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WEST COUNTRYAlso West of England, South-West. A region of England with imprecise boundaries but generally agreed to centre on Avon, Devon, DORSET, Gloucestershire, and SOMERSET (‘the cider counties’). Wiltshire and parts of Hampshire are sometimes included, as is Cornwall because of its location and despite its Celtic background, distinctive and controversial CORNISH language, and dialect of English influenced by Cornish. The range of accents in the West Country extends from broad in the working class and in rural areas through accents modified towards RP in the towns and the lower middle class to RP proper in the middle and upper classes. Local speech is rhotic, with a retroflex /r/ in such words as rap, trip and r-coloured vowels in such words as car/cart. Postvocalic /r/ is widely retained in such cities as Bristol and Exeter, despite the influence of RP, which is non-rhotic. In other cities, such as Plymouth and Bourne-mouth, rhoticity varies. Traces of variable r-pronunciation are found as close to London as Reading in Berkshire.


For many people in Britain and elsewhere, traditional West Country has become stereotyped as rustic. Two particular shibboleths are associated with ‘yokels’ leaning on gates and sucking straws: a strong West Country burr, as in Arrr, that it be Yes, that's so; voiced initial fricatives, as in The varmer zeez thik dhree-vurrow plough The farmer sees that three-furrow plough. Although the accent is now largely confined to the west and south-west, it was once common across England south of a line from the Severn to the Thames. West Country rhotic pronunciation is widely considered a survival of the /r/ of Old English. It turns preceding alveolar sounds into post-alveolars, resulting in a BURR that contrasts strongly with RP, and is often remarked on as a pleasing feature of West Country; it is similar to the Irish /r/ and that of many parts of the US. Another local feature is an initial /w/ in such words as old and oak, giving ‘wold’ and ‘woak’. Before /ɔɪ/, a /w/ may also occur, as in ‘bwoys’ for boys. In a stretch of country from the Somerset coast to the sea in Dorset there is an h-sounding area; elsewhere in the West Country, initial h is not pronounced.


Forms of grammar associated with traditional West Country speech are generally regarded as working-class and rural. They include: (1) The use of thick or thicky /ðɪk(ɪ)/ as a singular demonstrative, with they as plural: thick man that man, they houses those houses. (2) Present and past participles often preceded by a-, as in a-goin, a-done. (3) The use of periphrastic do, as in He do go every week He goes every week, They do be ardworkin. (4) The present tense of the verb be has been regularized to a single form that is still widely used: I be, you be, he be, she be, we be, you be, they be. (5) The negative baint is widely used: I baint I am not, baint I am I not, ye baint you aren't, baint ye aren't you, they baint they aren't, baint they aren't they.


(1) Many West Country words are now restricted to part of only one county. Words formerly well known include: fardel a burden, lew dry, mazzard a black cherry, truss a bale (of hay), tiddly to do light housework. (2) In The Grockles' Guide: An Illustrated Miscellany of Words and Phrases of Interest and Use to ‘Voreigners’ in Somerset ( Jeremy Warburg & Tessa Lorant, Thorn Press, 1985), the following are listed, among many others, as current: anywhen any time, aps a boil, backalong homeward (I'll be doddlin backalong), brize to bring pressure to bear on (I'm goin to brize down on thik), caddle a muddle or difficulty, chammer to chew noisily, chatter, chatterbag a gossip, clumble-fisted awkward with the hands, combe (pronounced ‘coom’) valley, emmet an ant, small fly, gert great, large, jibber a restless horse, leary hungry, tired, thin, empty, mugget the intestines of a young heifer or sheep, pissabed the dandelion, quirk to moan, whine, complain, rafty rancid, off, crafty, randy a party (on the randy out to enjoy oneself), rozzum/ruzzum a tall tale, scrumpy farmhouse cider, somewhen some time, teddy a potato, verdic a viewpoint, opinion (compare verdict). The term grockle for a holiday-maker or tourist is recent, its first OED citation being 1964.

Literary West Country

Most admired among West Country writers is Thomas Hardy, who in numerous novels attempted to represent the speech of rural men and women. His written dialect varies according to the speaker. Tess, the heroine of Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), although a peasant, had received some education and so had a regional accent, some local words, but more or less standard grammar. Hardy himself says of her: ‘The dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school: the characteristic intonation of that dialect for this district being the voicing approximately rendered by the syllable UR, probably as rich an utterance as any to be found in human speech.’ The dairy maids, on the other hand, use such forms as zid (saw), hwome home, and I be, so be you. See BARNES DIALECT IN ENGLAND, NEWFOUNDLAND ENGLISH.

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