Banbury accent: Keith outlines his attitude towards local politics, the environment and law and order



This recording is an example of a Banbury accent.

One of the most noticeable features of pronunciation in England is the distinction between speakers in the north who generally pronounce the vowel in words such as bath, grass and dance with a short vowel – rather like the vowel in the word cat – and those in the south, who use a long vowel for these words – rather like the sound a doctor might ask us to produce when examining our throat. Thus you can immediately deduce something about a person who pronounces baths to rhyme with maths or pass to rhyme with mass.

A linguistic crossroads

Places like Banbury are located at the boundary where these two forms meet, and it is no surprise to hear that the vowel Keith uses here, in the words past, ask, vast and laughing is neither one thing nor the other – a sort of half-way house between the two opposing forms. Elsewhere he pronounces the words after and last with a more northern-sounding short vowel. This demonstrates perfectly how speakers in areas where dialects converge are divided. Some speakers favour one form, others favour the competing alternative, while others, like Keith here, fluctuate between both forms.

Listen also to the vowel sound Keith uses when saying words in the following set: town, out, bound, about, surrounding, how, down, pound, allowed, ground, round, without and Crown Prosecution. His pronunciation of these words might sound quite unusual to some listeners, as it is an extremely local feature, restricted to older speakers in parts of rural North Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

About the speaker

Keith Gardner (b.1944/07/13; male; caretaker)



Eka: And is there an, a, a bit of landscape here round Oxfordshire that has changed since, since you were a child? Something maybe that you were fond of, that you went to often or what bit

Keith: Uhm.

Eka: is there a bit that’s dramatically changed?

Keith: No! [laughs]

Eka: That’s rare!

Keith: Not for me really, cause, uhm, I can say this is the area that I was born in, uh, and this estate that we’re on now has been here for what? At least, no, it was b, it was built in the nineteen, early sixties, so it’s been here at least nearly forty years. Is that right? Yeah, been here nearly forty years, so even as a young child this estate was there and we’d got the fields to roam past that. So this end of town hasn’t altered dramatically, uh, and even the villages round here haven’t really grown out of all proportion. The other side of the town certainly has: that’s, that’s grown dramatically, but, uhm, when I was young we didn’t go over that side of town. And, uhm, now I’m older I’ve got no need to go over that side of town.

Eka: Why has it grown on that side and not this side?

Keith: Bad planning. Now that’s one of the, being a local chap, that’s one of the things I do think is stupid: the way they’ve literally built all the town; all the infrastructure – roads, motorways – to one side of the town. And that’s why I don’t go over there, cause it’s so damn awkward to get there nowadays; the tr, roads are always blocked; they’ve got this wonderful inner ring road which is a total failure, cause it still pushes everything onto one set of traffic lights, quite literally. I know the councillors’ll tell you different, but they are bound to say that, aren’t they? And it’s a, it’s a, well, it’s a complete mess, really.

Eka: Do you feel strongly about the environment?

Keith: Depends on what you mean by the environment. Do you mean buildings or the way life is in general, uh, as regards refuge [sic] and things like that?

Eka: Both, all of it.

Keith: Both. Building-wise I don’t think in this area they do too bad. They seem to have a little bit of thought about it, except for building it all in one place, but other than that I don’t think North Oxfordshire does too bad. They seem to have got a balance between what we need and what sort of fits in with the surrounding areas. Uh, some of the other things I think are a, a bit bad: the way they keep on, this green issue, I’m not really a green issue person, as it’s, it’s too little, it needs, it needs some stronger force and don’t ask me how to do that, but it needs somewhat stronger to push it and make it obvious what you should be trying to do. And uhm, you know, pollution: there’s a hell of a lot of that about, but, uhm, how do you get rid of the cars? Cause the g, all the governments, past governments, all the people over the last generations have forced the cars on us and I don’t see how anybody can say you’ve not to have your car now. Unless it’s a real radical thought, but how they do it, don’t ask me.

Eka: Have you ever been on a protest of any sort?

Keith: The only one I ever went on was, uh, when they tried to, or were considering closing down vast parts of the local hospital. So I, I did join that protest, uh, mostly because I worked at the hospital at that time, so that was self-uhm-preservation I think, but that’s the only one I’ve ever been on.

Eka: What do you think about protests? Do you feel that they, kind of, change things?

Keith: Well that one worked, for a little while. Uhm, they’ve had several protests since and each one seems to be a little bit weaker. Uh, I think they’re a good idea and some of them, as a, like this Greenpeace,[1] think that’s probably a good idea, but whether it will do, it does do some good, cause one or two issues they’ve obviously altered, uhm, but again I, I think it needs something more powerful and something more pointed to make them realise that they’ve got to do something.

Eka: OK. How safe have you felt during your life?

Keith: Uhm, as a youngster very safe, uh, because crime didn’t exist when I was young anyway. It did really, but you didn’t hear of it so much. But nowadays not too safe, uh, certainly going into town: weekends I wouldn’t want to go, because I find, because as I’m getting older I find the, the attitudes and the, the way people react and move about town, certainly in the evening-time as more aggressive and threatening to me. Uh, mostly because I’m a coward and I don’t, don’t want to get into physical violence and I think people, the children, uh, children, uh, the youngsters of today, the dress and everything, sort of, projects a violent image. You know, they, they, the, the clothes that they wear compared to what I would accept always seem, only seem aggressive; they’re sort of chunkyish and biggish. And as children nowadays are bigger than me I definitely get frightened.

Eka: And do you think police attitudes to youth crime, for instance, have, have changed over your lifetime?

Keith: Oh yeah; much too soft. It’s pathetic the way they behave, not just the police, it’s the, it’s the, not the police necessarily; it’s the way they’ve been restrained, again by the system, the, you know, the, what we, I say we got to call the ‘do-gooder’ influence. I think it’s just gone too far and should tilt, be now tilted the other way. They, uh, people are let off, you know, no matter how serious the crime. It seems to be that all they’d give them is a few hours community service, which I, my wife used to run a playgroup and she used to have them in occasionally doing some decorative work for her. And they were just laughing, because it was a, just a big joke to them they thought it, “Well, this is, this is easy.” And the people who run those sort of organisations would come in and would actually give them cigarettes and “Oh go and have a cup of coffee.” So there’s no, there’s no conviction to the, uhm, to make them want to try and reform theirselves; it’s, it’s the ‘do-gooders’ again, really, have tipped the balance too far. And, uhm, they won’t allow the true feelings of the people to shine through, where, you know, I say if somebody runs somebody down and kills them, instead of giving them a, two-hundred hours community work and a five pound fine; send them to bloody gaol. And make it a proper gaol, not this form where they’re allowed television and, you know, the, the things that, I should like some of the damn things they have. You, I used to know a chap used to come fr, he came from Italy before the war and the little village where he lived, he said, all they had, no matter what your crime was, you got six months. And the prison there was a hole in the ground where you couldn’t quite lie down and you couldn’t quite stand up in and he said you didn’t commit a crime after that; once was enough, but now? No, sorry, it’s, uhm, the politicians and the ‘do-gooders’ have ruined it.

Eka: What would you propose, then?

Keith: Stricter, harsher sentences and make it obvious that it is a sentence; not give them the freedom to go wandering round and smoke and play and all these sort of things which makes them, I think, more aggressive, because they, they feel as though they’re achieving something by being in prison nowadays. They don’t see it as a punishment where they’re allowed to watch television; go to films; all this gym-work and that. Just make them really suffer, so that they wouldn’t want to go back.

Eka: Have you ever committed a crime?

Keith: Uh, no; totally blameless.

Eka: [laughs] And what do you think’s the best way to react to, to, to young people who commit crimes?

Keith: The same thing.

Eka: Things like joy-riding.

Keith: Oh, those little sods; I know what I’d do with them, but you’re not allowed to nowadays. Uh, not without an anaesthetic. Uh.

Eka: Not but what?

Keith: Not without an anaesthetic. No, I should think that’s where they should be clamping down on, but they say, but it’s not the police; I don’t blame the police really. Uh, it’s this Crown Prosecution, people like, there again it’s the system that, it’s allowed, that, it, to happen, you know, the, the police have got no real powers and, you know, they, they want to, they would love to, uhm, what’s the word I’m striving for? They would love to, uhm, commit them for some sort of trial very often, but they’re overruled. But they know damn well that the next day these young offenders will be back out there doing the same thing, because it, it becomes exciting to them, cause they know they can get away with it. And so what’s, what’s the punishment if it’s no punishment?


[1] Greenpeace, founded in Canada in 1971, is an international organisation that campaigns actively in support of general conservation and the protection of the environment.

Banbury accent: Keith outlines his attitude towards local politics, the environment and law and order
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