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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK


Do you speak Swardle?

The Yorkshire Dales: Home to a dying dialect

Has thee had a gay day?

No, you are not being questioned in a curious blend of Shakespearian English and Larry Grayson catch phrase.

John Waggett: "Ista galia how? - Are you well?"
You have merely been witness to the lingua franca of a few dozen natives of Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales.

But older residents in and around the village of Muker, in Swaledale, fear that population changes will soon render their historic dialect extinct.

Shifting demographics mean many young people are leaving the area in search of work, while outsiders are moving in to retire.

[ image: Gimmer, twinter or yow or tub?]
Gimmer, twinter or yow or tub?
Which is why community leaders have decided to document their way of speaking in an effort to preserve the local accent.

They are planning to record the distinctive pronunciation as part of a millennium project in the area.

The Swaledale - pronounced locally as Swardle - dialect, is so thick, it rivals other, better-known British accents, such as Geordie or broad Glaswegian.

It includes old English words such as "thee" and "thou" and some unorthodox pronunciations, explains life-long speaker Ernest Whitehead.

Shoe comes out as "shorn" and laying is pronounced "lornin". Farmers will opine "It has been a gay day" if they have had a good day, while a "good gay day" is a very good day.

Farming phrases

How are you? becomes "Ista galia how?".

The area's agricultural past is responsible for some unique farming phrases. A "gimmer" is a female sheep, a "yow" is a ewe, a "tub" a ram and a "twinter" is a two-year-old sheep, since it has survived two winters.

Ernest Whitehead's 40-second guide to speaking 'Swardle'
Mr Whitehead, 57, of Keld, picked up the dialect from his parents and would speak it at the local school.

Keld school has since closed and now children must travel more than 20 miles to the nearest secondary school, in Richmond.

"There's not many young people staying in the Dales. It's a shame if everybody ends up talking the same way," he says.

John Waggett, a farmer from Muker, says: "It's just how we were brought up. But nowadays it's bred out of them at school.

'Talking lar-dee-dah'

"They've got to talk right posh and lar-dee-dah. This is one of the things that's gone wrong."

Mr Waggett is one of the local residents, young and old, who has been invited to add his voice to a computerised archive.

The idea is one of several Millennium projects sponsored by Richmondshire District Council, which has contributed £60,000 for several such schemes in the area.

And soon the Swaledale culture will live on the Internet, as residents plan to set up a site to keep ex-pat Swaledalians abreast of local events.

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