River Wissey Lovell Fuller


February 2020

WE MOVED FROM BLACK FEN TO THE BLACK COUNTRY & FROM FEN MEN TO YAM YAMS A celebration of Black Country dialect, language and humour In last month's article I described how we had met Father Christmas and discovered that he comes from the Black Country. I promised to tell you about the Black Country. After 40 years in Norfolk, where I really enjoyed the local dialects and language, Head Office and I find ourselves in Worcestershire, very near to the Black Country which comprises part or all of the Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell (part of West Bromwich), Walsall and Wolverhampton and has a population of about one million people. It gained its name in the 1800s due to the smoke in the air and the working of shallow 30ft thick coal seams. As far as the eye could see, coal mines and coke-making works, iron foundries and forges, glass-making factories and brickworks filled the landscape. Soot and smoke belched out of the chimneys and furnaces, polluting the air so much that daylight hours were darker that night-time. In 1832, 13 year old Princess Victoria's coach passed through and she wrote “I just now saw an extraordinary building flaming with fire. The country continues black, engine flaming, coals in abundance. Everywhere, there were smoking and burning coal heaps”. Many commentators described the area as “Black by day and red by night” as the glow from the furnaces lit the night-time sky. Some claim that the above definition (four boroughs) is a marketing tool to sell and promote the West Midlands. Traditionalists claim that the Black Country is where the coal seam comes to the surface so West Bromwiich,, Oldbury, Black Heath, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesfield and parts of Halesowen, Wednesbury and Walsall, but not Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Smethwick. Now for the bit that interests me the most! The accent and the vocabulary. Much like Norfolk folk, Black Country residents have their own accent and vocabulary which are firmly rooted in the Anglo-Saxon languages which came to the area in the 10th Century. The dialect is still regarded as one of the oldest and purest forms of Middle English. Its speech patterns, word order and, often, the words themselves have remained unchanged over the centuries and the strength of dialect and language has been reinforced because indiginous people never needed to leave the area to find work. Until recently, they would use 'Thee' for 'you' and 'thine' for yours. Snooty neighbours in nearby Birmingham (known in the Black Country as Brummies) christened them “The Yam Yams” because, instead of saying 'You are' they say 'Yow am' shortened to 'Yow'm'. As an example, the snooty neighbours might say “You're crazy but you're still my friend”. Black Country dialect would be 'Yow'm nuts but yow'm still mah mairt' This would sound like 'Yam nuts but yam still mah mairt' The Black Country folk have a great sense of humour which is self-mocking and self-promoting and they have adopted the term “Yam Yam” and have turned it from the original term of derision into a badge of pride. When reading Yam Yam, the secret is to look at the words, then read the sentence as quickly as you can. Each area of the Black Country has its own distinct dialect, often different from one side of the road to the other. Dudley is sing along, Tipton and Wednesbury have flatter sounds and the surrounding areas tend to be more guttural. There is a large Black Country Museum – massive and great fun - well worth a visit. My lovely daughter in law, Juliann, can imitate the Yam Yam accent brilliantly and she has helped me with this article. The humour can be quite dark – for example, During the Depression, a Bilston man (who speaks in italics) was walking along the canal contemplating suicide when he heard “Elp! Oim drahnin, serv me” “Oh, are you duw yo werk?” “Stuwut un Lydds, Oim drahnin, serv me!” “Wull, you can bl**dy well drahn, Oim arfter yowr job!” Our hero presents himself at the factory gate “Does Abner Edwuds werk ere?” “Ar, but he ay (hasn't) cum this mornin” Ar know. He's drahnin in the cut. Con oi ave is job?” “Yowm tew lert, mate.We just set on the bloke that shuvved im in! Ayuk and Ayli are standing watching a neighbour running up and down the garden pretending to ride a motor bike. Ayi says “Whats up wi im?” “Tek no notice. He'm saft in the yed” “Well ha ay (has not) got a bike – you orter tell 'im” “Not likely - he pays me a fiver a wik to clean it” Ayli sees Aynuk in a railway cutting sprinting along in front of a train. “Hey, Aynuk, why don't yer run up the bonk (bank)?” “If I cor (can't) beat it on the straight I definitely cor beat it up the bonk!” During the war, a British general visited an Army hospital of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Trying to rally Aynuk and Ayli, he said “ Now, you two men didn't come here to die, did you?' “Na Sur”, they replied in unison “Way booth coomd ere yesterdie” In preparing this article, I used the books “Black Country Dialect (Hawthorne), “Black Country Dictionary & Phrase book (Edwards)) and “Black Country Wit and Humour” (Hawthorne and Zajak). If you have time and wish to hear the dialects for yourself, go onto the Worldwide Cobweb and search for Black Country Humour Tipton (lots of videos of Doreen Tipton & other comedians). Also, look for Johnny Coles' songs. Well, as they say in the Black Country, “Tara a bit” Ian Nisbet Next month, we'll talk about chain making.

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