Derbyshire dialect: Tom describes a particularly good sale of a car and recalls a violent thunderstorm



This recording is an example of a traditional Derbyshire dialect.

The Derbyshire dialect

Tom is clearly a speaker of traditional Derbyshire dialect. He uses a number of grammatical constructions that might sound unfamiliar to modern listeners. Above all, listen to the archaic personal pronoun, hoo, he uses in the statements hoo’s got us next time and I couldn’t go out because hoo were that frightened. This was the feminine pronoun that was used in the West Midlands from the Middle English period until relatively modern times. It has now been replaced in virtually all dialects of modern English by the pronoun, she – a word of Scandinavian origin that became standard in northern English dialects and spread southwards over time. Elsewhere, however, Tom uses another non-standard feminine subject pronoun, her, in the statements her only cost thirty bob, like and her says dost think so. Although nowadays this sort of construction is increasingly rare, you can still hear it among dialect speakers in the West Midlands and in the West Country.

Negative constructions

An extremely subtle difference between various dialects across the UK is the way in which the negative particle, not, is attached to words in speech. Listen closely to the way Tom says wouldn’t, can’t, couldn’t and won’t in the statements he wanted me to run it up, but I wouldn’t; thou canstn’t do naught, only sit and wait on it going over; I can’t milk the cows; the cows won’t stand still and I couldn’t go out, because hoo were that frightened. In each case he replaces the <t> sound with a weak vowel sound – a feature that you can still hear among broad dialect speakers in this part of the Midlands, from the Potteries and other parts of Staffordshire into Derbyshire and the Peak District. It is equally apparent on other negative constructions such as don’t didn’t, isn’t, and shan’t.

About the speaker

Tom J Woolley (b.1894; male, smallholder)



Tom: What's the good of working too hard, thou knows? Thou learnest a bit of sense as thou gettest older. If thou startest when, when thou startest to stop, thou knows, thou wants to start as an old man and keep on as an old man and thou'd live longer, but if thou startest and does a lot of work, folks laugh at thee and then thou hast, thou hast worn thysen out by time as thou gets an old man, dost thou know?

Stanley: Oh yes.

Tom: I used to sell cars, motor cars: I once bought one for, well, I bought two for three pound. And I brought one home and I gen a man a ride in it and he, he says, “Where hast got this from?" I says, “I bought her at Derby[1]." “How much is her?" I says, “Sixteen pound." He said, “Would, would let this youth run it up for me?" Well, he wanted me to run it up, but I wouldn't. I says, “Let him take it," I says. He come back gain in about an hour with the cheque for sixteen pound, her only cost thir, thirty bob, like, for her, thirty bob for the tother. I went for the tother and sold it to the scrap-iron dealer [laughs]. I were milking in the shed and I's just one calf at the finish and I were milking there and by Goy there come such a clap of thunder! So missus is very frightened. So I come and I says, “Art all right, mother?" Always called 'mother', thou knows. Her says, “Aye, but oh dear," her says, “what are we going t'do?" “Well," I says, “thou canstn't do naught, only sit and wait on it going over." “Oh," her says, “Art thou going to stop with me?" “Aye, I'll stop with thee," I says, “I can't milk the cows; the cows won't stand still, they're frightened." Oh her kept coming and all at once there come such a crash and it looked like as if it were out in the field there. I says, “Hold thy straps,[2] mother," I says, “hoo's got us next time." Her says, “Dost think so?" I says, “Aye," but hoo went over; hoo hit that tree at the tother side the field there. Her busted her up. I says, “How, mother, we shall all right now," I says, “it's only a strag as'll hit us." Hoo were on, it were nine o'clock when I'd finished milking and I couldn't, I couldn't go out, because hoo were that frightened.

Stanley: Aye.

Tom: Well, at last it went over and I finished milking, but every time it thundered we jumped. I says, “Thou'rt all right," I says, “he'll none hurt thee," I says, “let's go to bed and go to sleep, and we shall none be so bad." I says, “If we can go to sleep all right," I says, “we shall none hear her."

Stanley: Aye.


[1] Derby is a city to the south-east of Kniveton.

[2] This word is inaudible, but a possible interpretation has been supplied.

Derbyshire dialect: Tom describes a particularly good sale of a car and recalls a violent thunderstorm
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