The Five Boroughs of the East Midlands distinct from the Kingdom of Mercia in the early 10th century
The Eastern English Midlands were incorporated in the Norse-controlled Danelaw in the late 9th century by Ivar the Boneless. With their conquest, the county towns of the East Midlands counties were converted into fortified, Viking city-states, known as the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. The region's dialect owes much of its grammar and vocabulary to the Nordic influences of its conquerors. For example, the East Midlands verb to scraight ('to cry') is thought to be derived from the Norse, skrike in modern Scandinavian, also meaning to cry.
The East Midlands dialect of Middle English is the precursor of modern English spoken today.
Though spoken less commonly today, the dialect of the East Midlands has been investigated in texts such as the Ey Up Mi Duck series of books (and an LP) by Richard Scollins and John Titford. These books were originally intended as a study of Derbyshire Dialect, particularly the distinctive speech of Ilkeston and the Erewash valley, but later editions acknowledge similarities in vocabulary and grammar which unite the East Midlands dialects and broadened their appeal to the region as a whole.
"Ey up" (often spelt ayup / eyup) is a greeting thought to be of Old Norse origin (se upp) used widely throughout the North Midlands, North Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and "m' Duck" is thought to be derived from a respectful Anglo Saxon form of address, "Duka" (literally "duke"), and is unrelated to waterfowl.[n 2]
Non-natives of the East Midlands and North Staffordshire are often surprised to hear men greet each other as "M' Duck".
Those who speak traditional regional dialects are not trying unsuccessfully to speak Standard English. East Midlands English follows a series of distinct grammatical rules. Some examples follow below.
Until the mid-20th century, it was not uncommon to hear the use of informal forms of address, thee and thou, as compared to the more formal you. Use of the informal form of address is now uncommon in modern speech.
Personal and possessive pronouns
Personal pronouns differ from standard English as follows:
Reflexive pronouns are characterized by the replacement of "self" with sen (from Middle English seluen)
Y'usen – Yourself
Mesen – Myself
Thisens – Themselves/Yourselves
Ussens – Ourselves
Example: We sh'll ay to do it ussens. (We shall have to do it ourselves.)
Humorous texts, such as Nottingham As it is Spoke, have used their phonetically spelled words to deliberately confuse non-natives of the region.
Are you alright young man? Here, ⟨alrate⟩ is a spelling designed to convey the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨right⟩, which is /riːt/, and a slight diphthonging of /iː/.
Avya gorra wi'ya?
Is the wife with you? (lit. "Have you got her with you?) The pronunciation /wɪ jə/ with weak form WITH is alleged to be more common in Nottingham and the South East Midlands; pronunciations with th-fronting in WITH are alleged to be more common elsewhere. TH-fronting became a potential feature of the accents of the region in around 1960. The humorous spellings are designed to indicate H-dropping, the ’’Northern T-to-R rule’’ and /wi/, the non-Standard weakform of ⟨with⟩, which is common to many dialects in England.
'as any onya any onya?
Here is an example of Belper, Derbyshire dialect when asking a group of people if any of them have any matches with which to light a pipe. Has any of you, got any (matches) on you?
It's black ovver Bill's mother's
It looks like rain. (lit. "It's black over Bill's Mother's.") – a common, if somewhat old-fashioned, Midlands expression implying impending bad weather. The spelling ⟨ovver⟩ chosen to indicate the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨over⟩: /ɒvɚ/.
Awont gunta worra
I wasn't going to, was I? ⟨Awont⟩ , ⟨gunta⟩ and ⟨worra⟩ are blend words designed to convey the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨I wasn't⟩, ⟨going to⟩ and ⟨was I⟩.
A fund im in cut
I found him in the Canal, (lit. "I found him in the cut). Using the traditional and local word ⟨Cut⟩ for Canal. Canals were originally referred to as "Cuts" because during the industrial revolution canals or highways for transportation of goods were literally "cut" into the landscape and allowed to fill with water.
Thez summat up wee im
I think he may be ill. (lit. "There's something up with him."). The spellings here chosen to indicate the ‘‘Northern’’ feature that /eə/ is a monophthong, the non-Standard English word /ˈsʌmət/, which is historically found in many dialects across England (cf. its use by the London boatmen Gaffer and Riderhood in Our Mutual Friend and by the farmhands in Far from the Madding Crowd), the weakform of ⟨with⟩ previously mentioned and H-dropping.
Yer norrayin no tuffees!
You aren't having any toffees (sweets)! Humorous spellings here were chosen to indicate the Northern T-to-R rule and the phonological specification in the traditional dialect of ⟨have⟩, which is /eɪ/.
However, there are many words in use in the traditional East Midlands Dialect which do not appear in standard English. The short list below is by no means exhaustive. More comprehensive glossaries exist within texts such as Ey Up Mi Duck by Richard Scollins and John Titford.
nothing (homographic with /nɔːt/ the digit cypher, 0, and the (now only literary) naught /nɔːt/ of General English; /nəʊt/ is a traditional dialect phonological specification and /nɔːt/ is the regular development in General English).
anything (homographic with the now literary General English /ɔːt/)
There are also word forms that occur in Standard English but which have additional meanings in some of the varieties considered here.
In many dialects, this has the sense of ‘looking well’ often referring to a healthy plumpness. In Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, there still also exists a transferred sense of plump, robust, stout or overweight derived from this sense. Cf. Samuel Johnson’s comment that ‘‘It seems to be used in general conversation for plump’’ as cited in NED Bonny 2 b as (J.).
(There is a yet older sense now only commonly used in Scots, Northern & some Midland dialects meaning 'beautiful' generally rather than of individuals having a pleasing embonpoint specifically.)
stuck, caught (i.e. "Who's got a finger fast?")
an (illegal) crossbar ride, "two-up" on the crossbar of a bicycle
The greeting 'now then' (as 'Nah theen') is still in use in Lincolnshire and North-East Derbyshire, used where other people might say "Hello". 'Nen mate' can also be heard instead of "now then mate".
People from Leicester are known in the popular holiday resort Skegness as "Chisits", due to their expression for "how much is it" when asking the price of goods in shops.
Dialect variations within the political region
Northamptonshire is in the East Midlands region defined in the late 20th century, and has historically harboured its own dialect comparable to other forms of East Midlands English, particularly among the older generation. However, more recently its linguistic distinctiveness has significantly eroded due to influences from the western parts of East Anglia, the West Midlands, and the South as well as the 'Watford Gap isogloss', the demarcation line between southern and northern English accents.
The Danelaw split the present county into a Viking north and a Saxon south. This is quite plainly heard, with people in the south speaking more like people from Oxfordshire or Cambridgeshire and people in the north sounding more like people from Leicestershire.
Also of note is the anomalous dialect of Corbyite spoken around Corby in the north of Northamptonshire, which reflects the migration of large numbers of Scottish and Irish steelworkers to the town during the 20th century. The dialect is often compared to Glaswegian.
The dialect of Coalville in Leicestershire is said to resemble that of Derbyshire because many of the Coalville miners came from there. Coalville's name is still almost exclusive pronounced as "Co-ville" by it's inhabitants. Neighbouring pit villages such as Whitwick ("Whittick") share the Coalville inflection as a result of the same huge influx of Derbyshire miners.
The city of Derby, as well as boroughs in the vicinity of the city such as Amber Valley and Erewash share a common Derby dialect, which sounds largely similar to other East Midlands dialects such as Nottingham and Leicester. However, many other dialects in the county are influenced by neighbouring areas and cities. For example, the dialect of Glossop in the High Peak borough is largely similar to the North West's Manchester dialect due to its close geographical position to Greater Manchester, while that of Chesterfield and Bolsover share commonalities with the South Yorkshire dialect owing to their proximity to Sheffield and Doncaster. In addition, the dialect of the Derbyshire Dales is near identical to that of the bordering North Staffordshire, mimicking dialects in and around Stoke-on-Trent, as well as that of Crewe in Cheshire, North West England.
Lincolnshire and East Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire has long been an economically relatively homogeneous, less industrial more heavily agricultural county and is in part naturally separated by the River Trent divorcing its largest market town, the City of Lincoln from Nottinghamshire. East of the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the southern part of the county, the Lincolnshire dialect is closely linked to The Fens and East Anglia, and, in the northern areas of the county, the local speech has characteristics in common with the speech of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is largely due to the fact that the majority of the land area of Lincolnshire was surrounded by sea, the Humber, marshland, and the Wolds; these geographical circumstances permitted little linguistic interference from the East Midlands dialects until the nineteenth century when canal and rail routes penetrated the eastern heartland of the country.
In North Nottinghamshire and North-East Derbyshire, the dialect is very similar to South Yorkshire, including the occasional use of the pronoun thou amongst older people. See Stephen Whyles's book A Scab is no Son of Mine for examples of speech of the Worksop area.
The children's writer Helen Cresswell came from Nottingham, lived in Eakring and some of her characters featured on television during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Lizzie Dripping and Polly Flint, have distinct East Midlands accents, otherwise rarely heard in national broadcast media at the time.
^ There are also other suggestions for the origin of the term 'duck': one being attributed to a group of young children who would congregate in the River Derwent in the Morledge area of Derby in the early 19th Century, a time when the flow of the river was much slower. People who watched them sometimes remarked that they could "swim like ducks", an observation Joseph Masters once remarked in his memoirs. The children soon greeted each other with 'Ey up, my duck', calling themselves the 'Derby ducks' not long thereafter. This story has to be scrutinized against the word duck having been a term of endearment since at least the 1580s.