The Cumbrian dialect is a local dialect spoken in the English county of Cumbria. As in any county, there is a gradual drift in accent towards its neighbours. Barrow-in-Furness, in the south of Cumbria, has a similar accent to much of Lancashire whilst the northern parts of Cumbria have a more North-East English sound to them. Whilst clearly being an English accent approximately between Lancashire and Geordie it shares much vocabulary with Scots. 'Cumbrian' here refers both to Cumbria but also to Cumberland, the county which existed up to the enactment of local government re-organisation in 1974, when the administrative and legislative distinction between Cumberland and Westmorland was lost. There is a Cumbrian Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore, which was written by William Rollinson, but is much harder to find a copy of than the respective dictionaries for Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Despite the modern county being created only in 1974 from the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and north Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire, Cumbria is an ancient land. Before the arrival of the Romans the area was the home of the Carvetii tribe, which was later assimilated to the larger Brigantes tribe. These people would have spoken Brythonic, which developed into Old Welsh, but around the 5th century AD, when Cumbria was the centre of the kingdom of Rheged, the language spoken in northern England and southern Scotland from Lancashire and Yorkshire to Strathclyde had developed into a dialect of Brythonic known as Cumbric (the scarcity of linguistic evidence, however, means that Cumbric's distinctness from Old Welsh is more deduced than proven). Remnants of Brythonic and Cumbric are most often seen in place names, in elements such as caer 'fort' as in Carlisle, pen 'hill' as in Penrith and craig 'crag, rock' as in High Crag.
The most well known Celtic element in Cumbrian dialect is the sheep counting numerals which are still used in various forms by shepherds throughout the area, and apparently for knitting. The word 'Yan' (meaning 'one'), for example, is prevalent throughout Cumbria and is still often used, especially by non-speakers of 'received pronunciation' and children, eg. "That yan owr there," or "Can I have yan of those?"
The Northern subject rule may be attributable to Celtic Influence.
Before the 8th century AD Cumbria was annexed to English Northumbria and Old English began to be spoken in parts, although evidence suggests Cumbric survived in central regions in some form until the 11th century.
A far stronger influence on the modern dialect was Old Norse, spoken by Norwegian settlers who probably arrived in Cumbria in the 10th century via Ireland and the Isle of Man. The majority of Cumbrian place names are of Norse origin, including Ulverston from Ulfrs tun ('Ulfr's farmstead'), Kendal from Kent dalr ('valley of the River Kent') and Elterwater from eltr vatn ('swan lake'). Many of the traditional dialect words are also remnants of Norse settlement, including beck (bekkr, 'stream'), laik (leik, 'to play'), lowp (hlaupa, 'to jump') and glisky (gliskr, 'shimmering').
Old Norse seems to have survived in Cumbria until fairly late. A 12th century inscription found at Loppergarth in Furness bears a curious mixture of Old English and Norse, showing that the language was still felt in the south of the county at this time, and would probably have hung on in the fells and dales (both Norse words) until later.
Once Cumbrians had assimilated to speaking English, there were few further influences on the dialect. In the Middle Ages, much of Cumbria frequently swapped hands between England and Scotland but this had little effect on the language used. In the nineteenth century miners from Cornwall and Wales began relocating to Cumbria to take advantage of the work offered by new iron ore, copper and wadd mines but whilst they seem to have affected some local accents (notably Barrow-in-Furness) they don't seem to have contributed much to the vocabulary.
One of the lasting characteristics still found in the local dialect of Cumbria today is an inclination to drop vowels, especially in relation to the word "the" which is frequently abbreviated. Unlike the Lancashire dialect, where 'the' is abbreviated to 'th', in Cumbrian (as in Yorkshire) the sound is harder like the letter '?' or simply a 't' and in sentences sounds as if it is attached to the previous word, for example "int'" instead of "in the" "ont'" instead of "on the".
|/a/ as in 'bad'||[a]|
|/ɑː/ as in 'bard'||[aː]|
|/aʊ/ as in 'house'||[uː] (North only)|
|/eɪ/ as in 'bay'||[ɪə] in the North-East, and between [eː] and [ɪː] elsewhere|
|/eə/ as in 'bear'||[ɛː]|
|/aɪ/ as in 'bide'||[ɐː] (South), [eɪ] (North)|
|/əʊ/ as in 'boat'||[oː]|
|/ʌ/ as in 'bud'||[ʊ]|
|/uː/ as in 'boo'||[əw], [ɪw] or [uː]|
The pronunciation of moor, poor, etc is a traditional feature of Received Pronunciation but is now associated with some old-fashioned speakers. It is generally more common in the north of England than in the south. The words cure, pure, sure may be pronounced with a tripthong [ɪuə].
Most consonants are pronounced as they are in other parts of the English speaking world. A few exceptions follow:
Stress is usually placed on the initial syllable: yakeren acorn [ˈjakɜɾˌən]. Unstressed initial vowels are usually fully realised, whilst those in final syllables are usually reduced to schwa [ə].
The Cumbrian numbers, often called 'sheep counting numerals' because of their (declining) use by shepherds to this very day, show clear signs that they may well have their origins in Cumbric. The table below shows the variation of the numbers throughout Cumbria, as well as the relevant cognate in Welsh and Cornish, which are the two geographically closest British languages to Cumbric, for comparison. NB: when these numerals were used for counting sheep, reputedly, the shepherd would count to fifteen or twenty and then move a small stone from one of his pockets to the other before beginning again, thus keeping score. Numbers eleven, twelve etc. would have been 'yandick, taendick', while sixteen and seventeen would have been 'yan-bumfit, tyan-bumfit' etc.
Survey of English Dialects sites
There were several villages in Cumbria that were used during the Survey of English Dialects to minutely detail localised dialects. At the time, Cumbria did not exist as a unit of local government; there were 12 sites within modern Cumbria, but they were then spread across four different counties:
The following poets are known for writing about Cumbria:
Stress is usually placed on the initial syllable: yakeren acorn [ˈjakɜɾˌən].
Unstressed initial vowels are usually fully realised, whilst those in final syllables are usually reduced to schwa [ə].
The Cumbrian numbers, often called 'sheep counting numerals' because of their (declining) use by shepherds to this very day, show clear signs that they may well have their origins in Cumbric. The table below shows the variation of the numbers throughout Cumbria, as well as the relevant cognate in Welsh and Cornish, which are the two geographically closest British languages to Cumbric, for comparison.
NB: when these numerals were used for counting sheep, reputedly, the shepherd would count to fifteen or twenty and then move a small stone from one of his pockets to the other before beginning again, thus keeping score. Numbers eleven, twelve etc. would have been 'yandick, taendick', while sixteen and seventeen would have been 'yan-bumfit, tyan-bumfit' etc.
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