What’s ee chatbout? Some thoughts on Bristolian English
I grew up in Bristol as a litlun called Melissal who enjoyed going down the slider and was considered a bit of a keener in school.
But I experienced a fair amount of ridicule for my Bristolian accent even from other, posher Bristolians. Why Bristolian (aka Bristle) should be laughed at while other regional dialects are embraced and celebrated is a bit of a mystery to me. I mean, the West Country-type accent was the normal, dominant accent across much of England until somebody in London invented RP and consigned our dialects to pirate films.
I abandoned most of my accent but I hadn’t realised how much of the Bristolian dialect I had retained until I left Bristol. I would greet Oxford people with “alright?” and would be baffled when they would proceed to actually tell me how they were and ask after my own wellbeing. Clearly, all that was required was a friendly “alright?” in return.
I asked someone if the snow was pitching and they had zero idea what I was talking about. When I asked if we could put the Christmas trimmings up, they looked at me as though I had proposed hanging stuffing and cranberry sauce around the living room. And nobody had ever seen my daps.
I continued to insist that fire had two syllables and that the noun house contained a w. And I would never stop calling things lush. I don’t know how anybody gets by without the word lush. There is no other English adjective up to the job of describing an excellent meal or a fantastic view.
But I really realized how much my life had been affected by Bristolian when somebody brought some of those horrible purple sweets in to work. Casually reading the wrapper, I was shocked to see that they were called ‘Parma violets’. My whole life I had thought they were called ‘Parmall violets’. That’s all that my aunts and nans had ever offered to little Melissal.
I live in Bristol again now and keep finding new things to appreciate about Bristle. It’s a distinct dialect among the West Country family with its own vocabulary and rather quaint internal grammar. It’s what’s known as a rhotic dialect, where r sounds are strongly pronounced (as in America), with the unique addition of the ‘Bristol L’, which is added to the end of words ending in a (as in Americal). Sometimes this isn’t ideal for expressing your ideals.
Ark at ee!
You must learn a different selection of pronouns if you’re to understand who is being addressed in any conversation. Ee means you (as in, thee). Ee also means he, she, it, him, or her (as in, he, I suppose). Meanwhile, the objective pronoun me is shunned in favour of just using I. This is how you arrive at phrases like ‘ee’s laffin at I!’ (he, she, or it is laughing at me), ‘ark at ee!’ (well listen to you!) or ‘old ee fer I, ullee?’ (Hold this for me, will you?).
Oh, also, yours is usually pronounced yourn (if not thine). And ‘you are’ and ‘we are’ are transformed into the charming yoom and weem (as in, we am?) so that your Nan can warn, ‘Yoom gonna get hurt on that slider o yourn, Melissal!’
Where’s ee to?
Now you’ve got the pronouns sorted out, just be mindful that the reflexive makes an unexpected appearance in Bristle whenever you need to know where something or somebody is. ‘Where’s ee to, then?’ is a familiar refrain, meaning, of course, where are you? / where is it? / where on earth is that place you just mentioned?
Great. You’re probably ready for some simple vocab now.
An elegant ‘yer!’ is all you need by way of an excuse me please. Then, when greeting a stranger, try ‘alright my babber?’ or ‘alright my luvver?’. Bristol is a friendly place. Calling somebody your lover is by no means intimate and should not cause offence… unless you say it in a creepy way.
You might be struck with the ideal (idea) to go to visit arr muh (your mother) and the young’un (child). The litlun (child) might be smoovin (stroking) the cat – make sure they don’t make it angry and get a scrage (scratch / graze).
Arr muh might show you her new wardrobe. ‘Blige!’ (blimey) you’ll exclaim, ‘ee’s gert macky, innum?!’ (It’s really huge, isn’t it?) ‘Did ee get ee down Asdal or Ikeal?’ (Did you get it from Asda or Ikea?).
Arr muh asks you to give her a hand moving the new wardrobe on account of her back. ‘I dursn’t coopy down,’ (I dare not crouch down) she says.
Having done a good job arranging the furniture you might be rewarded with an appreciative ‘proper job’ (a job well done) or ‘furrplay’ (fair play; I have respect for your achievement).
You’ll get the bus home – don’t forget to thank the driver upon alighting with a cheery, ‘Churz, drive!’ Because, although Bristolians like to add an r to nouns that didn’t ask for it, like slide and love, they also like to remove the r from nouns that wanted them – like driver.
And try to remember to end all sentences with like, then, see, or mind, mind.
Churz, then. Proper job.