul Foulkes and Gerard J. Docherty (London : New York: Arnold ; Oxford University Press), pp. 72–89

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The Journey Begins

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Thanks for joining me!

I have started this blog as a platform for me to share my experiences and findings as part of my PhD journey into studying Dialect Continuity and Change in Sheffield. I will also be using this as a tool to reflect on my progress and thoughts and to document my developments throughout my project.

Go ahead and follow me if you are interested in Sheffield Accent and Dialect or Sociolinguistic Language Variation and Change more broadly. Or maybe you’re just interested in finding out more about the life of a PhD student and what a project of this nature is going to involve.

My first blog post will be uploaded imminently, until then, as we say in Sheffield, Sithee!

 

 

 

Deedah dialect words and phrases

Ey up! In this blog post I am going to be listing and explaining just a small proportion of the words and phrases that were once or still are heard on the streets of Sheffield. I asked the people of Sheffield to tell me about their dialect and they provided me with the goods. The words that have been included have been sent to me by Sheffield people themselves. If you can think of any more or recognize any of the ones that I’m going to share with you then please let me know in the comments.

What better image to feature on this post than local artist Pete McKee’s ‘The Periodic Table of Sheffield Dialect’ – available to buy in print at https://shop.petemckee.com/products/periodic-table-of-sheffield-dialect

I have consulted some of the available Sheffield Dialect Glossaries of the past which I could find in the University of Sheffield’s Western Bank library – as well as one’s which I have at home – to see which words have had their use attested in previous centuries.

Three of the Sheffield Dialect Books that I consulted, one from each of the 19th, 20th and 21st Century!

‘Nah Then!’ is a common way to greet your fellow Sheffielders or to instigate a conversation. This can still be heard on the streets of Sheffield, where you might hear someone instigate a conversation with an old friend with the phrase ‘Nah then pal, how’s it going?’. Nah then or ‘Naden’ as Whomersly puts it in his 1981 ‘Sheffieldish: A Beginners Phrase-book’, can also be used in a more confrontational context, when someone is trying to instigate an argument or to answer back.

Laik is a more traditional dialect word, used in the context of ‘playing out’ or hanging with friends as a youngster, and we would expect it to be heard in the phrase ‘are tha laikin’?’. This term is found in the Hallamshire Glossary of local dialect words produced by Sheffield born Rev. Joseph Hunter between 1828-31. Hunter collected these words during a 20 year period between 1790 and 1810.

Flit is a traditional Sheffield word which is used in the context of relocating or moving house, also attested in the Hallamshire Glossary. If a family on your street have flitted they have moved to another area.

Reckon up is a phrase which in Sheffield means adding up or calculating an amount of money. I have previously heard this used in the context of bar staff adding up the cost of a round of drinks when serving customers, where being able to reckon up without using the till is a vital skill on a busy shift. The use of the term ‘Reckon Up’ to mean ‘to calculate or estimate’ is evidenced on the EDD (English Dialect Dictionary) Online. This is a webiste which can be used to search for meanings of Dialect words and to find evidence of when and where the term has been used in the past, and can be accessed by the following link http://eddonline-proj.uibk.ac.at/edd/index.jsp.

Another word that I have been provided with is Champion, one of the words that Sheffielder’s use to mean ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ – as defined by Hannah Crawford (2015) in her ‘Dee-Dar Book’ of Sheffield Dialect and folklore – so that we might hear the phrase ‘Sheffield is Champion!’.

Loppy is another word, used for being filthy or unclean. If your dog came home from a walk in the rain and was covered in mud and puddle water it would be referred to as loppy. It is mentioned by Crawford (2015) as meaning ‘dirty’.

Somebody who is Nesh feels the cold more than other people, or is feeling cold in that particular moment. This more contemporary meaning which is also found in the Hallamshire glossary, has however changed since that attested in Abel Bywater’s ‘The Sheffield Dialect’ glossary from 1854, in which Nesh means ‘poor spirited.’

Siling down is used when it is raining heavily. The word Sile is found in the book ‘A Glossary of Words used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield’, compiled by S.O. Addy in 1888, with the definition ‘to rain hard’. This glossary was written for the English Dialect Society at a time when efforts were being made to preserve and documents features of local dialect through the compilation of a series of dialect glossaries from various parts of the UK.


This illustration is by Whitworth, found in Derek Whomersley’s ‘Sheffieldish – A Begginer’s Phrase-book’

Also attested in the same glossary, and still in use, is the word Pikelet. In Sheffield this now generally refers to what are more widely known as crumpets, however traditionally Pikelets were a seperate thing, defined in Addy’s 1888 glossary as ‘a thin round cake, made of flour, eggs, milk and yeast.’

Dishclout is another term that was mentioned to me, which denotes a dish cloth often made from an old vest or pair of pants – always handy for spillages – another one that is attested in Addy’s 1888 glossary.

Mardy Thanks to the Arctic Monkeys everybody knows of the Sheffield Dialect phrase ‘Mardy Bum’, which is used to refer to a person who has ‘got the face on’ or in other words is sulking and being moody. This word has been around a long time, and we know this because it is listed in dialect glossaries since as far back as Addy’s in 1888, where it is defined as referring to ‘a spoiled child.’


This illustration is by Whitworth, found in Derek Whomersley’s ‘Sheffieldish – A Begginer’s Phrase-book’

Love or Duck are commonly used as a term of address by Sheffielder’s, as pointed out in Whomersly’s (1981) ‘Sheffieldish’ phrasebook, in the statement ‘You must not be shocked when you are addressed as ‘luv’ or ‘duck’, aimed at newcomers to Sheffield.

Spice is the word that some Sheffielder’s use to name sweets or confectionary, or as mentioned in the Hallamshire Glossary ‘any sweetmeats given to children’ (1983:84) as the meaning used to extend to dried fruits, puddings and deserts.

Snap is what Sheffielders call food on the go or a packed dinner which somebody takes to work to eat. This is found in Addy’s 1888 Glossary, and here we learn that this word was most commonly used amongst workmen, and thus we might have expected its use to be traditional of industrial life in Sheffield and common within mining and steelworks communities.
And to avoid any confusion in the use of the word dinner, this is used for the meal at midday, with tea being used to refer to the meal that is eaten in the early evening or at teatime – Sheffielder’s use the ‘Breakfast-Dinner-Tea’ format as opposed to ‘Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner’.

Incase you were wondering where Sheffielder’s stand in the whole bread debate, in the steel city you will find the word Breadcake, not roll or bap or barm. On every chip shop menu in the city you will find the term ‘breadcake’ under side/extras.

A Picture of the menu at Sheffield’s Castle Market Chippy, with bread cakes on offer!

And that small passageway that you use as a shortcut between two streets or blocks of houses, that’s a Jennel in Sheffield, not a ginnel or alleyway. This word is found in Addy’s 1888 glossary of Sheffield words, defined as ‘an entry, a narrow passage between two or more houses.’

Just to confuse you even more, Sheffielder’s will substitute til in phrases such as ‘9 til 5’ for while. This is something that I personally didn’t realise was a Sheffield feature until leaving Sheffield and telling my non-Sheffield work colleagues that I was working a 7 while close to be met with a stark lack of understanding.

Fettle which means ‘to make clean’, is another word which has been part of the discussion. This word can be found in both the Hallamshire Glossary and Addy’s Sheffield Glossary of 1888. We would expect to hear this term in a phrase such as ‘I need to give my living room a good fettle.’

Now obviously these are just a small minority of the many Sheffield Dialect words that can be heard on the streets of Sheffield. There are also many words from the past that are falling out of use or have already been lost. If you are interested in me writing further posts like this one where I write about more dialect words and phrases please let me know in the comments. And again if there are any more that you know of and would like to share, or if you recognise or use any of the ones above, then please feel free to comment below!

References

Addy, Sidney Oldall. 1888. A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield, English Dialect Society (London: Trübner)

Bywater, Abel. 1854. The Sheffield Dialect (Sheffield: Rodgers and Fowler)

Crawford, Hannah. 2015. Sheffield Dialect: The Deer-Dar Book (Great Britain: Amazon)

Hunter, Joseph. 1983. The Hallamshire Glossary (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language)

Whomersley, Derek. 1981. Sheffieldish: A Beginners Phrase-Book (Sheffield: City of Sheffield Publicity Department)