The Sussex dialect is a dialect that was once widely spoken by those living in the historic county of Sussex in southern England. Much of the distinctive vocabulary of the Sussex dialect has now died out, although a few words remain in common usage and some individuals still speak with the traditional Sussex accent.
The Sussex dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Historically, there were three main variants to the dialect: west Sussex (west of Shoreham and the river Adur), mid Sussex (between the Adur and Hastings) and east Sussex (from Hastings eastwards). There were also differences between downland and Wealden communities. In particular, the people of the Weald were thought to have the most impenetrable accents. The Sussex dialect shows remarkable continuity: the three main dialect areas reflect the historic county's history. The west and mid dialect areas reflect the ancient division of Sussex between East and West, which until the creation of the rape of Bramber in the 11th century lay along the river Adur. The eastern dialect area reflects the unique history of the Hastings area, which was home to the kingdom of the Haestingas until the 8th century.
Sussex dialect words have their sources in many historic languages including Anglo-Saxon,Old Dutch, a dash of 14th-century Middle French, and a little Scandinavian. Many words are thought to have derived from Sussex's fishermen and their links with fishermen from the coasts of France and the Netherlands.
Th-stopping: /ð/ is invariably [d]: these and them become dese and dem
/d/ in its turn is occasionally changed into /ð/, turning fodder into fother
Metathesis of final "sp" in such words as wasp, clasp, and hasp, pronounced as wapse, clapse, and hapse
Words ending in /st/ have an additional syllable in the possessive case and the plural; therefore, instead of saying "the birds had built their nests near the posts of Mr. West's gate," a Sussex boy would traditionally say "the birds had built their nestes near the postes of Mr. Westes' gate;" see reduplicated plural
In the 19th century, William Durrant Cooper found that the people in eastern parts of Sussex spoke many words with a French accent. For instance, the word day was pronounced dee, and mercy as in the French merci. In Rye, the word bonnet was pronounced bunnet and Mermaid Street was pronounced Maremaid Street.
Gender is almost always feminine. There is a saying in Sussex dialect that 'Everything in Sussex is a She except a Tom Cat and she's a He.'
In the western variant of the Sussex dialect, 'en' and 'un' (sometimes written as 'n) were used for 'he' and 'it' and 'um' was used for 'them.'
While there is a popular belief that the Inuit have an unusually large number of words for snow, the Sussex dialect is notable in having an unusually large number of words for mud, thought to be over 30 different terms. Some of the words are:
Clodgy - muddy and wet, like a field path after heavy rain
Gawm - especially sticky, foul-smelling mud
Gubber - black mud of rotting organic matter
Ike - a mess or area of mud
Pug - a kind of loam, particularly the sticky yellow Wealden clay
Slab - the thickest mud
Sleech - mud or river sediment used for manure
Slob - thick mud
Slough - a muddy hole
Slub - thick mud
Slurry - diluted mud, saturated with so much water that it cannot drain
Smeery - wet and sticky surface mud
Stoach - to trample ground, like cattle; also the silty mud at Rye harbour
Stodge - thick puddingy mud
Stug - watery mud
Swank - a bog
Other dialect words
A twitten in Portslade
Boco - much (from the French word beaucoup)
Beasted - tired out
Bread-and-cheese-friend - a true friend (as distinguished from a cupboard-lover)
Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, commented that Sussex dialect had considerable similarities with the dialect of New England at the time. Some phrases common to Sussex were common in New England as well, such as "you hadn't ought to" or "you shouldn't ought", the use of "be you?" for "are you?" and "I see him" for "I saw him."
There are also significant links with the dialect of East Sussex and the dialect of African Americans in the southern United States. In particular, the use of dem, dat, and dese for them, that, and these was common in the 19th century both in Sussex and in the southern United States.
Other phrases that may appear to be Americanisms were widely used in Sussex dialect. Examples include the use of "the fall" for autumn, "mad" for "angry," "I guess," and "I reckon".
Significant numbers of Sussex people moved to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even earlier than that, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, Quaker William Penn, left Sussex for New England with around 200 Sussex Quakers. For several years before the voyage in 1681, Penn lived at Warminghurst Place in Sussex, worshipping near Thakeham. Later, there was also a major migration from Sussex to Ohio in 1822.
The Sussex dialect and accent are facing extinction. Commuting is on the increase in Sussex, caused by the lack of local employment opportunities coupled with high housing expenses and proximity to London. This has caused people with other accents to move to Sussex and the corresponding loss of the southern dialect.
Works in dialect
Tom Cladpole's Jurney to Lunnon, told by himself, and written in pure Sussex doggerel by his Uncle Tim – Richard Lower, 1830