Is Wurzel English a Separate Language?

Warren Port writes about Somerset English. See the link for a baffling sample of this strange form of English.

Admittedly it is a very bad English, and he is exaggerating for effect but I understand most of it except for the odd word. When I was twelve we moved from London to a tiny village called Cattcott ten miles from the Mendips where this recording is from. In the eighties there were some people who spoke that way, probably more diluted now.

I am a linguist. We don’t really call anything “bad English.” All dialects are as good as any other. I just figure if you can’t understand it, it’s a foreign language. I would like to split English into some separate languages because some of them pretty much are.

Really Wurzel is just as much of a valid way to speak English as any others. This man speaks Wurzel, and he is able to communicate just fine with other folks who also speak it, so it is a valid lect. The only problem is that rest of us English speakers speak another English language that is very far removed from this English language, so we can’t understand him. Someone ought to write this language down. It’s cool because it seems like it has a lot of new words that I don’t have in the English language that I speak.

At a minimum, as separate languages, I would probably split off:

Scots. There appears to be more more than one language inside Scots. Scots itself is already split off as a separate language. There appear to be 4 separate languages inside of Scots.

Doric Scots. Doric is spoken in the northeast of Scotland in Aberdeen, Banff and Buchan, Moray and the Nairn. It has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots.

Lallans Scots. This form of Scots is spoken in the south and central part of Scotland. This is the most common form of spoken Scots. Difficult intelligibility with the other lects.

Ulster Scots. This is the form of the Scots language spoken in North Ireland, mostly by Protestants. It has many dialects and has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots.

Insular Scots. Includes the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects. Spoken on some Scottish islands and is reportedly even hard for other Scots speakers to understand. Of all of the Scots lects, this one is the farthest from the others.

Scottish English. We can probably split this off as well because it is probable that there are Scottish English speakers who can’t understand pure Scots very well. While some British English speakers can understand this lect well, others have problems with it. In particular, the dialect of Glascow is said to be hard to understand for many Londoners.

Hibernian English. English spoken in Ireland. There seem to be some forms of Irish English such as the hard lect spoken by the spokespeople for the IRA and its political wing like Gerry Adams, that are very hard for Americans to understand. Some English people also have a hard time with Ulster English.

Geordie and related lects from the far north of England up around Scotland. These lects are spoken around Newcastle in the far north of England on the east coast. Even the rest of the English often have a hard time with Geordie, and when people talk about multiple languages inside English, Geordie is often the first one they bring up.

Scouse. Really hard Scouse is barely even intelligible outside of Liverpool, not even in the suburbs. There is a report of an American who lived in Liverpool for a long period of time, and after 8 years, she still could not understand the very hard Scouse spoken by young working class Liverpool women. While some speakers of British English can understand Scouse, this is mostly due to bilingual learning. Other speakers of British English have a hard time with Scouse.

Potteries. Spoken almost exclusively in and around the city of Stoke on Trent in northern West Midlands. The hard form is not readily understood outside the city itself. The dialect is dying out.

Welsh English. The hard forms of Welsh English are not readily understood outside the region. There are at least 4 separate languages inside Welsh English.

South Welsh English.Welsh English is not a single language but actually appears to be four separate languages. The varieties of South Welsh English spoken in Cardiff and West Glamorgan (Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot) cannot be understood outside the region. It is not known if West Glamorgan English and Cardiff English can understand each other well. North Welsh English, South Welsh English and West Welsh English are as far apart as Newcastle, Cornwall and Birmingham; therefore, all three of them are separate languages.

North Welsh English. This language is spoken in areas such as Anglesy and Llanberis. It often has a soft lilt to it that people find pleasant and soothing. Probably poor intelligibility with West and South Welsh English.

West Welsh English. This is spoken in places such as Aberystwyth and Cardiganshire. Those two dialects are said to be particularly pleasant sounding. Probably poor intelligibility with North and South Welsh English.

Monmouth English. This form of Welsh English reportedly cannot be understood outside of Monmouth itself. Monmouth is a city on the eastern edge of Wales towards the south.

Wurzel. In particular the hard Wurzel form of West Country English spoken in Somerset at least until very recently is not well understood outside of Somerset. In addition, many younger residents of Somerset do not understand it completely. It sounds similar to Irish and has a lot of new words for things. Hard Wurzel is dying out, and its speakers are mostly elderly. The language of Bristol may be possibly be included here.

Weald Sussex English. A variety of Sussex English spoken in the Weald region of Sussex was traditionally very hard for outsiders to understand. It is dying out now, but it still has a few speakers.

Newfoundland English. There are reportedly some hard forms of Newfie English spoken by older fishermen on the coast of the island that are very hard for other North Americans to understand.

Appalachian English. Some forms of Appalachian English from the deep hollows of West Virginia are hard for other Americans to understand.

Mulungeon English. Some of the English lects spoken by Mulungeon groups in central Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, particularly the lect spoken by the Monacan Indians living near Lynchburg, are very hard for other Americans to understand. They seem to have an archaic character and use a lot of new words for things that I could not identify when I heard it. This may be a type of English often said to be archaic from centuries ago that is still spoken in the mountains. The degree to which this is intelligible with the rest of Appalachian English is uncertain.

Tangier English. Spoken on an island off the coast of Virginia by fishermen, this is a relatively pure West Country English lect from 1680 or so that has survived more or less intact. When they speak among themselves, they are hard for other Americans to understand. The degree to which this can be understood by West Country English speakers in England is not known. Unknown intelligibility with Harkers Island English.

Harkers Island English. Spoken on Harkers Island off the coast of North Carolina on the Outer Banks. Has a similar origin to Tangier English. It is hard for outsiders to understand. The degree of intelligibility between Tangier English and Harkers Island English is not known.

New York English. There is a hard form of New York English, not much spoken anymore, that cannot be well understood at least here on the West Coast. Tends to be spoken by working class Whites especially in the Bronx. In general, this lect is dying out. In my region of California, we recently had a man who moved here from the Bronx, a young working class White man. Even after 2-3 months here, people still had a hard time understanding him. He did not seem to be able to modify his speech so he could be understood better, which usually means someone is speaking another language, not a dialect. Finally he learned California English dialect well enough so that he could make himself understood.

Nonatum English or Lake Talk. Spoken only in Nonatum, Massachusetts, one of 13 villages of the city of Newton, mostly by Italian-Americans. Many residents came from a certain village in the Lazio region of Italy. It appears to be a mixture of Italian and Romani, the language of the Gypsies. Not intelligible to those outside the village.

Yooper. Spoken mostly in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, this lect is also spoken in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula and in parts of northeast Wisconsin. Heavily influenced by Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Flemish and French, this lect is hard for outsiders to understand largely due to the influence of these other European languages.

African American Vernacular English or Ebonics. This lect is spoken by many Black people in the US, often lower class people in ghettos or in the country. The hard forms of it cannot be understood at all by other Americans. I once had two Black women in my car for an hour or so. They were speaking AAVE. Over that hour, I do not believe that I understood a single word they said. They may as well have been speaking Greek. Forms spoken in the ghettos of Memphis and in the Mississippi Delta by rural Blacks may be particularly hard to understand.

South African English. While some Americans can understand this hard dialect well, though with difficulty, others cannot understand it. It is not known how well speakers of other Englishes such as British and Australian English can understand this lect.

Jamaican Creole English. Jamaican English Creole is already split off as a separate language. At any rate, in its hard form, it is nearly unintelligible to Americans.

Gullah English Creole is a creole spoken on the Gullah Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Already split off into a separate language. Not intelligible to American English speakers.

Nigerian Pidgin English. The harder forms of this may be rather hard to Americans to understand, but this needs further investigation. The hard forms are definitely quite divergent and seem odd to many Americans. Already split off as a separate language.

Australian English. Some forms of Australian English can be hard to understand for people outside the continent. I found that a form spoken in rural Tasmania was particularly hard to understand. I even have a hard time understanding Helen Caldicott, the famous physician. Other forms spoken more in the rural areas of the main island can also be rather hard to understand. Nevertheless, I can understand “TV Australian” well. However, speakers of British English are able to understand Australian English well, so it is not a language but rather a dialect of British English.

New Zealand English. This is similar but different from Australian English. While most New Zealand English is readily understandable to Americans, some of it can be a bit hard to hear. In the video below, the announcer speaks in TV New Zealand English, which I actually found a bit hard to understand, but I could make out most of it. The comedians spoke in a strong rural New Zealand accent. I could make out a lot of it, but not all of it for sure. However, British English speakers can understand all of the dialogue in this video. New Zealand English is not a language but is instead a dialect of British English.

Indian English. Some of the Indian English spoken by speakers in India can be quite hard to Americans to understand. What we need to know is whether this is a first or second language for them. If they were brought up speaking this Indian English, then it is a separate language. If it is simply English spoken as a second language by a native speaker of Hindi or another Indian language then it is not a separate language. Requires further investigation.

In conclusion, it seems that there are at least 25 separate languages and 3 creoles/pidgins inside of macro-English. 1 other case is uncertain.

28 Comments

Filed under Africa, Americas, Australia, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Canada, Dialectology, English language, Europe, Germanic, India, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Jamaica, Language Families, Linguistics, Nigeria, North America, Regional, Scots, Sociolinguistics, South Africa, South Asia, USA

28 responses to “Is Wurzel English a Separate Language?

  1. I grew up in Monmouth in the Wye Valley, next to the Forest of Dean.

    If I were to meet up with any one of my old school friends, within an hour we’d go back to our old accents and no outsider would be able to understand what we are saying.

    However, I can guarantee you, every single word and phrase we use is normal standard proper English but the way we cut corners when we speak makes these words morph beyond reasonable recognition. If an outsider tried to transcribe our speech, there would be a lot of letters missing and words misinterpreted.

    I expect somewhere someone has compiled a ‘dictionary’ giving all the funny phonetic spellings to Monmouth English.

    • James Schipper

      Suppose that I were to say: “I woo lie to hah two lee-eh aw mil, a poun of chee an a loa aw breah”, then my words are structurally similar to English, but they definitely are not proper standard English. James

  2. Steve

    People in England can understand a hard scouse accent without too much trouble because scouse is familiar to them and because almost every word spoken is standard English.

    Also, I can understand ordinary Scottish people quite easily. I’ve never heard an Australian I couldn’t understand. Most of these aren’t separate languages!

    • I do not know. I had a friend in Liverpool who said that hard Scouse was not easily understood outside the city. Other English people have told me the same. If you understand something because you have heard it a lot then it’s not just a dialect. That’s called bilingual learning and it doesn’t count.

      So you can understand Trainspotting just fine or what?

  3. kratos

    Nigerian Pidgin English ! “How dey you be Robert ? You dey make una fine post o !”. I like English, its the easiest language in the world – you can express the most meaning with the least amount of words.

  4. Dave

    I worked for over thirty years in an industrial setting with people from all over Asia, India, Africa, Europe and the Middle East and always managed to understand what they were saying until a Vendor from western England arrived. I gave up trying, after a couple of hours, to understand his accent and told him (he seemed to understand me) you’ll have to speak with some one else because I can’t understand a word you are saying.

  5. Warren Port

    Robert If you would like to learn some Wurzel English there is a book called Don’t tell I, tell ,Ee! by Roger Evans.

    Many of us in Dorset say that we speak English and Dorset, I know it’s the same with people in Somerset and Devon. Scouse and Jordie are hard to understand for some English people as are Scottish and Northern Irish.
    Personally Scottish is my favorite accent, I love it!

    Is it true that Trainspotting was subtitled in the US?

  6. Car Guy

    How can a country as small as the UK still have so much divergence in the way English is spoken? There have been centuries of seemingly nonstop invasions, wars, migration, etc, covering every inch of that island, and still some people have difficulties understanding each other? Damn.

  7. Terry

    Is a noticeable oddity that I have seen in replays of US news broadcasts that they will subtitle people with even only slightly odd accents [like people from New Zealand!], Heres some exaggerated New Zealand english accent from a famous kiwi comedian, also with commentator [also from NZ] speaking ‘BBC English’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeUzrsjwF4I
    I’m inside the bubble so hard to tell but remember reading NZ English has been proven to have developed from Australian englishes.

    There is no way in hell I consider my accent a separate language but as I say I see my country-people subtitled on US TV. WTF!

    • Even the announcer was a bit hard to understand. Hell if that is BBC English! He was hard to understand. I could pretty much understand him. It was hard, but I could get it.

      Who is the comedian? Some of those “farm hands” were completely unintelligible.

      • Terry

        actor john clarke / the character was Fred Dagg [daggs, not sure what american speak is, they they bits of dried up shit left behind on a sheeps arse. so a pretty proudly low brow name if being nice about it but think that was the point]

    • Lesley

      @Terry

      Re: “There is no way in hell I consider my accent a separate language but as I say I see my country-people subtitled on US TV. WTF!”

      I understood all of that perfectly well (I think i’ve actually heard stronger New Zealand accents than that and understood them perfectly well too). Of course there was a couple of words or phrases in there that are not commonly used in the U.K i.e ‘sheila’ (woman), ‘chook’ (chicken), ‘g’day’ (good day) – but so what? It’s obvious what they mean by the context and Americans use far more words not typically used in the U.K (don’t know about New Zealand) than that, e.g shopping ‘mall’ – what’s a shopping ‘mall’? Of course we know what one is because of the context it’s usually used in and we’ve become familiar with it through tv, films, (in some cases) visiting the place etc – but that word is not used in most English speaking places outside America.

      They’ve also come out with over the years, phrases and sayings like ‘cool’ to mean ‘good’ (which we’re all familiar with now, but this wasn’t the original English use for the word), ‘groovy’, ‘rad’ or ‘radical’, ‘bitchin’, ‘hot’ to mean the same thing, and ‘dude’ to mean ‘man’ (I think), we can often tell by the context of the sentence or the tone it’s said in what they mean, but these at the time they were started weren’t words or phrases typically used in those contexts in other places or parts of the world where English was spoken (that’s if the ‘linguists’ recognise any of those other, non Californian, places as speaking ‘English’, lol.

      They also say things like ‘faucet’ for what in the U.K would be ‘tap’ (don’t know about everywhere else), ‘pants’ to mean ‘trousers’, ‘condo’ to mean ‘flat’, ‘diaper’ to mean ‘nappy’, ‘parking lot’ to mean ‘car park’, ‘soccer’ to mean ‘football’, ‘pacifier’ for ‘dummy tit’, ‘period’ to mean ‘end of’ or ‘full stop’, ‘gas’ or ‘gasoline’ to mean ‘petrol’, ‘garbage’ or ‘trash’ instead of ‘rubbish’, ‘trash can’ for ‘rubbish’ or ‘dust’ ‘bin’, ‘math’ instead of ‘maths’, ‘popsicle’ instead of ‘ice lolly’, ‘John’ or ‘restroom’ as alternative words/terms for ‘toilet’, ‘side walk’ for ‘pavement’, (in some parts) y’all for ‘you all’, ‘howdy’ for ‘hi’ or ‘hello’, ‘zip code’ for ‘post code’, ‘frosting’ for ‘icing’, ‘board walk’ to mean ‘pier’ and they spell words that would be spelled in the U.K ‘colour’, ‘color’, ‘catalogue’, ‘catalog’, ‘plough’, ‘plow’, ‘odour’, ‘odor’, ‘neighbour’, ‘neighbor’ ‘behaviour’, ‘behavior’, ‘labour’, ‘labor’ ‘foetus’, ‘fetus’, ‘moustache’, ‘mustache’, ‘mum’, ‘mom’, the list seems endless and the only reason any country or ‘English’ speaker not familiar with the use of those words or different spellings (and pronunciations) knows what they mean any more than they should know what people from Somerset or Edinburgh mean (unless they’ve been to Somerset or Edinburgh) with their slang or different words, terms or pronunciations, is because they bother to listen to them and familiarise themselves with them, and either, in some cases, acknowledge their big similarity to the *English* words, phrases, spellings etc they’re used to or expand their vocabulary (even if they don’t use the words themselves) to include them so they recognise these terms, spellings or pronunciations in future, the English language has always been evolving anyway and recognises various words that either have two or more different meanings or mean the same thing or sometimes have different pronunciations/spellings already.

      With the argument given in the post above, it seems to me ‘Californian English’ or even just ‘American English’ should also be considered a separate language from ‘standard English’, unless of course he means that ‘Californian’ or ‘American English’ *is* ‘standard English’ – which is sort of the impression you might get reading these posts…

      I wouldn’t have thought subtitles would be required for the video you posted for any person with normal hearing and an ability to comprehend in English… 😉

      • I have a very hard time understanding many Australian accents other than the official ones. I really do want subtitles on those. I have a hard time with Helen Caldicott. And I have been listening to them for a long time now. Still haven’t figured out how to understand them.

      • I could pretty much understand those Kiwis in that video, but it was hard. It’s hard, but you can understand it more or less. Some stuff I could not understand at all.

        • Lesley

          @Robert Lindsay

          I think the main reason most people would have missed what the farm hands or extras in that video Terry posted were saying is because firstly, they weren’t saying much and secondly if they did say anything it was very quietly in the back ground and they were being talked over, our focus was on what the main narrator (the farmer) was saying and the man that did the introduction. I don’t think they were the strongest New Zealand accents though… 😉

  8. Robert, that was a Herculean run down of the various English speak. Damn impressive!

  9. VonGeezer

    Are you saying wurzel is an english dialect from somerset? Somerset is where the original english language was spoken or am i mistaken. It was the language of the old saxons, some of the original english although i doubt they considered themselves as such.

  10. James

    Mutual intelligibility is not necessarily commutative… that is, A’s inability to understand B does not always indicate B’s inability to understand A. I grew up in the American Midwest at a time when immigration was almost non-existent and a person could drive almost a thousand miles in any direction without encountering a foreign language. I think I could recognize three distinct dialect regions from the North to the South across Iowa but was totally unexposed to non-American Englishes. A world traveler making a stopover in Des Moines in the 60’s might have found that he could understand the natives but that they could not understand him.
    Half a lifetime in Oakland, classes in a half dozen languages and a couple of foreign wives have changed all that for me but many Americans are still living in linguistic islands.

  11. Paul

    There’s enough diglossia in American English where most people who speak a dialect that deviates heavily from newscaster speech know to speak a “higher” form of English. I’m from New York and while I don’t have that older NY accent, I have enough of one where if I don’t affect a more standard accent I’ve had a problem being understood, especially out west. People have asked my wife and I if we were from England, this happened repeatedly in Arizona, which I found to be bizarre.

    • Lesley

      @Paul

      Re: “People have asked my wife and I if we were from England, this happened repeatedly in Arizona, which I found to be bizarre”

      That is bizarre, how can you mistake a New York accent for an English one? Have they never watched films or anything set in New York? 😉

  12. Robert,
    Is SA english heavily influnenced by Afrikaans.I’ve sensed this since I’ve been brought up speaking predominantly english.I cant even speak Afrikaans fluently but I somewhat understand it.
    I actually never understood what my grandparents or relatives talked in,It sounded like a combination of english and afrikaans?

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