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Writing in Black Country dialect

On Thursday night in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, where I grew up, I’m running a drop-in session to investigate whether or not the local dialect is dying out. I’ve been collecting dialect words and phrases by chatting to people, in person and on Facebook, and have been overwhelmed by the number of responses I’ve had.

As part of the Where’s Our Spake Gone? project, I’ve been commissioned by Rights & Equality Sandwell to create new work to be shared at another event in Cradley Heath, on Wednesday 6th April. (See http://ourspake.co.uk/) One thing about dialect is that it’s an oral language, so it’s tricky writing it down. Reading the Facebook comments, I’ve sometimes struggled to interpret the spelling, even though the dialect is familiar, because different people spell the same word in different ways, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it.

Below is a poem I wrote for performance on International Mother Language Day last year when I was pleased to represent the Black Country at the new Library of Birmingham. The annual celebration is held on February 21st. Here’s the blog I wrote about it in 2015 https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/international-mother-language-day/.

If you’re not from the Black Country, this poem will be difficult to understand. I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible whilst being true to the way it sounds when I perform it, and every time I type it out I change the spelling! I thought about adding translations of some of the words, and will be happy to do that if anyone asks. For the pedants (like me) it’s annoying that many of the apostrophes marking missing letters are the wrong way round but it would take me a while to sort that out. If you’ve ever used WordPress you’ll understand why! Anyway, here’s the poem. See what you make of it. (If you want a translation, some of it appears in plain English in my poem 37 Holly Bush Street https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/wheres-our-spake-gone/)

Teks me back

This poem teks me back
ter terraced ‘ouses on an ‘ill
wi’ front rooms kept fer Sunday best
an’ big fat windersills.

This poem teks me back
ter coal in the coal ‘ole, wood in the stove,
an entry, a fode an’ an outside lew,
pikelets on a fork, toasted wi’ love.

This poem teks me back
ter disembodied voices torturin’ God
once a wik dahn the Mission,
the Valetin’ bull, the drap ommer’s thud.

This poem teks me back
tew Alice marchin’ past our winder
tew ‘elp Mr Williams who’s short o’ one leg,
tekkin ‘im mate an’ tew veg fer ‘is jinner.

This poem teks me back
ter th’ooman oo wanted ter borry our phone
ter mek assignairtions wi’ men
cuz ‘er day a’ one of ‘er own
(ne’er a mon, ne’er a phone).

This poem teks me back
ter trips up the road ter Dingley’s shap
where ah liked ter say “Cheese please Louise!”
(in me yed) as ‘er cut off a slab.

This poem teks me back
tew our pairnted lairdy wi’ pitch black ‘air,
a buxom wench, allez tarted up.
Ah con still see ‘er stondin’ theer.

This poem teks me back
ter the owny buildin’ still left stondin’,
the pub, thar ah day goo in as a child.
Bur ah dew now! Yo could call it ‘bondin’.

© Heather Wastie

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