Stoke Newington

Patsie talks about attitudes to inter-racial relationships.
Patsie Walcott (1959/11/11 - Barbados; female, Community Service
C900/05049 © BBC

Transcript for Stoke Newington

Matthew: Were your parents letting you go out into, uhm, English pubs, clubs, bars?

Patsie: No! No, the first time I went out, uhm, without sneaking out, that was when I was seventeen. Uhm, no, act, I didn’t actually, yeah, I went out to a club. Uhm, I was working since I was sixteen years old and I was attending evening classes and I met, uhm, my partner, still, still my partner now, I met him then. And he kept a, he asked me out for about four months solid and I kept saying, “No!” Because I knew my parents wouldn’t, you know, they wouldn’t agree to it. So eventually I thought, you, you know, “Gosh! I’ve got to ask them.” So he said, you know, “I’ll come home and I’ll ask them if I can take you out.” So I said, “Would you do that?” So he said, “Yes.” So he came and he asked them and, uh, they said, “Yes, you can take her out, but she got to be back by twelve.” I was seventeen, you know. So he took me to this local disco and he brought me home by twelve o’clock. And that was, like, my first time, because they would never, you know, “Have a boyfriend?” “Forget it!” You know, that was another thing that at fifteen, fourteen, fifteen my white counterparts, my white friends were, “Oh my little boyfriend come home last night. Well, I’m going out with John; I’m going out with Bill this.” No way! You couldn’t even mention that to my parents. It was just not happening, you know, you didn’t, you didn’t go out with anybody.

Matthew: Where does your partner come from?

Patsie: Antigua. And he came here when he was ten years old, so, similar sort of background, similar sort of thing. It’s only, most of the people my age group, uhm, which, I’m thirty-nine, well, I’ll be forty this year, came over, were sent, uh, for or came over as babies or came over in their late teens or something like that, so, yeah.

Matthew: What would your parents’ attitude have been if you had been, uh, dating a white man?

Patsie: They would have been horrified. They would have been horrified, because it was kind of laid down, you know, you did not date, you did not, well, you would not marry, cause dating was out, you said you wouldn’t marry, they didn’t want you to marry a white man, Asian man or African man; he had to be Caribbean. You know, so I remember saying to them, you know, “You brought us here into this country, into this society where there’s so many different people. Why do you expect that we’re going to just go out with a Caribbean person and if at all possible a Bajan?” you know, that one first, but if not a Bajan then another Caribbean island. “Why, we’re living in a multicultural society, there’s so many people here. If some, if I meet someone am I going to say, ‘Where you from?’ and if they’re not Barbadian or they’re not West Indian I’m not supposed to friend to them?” You know, and, uh, my dad was, “I don’t care what you say. That’s it!” But they were very like, “No!” you know, “no!” If it was a white guy, it, there would’ve been problems; there would’ve been problems. And over the years he’s mellowed. Uhm, now my brother, my youngest brother – the one who was born here – is married to an Englishwoman. It’s, she, he’s married to a white woman and that wasn’t a problem, you know. The f, at first they were kind of, like, “Oh, I’m not sure about this; are you lot sure? Are there going to be problems? What about when the children come along? Are the children going to,” cause he always thinks that the kids are not going to know where they belong and it’s going to, you know, cause a problem. But he loves Jane to pieces; he thinks she’s fantastic. So, you know, that just shows you how much people’s attitude has changed.

Commentary for Stoke Newington

Caribbean pronunciation

There is very little evidence here that Patsie originally comes from Barbados – most of her speech patterns reflect the fact she has spent most of her life living in London. But there is one very subtle clue that gives us a sense of her Caribbean background: her pronunciation of the word ask. Listen very carefully to the way she says the statements he asked me out for about four months solid; eventually I thought, you, you know, “Gosh! I’ve got to ask them”; he said, you know, “I’ll come home and I’ll ask them if I can take you out” and so he came and he asked them. In most native British dialects ask is now pronounced with a vowel sound that varies depending on a speaker’s accent, followed by a <s> sound and a final <k> sound. Many speakers from the Caribbean, however, reverse the consonants, so that the <k> sound precedes the <s> sound.

Anglo-Saxon pronunciation

This pronunciation reflects a development that took place in England in the Middle Ages. The original Old English (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) word ascian underwent a sound change in a number of dialects that left speakers in the North using the original pronunciation, while speakers in the Midlands and in the South adopted the newer form, acsian or axian. This sound change – the reversal of two adjacent sounds or syllables – is referred to by linguists as metathesis and occurs quite frequently in words where certain combinations of sounds seem somehow ‘unnatural’. We have all, for instance, encountered younger speakers pronouncing words such as animal, cinema, spaghetti and ambulance as if they were ‘aminal’, ‘simina’, ‘pisketti’ or ‘ambliance’ respectively. Such ‘slips of the tongue’ are examples of metathesis that rarely transfer into adult language, although there are many speakers of all ages across the English-speaking world who use pronunciations such as ‘nucular’ for nuclear or the reverse – ‘spectaclear’ for spectacular. The change that occurred to Old English ascian had established itself as the preferred alternative in a number of dialects in England by 1600 and even appears in Chaucer’s Prologue to The Wife of Bath’s Tale, for instance:

But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan
‘And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan’

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (1386)
Taken from The Wife of Bath’s Tale Prologue, Chapter 30, lines21-22

British dialect pronunciation

English colonists were beginning to settle across the Atlantic by the start of the 1600s, and the word axian was transported to North America and the Caribbean. So it is not surprising that this form survives in Caribbean English, and is also widespread among black communities in the USA and indeed across all ethnic groups in some dialects of the southern USA. It was also frequently recorded among dialect speakers in The Survey of English Dialects that took place in rural England in the 1950s – particularly in the West Country and South-West of England. Nowadays it is extremely rare in the UK, other than among older dialect speakers or within the British Caribbean communities, as the northern form, ask, has established itself as the Standard English alternative. Nonetheless, it is intriguing to discover how archaic features such as this are retained in apparently distinct and remote dialects long after they have disappeared from the prestige standard language and from the dialects of the intervening geographic space.