31 August 2004

The Secret Garden and the Yorkshire dialect

One of the classics of children's literature is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, published in 1888. This was one of Nancy's favourite books as a little girl, and Theresa has been watching an animated version of the story on video. I myself did not come into contact with the book and its story until quite recently. What I find most fascinating about it is the author's use of the Yorkshire dialect in the speech of several of the characters.

For example, the servant Martha tells the heroine Mary of her fondness for the moor:

"I just love it. It's none bare. It's covered wi' growin' things as smells sweet. It's fair lovely in spring an' summer when th' gorse an' broom an' heather's in flower. It smells o' honey an' there's such a lot o' fresh air--an' th' sky looks so high an' th' bees an' skylarks makes such a nice noise hummin' an' singin'. Eh! I wouldn't live away from th' moor for anythin'."

I was surprised to see the old second-person-singular pronoun in Martha's speech as it long ago dropped out of standard English: "Canna' tha' dress thysen!" ("Can you not dress yourself?") and "I'll help thee on with thy clothes if tha'll get out o' bed. If th' buttons are at th' back tha' cannot button them up tha'self."

Was this obsolete pronoun really still in use in Yorkshire in the late 19th century? Is it still in use there? Are there other dialects of English in which it is still a living part of the language? I'd be interested to know.

1 comment:

Julia B said...

The 'obsolete' second-person-singular pronoun is still very much in use in Yorkshire! Although a foreign southerner, I live her, and my nine-year-old son, born and brought up here, now uses it to his friends - although not to me!


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