Pottery Phonology (2)


This post may be something of a disappointment to anyone wanting a comprehensive analysis. As I said last week, while the modern accent can be compared, for its differences, with standard British English accents, it would be wrong to compare the dialect in the same way, as both the modern standard and the local dialect are descended separately from different dialects of Middle English, and even Old English. Modern Standard English arises from the form of the East Midlands dialect of Middle English as spoken in the London area (and note that what is usually taught today as ‘Standard’ Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, was not this dialect, but Wessex), whereas the dialect spoken in North Staffordshire was West Midlands.

It would take a whole doctoral thesis to make a thorough analysis of the phonology of Pottery dialect, so here are just some of the most noticeable features:

Middle English (ME) long U /uː/ has split: in many cases it has become /ai/, as in house or council (the first of these is a Germanic word, the second Romance, which is itself interesting for dating the evolution of the sound), so that “Arfur Tow Crate in Staffy Cher” can make fun of the phrase ‘kind slice’ for “council house”. Other words with ME /uː/, however, have developed to /ɛu/. Now and mouse are examples of this.

ME /a/ before a nasal had already become /ɒ/ in the West Midland area, so that man is pronounced /mɒn/, and cannot is /kɒnə/.

ME /eː/ has simply diphthongized in many cases: see is pronounced /sei/, while ME /ai/ has become a closer monophthongal vowel /iː/: say is pronounced /siː/.

ME /iː/ has in many cases merged with ME /eː/ – wife /weif/, mice /meis/. Elsewhere it has undergone the general vowel shift to /ai/, and then simplified to /aː/ and then to /ɑː/ my wife is often called /ˈmɑː liːdi/ (= “my lady”).

ME /el/ has opened to /al/: tell pronounced /tal/. In final /al/ the /l/ has vocalized and the /a/ backed and risen to form a diphthong /ou/: ball pronounced /bou/.

Apart from the phonology, Pottery dialect has some archaizing grammatical features as well: retention of a second person singular form of modal verbs is the most obvious. The shibboleth question for recognizing another Potteries native is “Cost kick a bo’ agen a wo’, then yed it til thee bost it?” Translated, this is “Can you kick a ball against a wall, then head it until you burst it?” It loses a lot in the translation.



  1. I’m not disappointed at all. With a dialect as neglected as this, any description from a native is valuable.

    Am I right in thinking that “thou” (strong form) in Potteries would be [ðaɪ]? Is the distinction between “thy” and “thee” preserved, or has it merged as in Yorkshire and Lancashire dialect?

  2. Graham,

    Does trad. Potteries have any vestige of the /ɜː/ > /ɒ/ phenomenon found in parts of Derbys & Notts? An example is ‘shirt’ and ‘shot’ as homophones.

  3. Oops! The last comment was from me.

  4. Ed – ‘thee’ (pronounced /ðei/) is the normal nominative, rather than ‘thou’. Stressed ‘thy’ ought to be pronounced /ðɑː/, by analogy with ‘my’ (as in my example in the post). In unstressed positions, nominative and accusative shorten to /ði/, so “Thee hadst better do whatever he tells thee” is /ði st ˈberə duː wɒrˈevər i ˈtalz ði/.

    John – my example sentence illustrates exactly this: “… then yed it till thee bost it” – ‘burst’ > ‘bost’. Also the town Burslem > Bozlem (Arnold Bennett knew about this – he re-named Burslem as “Bursley” but said that the locals called it ‘Bosley’). I can’t imagine anybody rhyming “shirt” with “shot”. Perhaps it depends on the underlying vowel before the (now lost) /r/.

  5. Thanks, Graham.

    It sounds as if there is the potential for both “thou” and “they” to be /ðei/ when unstressed.

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