Norfolk dialect

For the English-based creole of the Norfolk Islands, see Norfuk dialect.

The Norfolk dialect, also known as Broad Norfolk, is a dialect that was once, and to a great extent still is, spoken by those living in the county of Norfolk in England. It employs distinctively unique pronunciations, especially of vowels; and consistent grammatical forms that differ markedly from standard English.


The Norfolk dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Geographically it covers most of the County of Norfolk apart from Gorleston and other places annexed from Suffolk. The accent of Norwich is (not surprisingly) similar but the vowels tend to be different. The dialect is not entirely homogenous across the county, and it merges and blends across boundaries with other East Anglian counties. From the early 1960s, the ingress of large numbers of immigrants to the county from other parts of the country, notably from the environs of London, together with the dissemination of broadcast English, and the influence of American idioms in films, television and popular music, and Anglophone speakers from other countries, has led to dilution of this distinctiveness and a dilution of the idiomatic normalcy of it within the population.

The Norfolk dialect should not be confused with Pitcairn-Norfolk, a second language of the Pitcairn Islands, or with Norfuk, the language used on Norfolk Island.



Principal Characteristics

The Norfolk accent sounds very different from that of London and the Home Counties.[1] The main characteristics of the accent are set out below, usually with reference to the standard English accent known as Received Pronunciation or BBC Pronunciation (henceforth abbreviated as RP/BBC). Phonetic symbols (in square brackets) and phonemic symbols (in slant brackets) are used where they are needed to avoid ambiguity (brackets in IPA). Five characteristics are particularly important:

  1. The accent is generally non-rhotic, as is RP/BBC, so /r/ is only pronounced when a vowel follows it.
  2. Unlike many regional accents of England, Norfolk does not usually exhibit H-dropping. The phoneme /h/ is generally pronounced in 'hat', 'ahead' by most, though not all, Norfolk speakers.
  3. Norfolk speech has a distinctive rhythm due to some stressed vowels being longer than their equivalents in RP/BBC and some unstressed vowels being much shorter.
  4. The distinction between /ʊ/ and /ʌ/, often known as the foot–strut split[2] is developed; the quality of /ʌ/ ('strut') is more back and close than that of contemporary RP/BBC.[3] It can be described as a centralized mid back unrounded vowel [ɤ̞̈]. A similar vowel, though somewhat lower [ʌ̈] can be heard from older RP/BBC speakers.
  5. Yod-dropping is common between consonants and /uː,ʊ, u, ʊə/ resulting in pronunciations such as /muːzɪk/ for 'music' and /kuː/ for 'cue'.


Monophthongs of the Norfolk dialect, from Lodge 2009, p. 168


Prosodic characteristics

No systematic study of the prosodic characteristics of Norfolk speech such as intonation and rhythm appears to have been carried out. There does appear to be agreement that the Norfolk accent has a distinctive rhythm due to some stressed vowels being longer than their equivalents in RP/BBC and some unstressed vowels being much shorter.[10][13] Claims that Norfolk speech has intonation with a distinctive "lilt" seem to have no scientific basis.


Some of these grammatical features are often present also in neighbouring dialects, in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire etc. Some of them are merely the retention of older speech forms, once more extensively used throughout the country. Expressions such as 'abed' meaning 'in bed' (see below), still used in Norfolk in 2009, was undoubtedly used by Shakespeare. At parting, Norfolk people often say 'fare yer well', a local version of the old English expression 'fare thee well'.


Archaic combinations may be found, as in the double negative, "Oi hent nart gart none", i.e. "I haven't got any". Extra words may be inserted, e.g. "Do you go hoom", meaning "Go home". Also, "Go you arn alarng tergether", meaning, "Go along with you", where tergether (together) may be, seemingly redundant and used even in the singular case, (i.e. to a solitary person). The following exchange is a shibboleth for Broad Norfolk speakers.

Question : He yer fa got a dickey, bor? (Has your father got a donkey, boy?)
Required response : Yis, an' he want a fule ter roid 'im, will yew cum? (Yes, and he wants a fool to ride him, will you do it?)


Dialect words and phrases

Accented pronunciation


Portrayal of the Norfolk dialect and accent in films and TV is often regarded as poor (it is notoriously difficult for 'foreigners' to imitate, and even an actor of the distinction of Alan Bates did not adequately achieve an authentic Norfolk accent in his portrayal of the character Ted Burgess in the highly acclaimed film The Go-Between) and the treatment of it in the television drama All the King's Men in 1999, in part prompted the foundation of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND), a group formed with the aim of preserving and promoting Broad Norfolk. The group campaigns for the recognition of Norfolk as a dialect, and for the teaching of "Norfolk" in schools. FOND aims to produce a digital archive of recordings of people speaking the dialect's traditional words. In July 2001 the group was awarded £4000 from the National Lottery in aid of recording equipment for this purpose.

Arnold Wesker's 1958 play Roots made good use of authentic Norfolk dialect.

During the 1960s, Anglia Television produced a soap opera called "Weavers Green" which used local characters making extensive use of Norfolk dialect. The programme was filmed at the "cul-de-sac" village of Heydon north of Reepham in mid Norfolk.

An example of the Norfolk accent and vocabulary can be heard in the songs by Allan Smethurst, aka The Singing Postman. Smethurst's undisputed Norfolk accent is well known from his releases of the 1960s, such as "Hev Yew Gotta Loight Bor?". The Boy John Letters of Sidney Grapes, which were originally published in the Eastern Daily Press, are another valid example of the Norfolk dialect. Beyond simply portrayers of speech and idiom however, Smethurst, and more especially Grapes, record their authentic understanding of mid-twentieth-century Norfolk village life. Grapes' characters, the Boy John, Aunt Agatha, Granfar, and Ole Missus W, perform a literary operetta celebrating down-to-earth ordinariness over bourgeois affectation and pretence; their values and enduring habits instantly familiar to Norfolk people.

Charles Dickens undoubtedly had some grasp of the Norfolk accent which he utilised in the speech of the Yarmouth fishermen, Ham and Daniel Peggoty in David Copperfield. Patricia Poussa analyses the speech of these characters in her article Dickens as Sociolinguist.[29] She makes connections between Scandinavian languages and the particular variant of Norfolk dialect spoken in the Flegg area around Great Yarmouth, a place of known Viking settlement. Significantly, the use of 'that' meaning 'it', described in the grammar section below, is used as an example of this apparent connection.

The publication in 2006 by Ethel George (with Carole and Michael Blackwell) of The Seventeenth Child provides a written record of spoken dialect, though in this case of a person brought up inside the city of Norwich. Ethel George was born in 1914, and in 2006 provided the Blackwells with extensive tape-recorded recollections of her childhood as the seventeenth offspring of a relatively poor Norwich family. Carole Blackwell has reproduced a highly literal written rendering of this, such that anyone familiar with the dialect can recognise an authentic Norfolk/Norwich voice speaking to them from the page.[30]

An erudite and comprehensive study of the dialect, by Norfolk speaker and Professor of Sociolinguistics, Peter Trudgill can be found in the latter's book 'The Norfolk Dialect' (2003), published as part of the 'Norfolk Origins' series by Poppyland Publishing, Cromer.

Famous speakers

See also


  1. Wells 1982, p. 337.
  2. Wells 1982, pp. 335–6.
  3. Lodge 2009, p. 168.
  4. Lodge 2009, pp. 167–8.
  5. Trudgill 2003, pp. 80–1.
  6. Wells 1982, pp. 238–242.
  7. Wells 1982, p. 339.
  8. Wells 1982, pp. 338–9.
  9. Trudgill 2003, p. 78.
  10. 1 2 Wells 1982, p. 341.
  11. Trudgill 2003, p. 86.
  12. Trudgill 2003, p. 84.
  13. Trudgill 2003, p. 82.
  14. "Speaking the Norfolk dialect: Advanced Level". Archived from the original on December 19, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  15. see George 2006, p. 97.
  16. George 2006, p. 155.
  17. George 2006, p. 190.
  18. George 2006, p. 189.
  19. George 2006, p. 94.
  20. George 2006, p. 129.
  21. see George 2006, p. 75.
  22. "'Bootiful' dialect to be saved", BBC News, 3 July 2001
  23. see George 2006, p. 74.
  24. George 2006, p. 76.
  25. George 2006, p. 142.
  26. 1 2 George 2006, p. 102.
  27. George 2006, p. 113.
  28. "donkey". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  29. Writing in Non-Standard English, eds. Irma Taavitsainen, Gunnel Melchers and Paivi Pahta (Philadelphia 1999) pp. 27–44
  30. George 2006.
  31. Robert Southey The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson p205
  32. Martin Robson A History of the Royal Navy: Napoleonic Wars p34


  • George, Ethel (2006), The Seventeenth Child, with Carole and Michael Blackwell, The Larks Press, ISBN 1904006302. Original tapes of interviews are held by the Norfolk Sound Archive 
  • Lodge, Ken (2009), A Critical Introduction to Phonetics, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-8264-8873-2 
  • Trudgill, Peter (2003), The Norfolk Dialect, Poppyland 
  • Wells, J.C. (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge University Press 

Further reading

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