The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Local group - events and information.

Meetings and activities, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For more information on recent events and current programme, please email or contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

“History of Spoken English” - Charlie Haylock Saturday 12th November

Fifty members and guests of Foxearth History Society were wonderfully entertained and enlightened by Charlie Haylock, in his talk “The History of Spoken English”.

Charlie explained that after the Roman empire fell (410AD), the Germanic tribes from northeast Europe quickly expanded westwards into Britain and France. The word “English” derives from the Angles, who settled in East Anglia. Saxons moved into Essex and Sussex, Jutes settled in Kent. Centuries later, Vikings and Normans invaded us too.

Over time, their new words, sounds and grammar became incorporated into the everyday spoken language, as the populations mingled. But original Celtic Britons were displaced towards the west and north of our Isles, retaining their own languages.
Many influences over the centuries, including our global trading, the British Empire, and population movements have created “English” - our rich and still-evolving language that is used worldwide. Although it has acquired 1000’s of words from the rest of the world, over 90% of our commonest words today originally came from ‘Old English’ vocabulary.

In part two, Charlie (who described himself as a “mixed-race child” with parents from East and West Suffolk with different dialects!) demonstrated his remarkable skills as he entertained us with examples of spoken English from various ages and regions. In Tudor times the sounding of the letter H (as in ‘hallelujah’) at the beginning of a word varied between Catholics and Protestants.

Shakespeare’s poetry would have sounded very different from today’s versions. It would have rhymed and flowed, and sometimes held different (and bawdy) meanings. We were treated to examples, such as parts of Romeo & Juliet in a medieval West Midlands dialect!
English became standardised in stages after printing became widespread, and some ‘rules of grammar and pronunciation’ were published. Oxford University and major Public Schools agreed standards that became the norm and led towards “Queen’s English” (sadly, in Charlie's view).

Dialects are a combination of localised vocabulary, grammar and accent. With this ‘standardisation’ of English, the variations are now mainly in local accents. But thankfully, the ridicule of ‘bad’ accents is today much reduced. Charlie was at pains to stress that no dialects or pronunciations are ‘wrong’ – rather, they are enrichments of our mother tongue.

Charlie's ‘dialect tour of the UK’ was incredible, and had his audience in stitches. Remarkably, he could also demonstrate the different facial expressions of each dialect, and explained how some deaf people can lip-read not just the speaker’s words but identify their accent too.

Charlie has a serious academic side with encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject, but is an entertainer and comedian too. He gave us a highly enlightening evening, at times reducing his audience to tears of laughter with his storytelling & humour.

We will certainly invite him to Foxearth History Society again...