‘Ow bist you ? The Origins of the Black Country Dialect

Black Country

Of all the dialects in England, the Black Country dialect has the highest percentage of vocabulary descending directly from Anglo-Saxon, making it one of the oldest dialects of England. Most of the other accents of England were far more impacted by the Vikings (Old Norse) and the Normans (French). If you want to know more about the Anglo-Saxon, Vikings and Normans, read our article Where Do Accents Come From ?

This is largely explainable by geography. With the Vikings incursion into England being mostly coastal and predominantly from the North and East, and the Norman invasion coming from the South. The Black Country, nestled in the west midlands, was therefore less impacted than other areas of England.

Black Country

A look at the map of the Black Country also bears evidence to this. There are very few place names in the Black Country of Viking or Norman origin, most derive from Anglo-Saxon.

LEAH (meaning = meadow) Dudder’s Lea (Dudley), Cradder’s Lea (Cradley)
HALH (meaning = river valley) Wals Halh (Walsall), Halh’s Owen (Halesowen)
TUN (meaning = enclosure) Wulfruna’s Hean Tun (Wolverhampton), Bilsaetna tun (Bilston)
WICK/WICH (meaning = farm) Bramwich (West Bromwich), Blocca’s wic (Bloxwich).

Ed Conduit’s excellent and authoritative book “The Black Country Dialect” examines writings from the region from Anglo Saxon times through to the present day, charting the evolution and influences on the Black Country dialect. Ed explains how two famous writings from the West Midlands in the 13th Century ( The Ancrene Wisse and Laghamon’s Brut ) are notable for their comparative lack of French influence, despite them both being written almost two centuries after the Norman Conquest. Ed’s book is available from the Black Country Society, click here for details.


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