Nowadays few Cotswold residents can decipher the true ‘Cotsul’ dialect. You might be able to understand the accent, but that’s only part of understanding the words belonging to this country. Only a minority of the population have been here for generations.
‘This Country’ is an award winning BBC ‘mockumentary’ filmed in Northleach, with several local people amongst its cast. It features the children of families whose ancestry has been rooted in the Cotswolds for centuries. The accent is easy for viewers all over Britain to understand, because it’s like ‘Mummerset’; the speech of actors in ‘The Archers’ and of comedians who want to represent ‘yokels’. Mummers were amateur actors who performed trade-guild mystery plays, and the ‘-set’ part of the false West Country accent is stolen from Somerset.
In ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Shakespeare included a Mummers’ scene performed by characters known as the ‘rude mechanicals.’ Shakespeare himself probably spoke in the Stratford accent of his day, but having a regional accent wasn’t likely to stop folks taking him seriously at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Daisy May Cooper and Charlie, her brother, who wrote and starred in This Country, are Cirencester ‘natives’. They didn’t include many dialect words that non-Cotsullers wouldn’t know. Most of the ‘non-mainstream’ words in the series are well understood by young people and their parents throughout the English-speaking world. A lot of them are a bit rude!
It’s not a ratings-winner to make your audience mombly-yudded. All the same, scriptwriters often use accents and dialogue to influence viewers’ assumptions about characters’ class, wealth, social status and likely intelligence. Comedians like The Two Ronnies often used the West Country accent to mock people they represented as stupid. It’s an illusion of course. For example, Professor Colin Pillinger, born in Gloucester, was a rocket scientist who spoke with a broad Gloucestershire accent. Archaeologist Phil Harding’s West Country burr didn’t hide the expertise he showed on Time Team on the telly. They ent fick.
Sadly, words which really show rural origins are disappearing fast. The Romans left our ancestors with a taste for snails. You don’t hear the description very often these days, but locals called them; “wallfish”. University professors believe regional English will die out completely, and we’ll all sound the same in fifty years. But words still reveal the difference between places.
Fifty years ago, Mr Groves, the maintenance man at the Bingham Library in Cirencester – then still in Dyer Street – told me about the ‘Cotsul’ dialect. I learned the meaning of two dialect words that very few know today; crimmy and mossoppit. If you know these words, please get in touch. I bet you know some other words that will be lost unless someone takes care to keep them safe. If you don’t know any local words, you might wonder whether you’ve just been insulted or flattered.
Mombly-yudded? Mombly means confused. Yudded is the word ‘headed’ in a broad Cotsul accent.
With the seasons being mombly, next month’s Country Matters should be timed around Harvest Festival. We shall see.