It is quite common to read articles focusing on the revival of the Cornish language or the increase in Welsh speakers. Rather less well known is that Norfolk also has its own dialect, famously pilloried on television in programmes such as All the King’s Men, where the inhabitants of Norfolk sounded more like they had come from the West Country. An expert of Norfolk dialect stated that the best rendition of a Norfolk accent he had heard recently was actually on Lark Rise to Candleford and that was supposed to be set in Oxfordshire. But did you know that Norfolk has its own language and many of the words are still in common use?
Norfolk vs Cornwall
Probably due to the fact that it is on the way to nowhere and even now does not have a motorway, Norfolk, like Cornwall, has been left rather to its own devices. Still popular with tourists but lacking the huge influx that Cornwall experiences every year, Norfolk still remains relatively undiscovered and quiet, away from the main tourist hotspots. People tend to stay in Norfolk and the population is perhaps more homegrown than in other counties, which possibly accounts for the survival of the Norfolk dialect, pronunciation and sayings; there has been less external influence. So if you get out and about a bit in rural Norfolk, you will easily hear a broad Norfolk accent and also some of the engaging language and words.
The first thing to understand is that Norfolk vowels are different so, for instance, ‘Cromer Pier’ would be pronounced ‘Cromer Pear’ and in fact, pier, pear and pair are all pronounced the same. Fuel is pronounced like foal, and boat sounds like boot. Accents also vary across the county, and a rural accent would differ from that heard in Norwich.
Norfolk Language and Terminology
Now onto language: there are some great examples, but here is a selection of some of the very best. In Norfolk, a Bishybarneybee is a ladybird – yes really – and woodlice are described as Barneypigs whilst gnats are Mingin, in more ways than one. A child’s roundabout is a Tittymartorter, a scarecrow is a Mawkin, and to jiffle is to fidget.
Promoting the Norfolk Language
Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND) have a website which includes a comprehensive list of Norfolk terminology and phrases. The President of FOND is Peter Trudgill, Honorary Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of East Anglia and also the author of a book just published in July 2018 entitled, Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language. FOND is a vibrant organisation intent on promoting Norfolk dialect far and wide; their annual Christmas pantomime, all in broad Norfolk, of course, is a complete comedy highlight and a date not to be missed in the festive season in East Anglia.