Yorkshire dialect lessons aim to save ancient words from extinction
26th August 2023

Six-week Yorkshire dialect lessons will begin in God’s Own Country to stop ancient words and phrases from becoming extinct

  • A six-week pilot course is being staged at a library in Keighley, West Yorkshire  

Many visitors to God’s Own Country probably think Yorkshire folk speak a different language.

But as well as a strong accent there really is a Yorkshire dialect, although the increasingly ancient words and phrases are becoming extinct.

Now in a bid to save the county’s language the Yorkshire Dialect Society is starting a six-week pilot course.

From next month the weekly two-hour sessions will be held in the library at Keighley, West Yorkshire.

The idea is to encourage people to speak, read and write the Yorkshire dialect.

The Yorkshire Dialect Society is starting a six-week pilot course to save the region’s unique linguist quirks (pictured is a sunset over Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line in the Yorkshire Dales National Park)

The society to promote the dialect has been going for 126 years and originally published a dictionary containing 350,000 words and phrases.

These days only a few people are alive that know many of them.

Rod Dimbleby, the society chairman, said: ‘Too often children were taught in school that Yorkshire dialect words and phrases were just “slang” or slovenly use of language, when in fact they may go back in linguistic terms over a thousand years to our Anglo-Norse ancestors.

‘These words are a rich part of our heritage and we need to treasure and use them.’

Much of the dialect has already disappeared from use, but there remain certain more common words and phrases.

Mr Dimbleby, 80, a retired modern languages teacher, said: ‘Most of the dialect I learnt from my grandparents is understandable by most Yorkshire people. But we have to accept language is changing all the time.’

He said some common English words are used in the dialect with a different meaning. Mr Dimbleby said the original use of the word ‘reckon’ is to compute or add up.

Rod Dimbleby (pictured), chairman of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, is starting a six-week pilot dialect course

Much of the dialect has already disappeared from use, but there remain certain more common words and phrases (file photo of the Yorkshire Dales) 

The ancient Yorkshire phrases that are at risk of dying out  



‘In Yorkshire if you say “I reckon now’t to it” that means “I don’t think much of it” and “I can’t reckon it up” means “I just can’t understand it”.’ 

Students will also be taught about the history of dialect, and introduced to texts and recordings that help to define what it means to ‘be Yorkshire’.

‘Part of the aim of the society is to try and keep alive this part of our heritage,’ said Mr Dimbleby. ‘There’s lots of phrases, from the mills and the mines, that hardly anybody uses now. It’s all still there.

‘Yorkshire dialect is such a wonderful language. I think it’s well worth preserving.’

He said the dialect is ‘dying out’ and ‘at what point it ceases to be a dialect I’m not sure.’ Adding: ‘These days with the internet you wonder whether young people will have vocabulary which is common to young people anywhere not just in their particular area.’

The society’s website lists contemporary words still in use in some parts of the county.

They include ‘addle’ which means to earn, ‘attercop’ which is a spider and ‘cat hawed’ is drunk. ‘Lap’ is to cover or wrap up, ‘laik’ means to laze around and ‘nithered’ is to shiver with cold.

While ‘piking off’ is to leave without paying and ‘sile’ is to rain heavily.

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