Sussex dialect

Native to England
Region Sussex
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
Sussex shown within southern Britain

The Sussex dialect is a dialect that was once widely spoken by those living in the historic county of Sussex in southern England. Much of the distinctive vocabulary of the Sussex dialect has now died out, although a few words remain in common usage and some individuals still speak with the traditional Sussex accent.

The Sussex dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Historically, there were three main variants to the dialect: west Sussex (west of Shoreham and the river Adur), mid Sussex (between the Adur and Hastings) and east Sussex (from Hastings eastwards). There were also differences between downland and Wealden communities. In particular, the people of the Weald were thought to have the most impenetrable accents. The Sussex dialect shows remarkable continuity: the three main dialect areas reflect the historic county's history.[1] The west and mid dialect areas reflect the ancient division of Sussex between East and West,[1] which until the creation of the rape of Bramber in the 11th century lay along the river Adur. The eastern dialect area reflects the unique history of the Hastings area,[1] which was home to the kingdom of the Haestingas until the 8th century.

Sussex dialect words have their sources in many historic languages including Anglo-Saxon,[2] Old Dutch, Old Welsh , with a dash of 14th-century French, and a little Scandinavian.[3] Many words are thought to have derived from Sussex's fishermen and their links with fishermen from the coasts of France and the Netherlands.[3]



Below is a set of features of pronunciation in the dialect used across Sussex:[3]

In the 19th century, William Durrant Cooper found that the people in eastern parts of Sussex spoke many words with a French accent.[4] For instance, the word day was pronounced dee, and mercy as in the French merci.[4] In Rye, the word bonnet was pronounced bunnet and Mermaid Street was pronounced Maremaid Street.[4]


Gender is almost always feminine. There is a saying in Sussex dialect that 'Everything in Sussex is a She except a Tom Cat and she's a He.'[5]


In the western variant of the Sussex dialect, 'en' and 'un' (sometimes written as 'n) were used for 'he' and 'it' and 'um' was used for 'them.'[3]


Fishermen's names

In a seafaring county such as Sussex, fishermen were given nicknames, which by extension also sometimes applied to all residents of a town. These names include:

Landscape words

Ferring Rife

Flora and fauna

Words for mud

While there is a popular belief that the Inuit have an unusually large number of words for snow, the Sussex dialect is notable in having an unusually large number of words for mud, thought to be over 30 different terms.[9] Some of the words are:

Other dialect words

A twitten in Portslade

Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, commented that Sussex dialect had considerable similarities with the dialect of New England at the time.[1] Some phrases common to Sussex were common in New England as well, such as "you hadn't ought to" or "you shouldn't ought", the use of "be you?" for "are you?" and "I see him" for "I saw him."[1]

There are also significant links with the dialect of East Sussex and the dialect of African Americans in the southern United States. In particular, the use of dem, dat, and dese for them, that, and these was common in the 19th century both in Sussex and in the southern United States.[11]

Other phrases that may appear to be Americanisms were widely used in Sussex dialect. Examples include the use of "the fall" for autumn, "mad" for "angry," "I guess," and "I reckon".[1]

Significant numbers of Sussex people moved to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.[1] Even earlier than that, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, Quaker William Penn, left Sussex for New England with around 200 Sussex Quakers.[1] For several years before the voyage in 1681, Penn lived at Warminghurst Place in Sussex, worshipping near Thakeham.[12] Later, there was also a major migration from Sussex to Ohio in 1822.[1]

Future prospects

The Sussex dialect and accent are facing extinction. Commuting is on the increase in Sussex, caused by the lack of local employment opportunities coupled with high housing expenses and proximity to London. This has caused people with other accents to move to Sussex and the corresponding loss of the southern dialect.[13][14]

Works in dialect


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Hare, Chris (1995). A History of the Sussex People. Worthing: Southern Heritage Books. ISBN 978-0-9527097-0-1.
  2. Lucas, E.V. (1904), "Chapter XLI: The Sussex Dialect", Highways and Byways in Sussex, New York: MacMillan and Co., Limited (The MacMillan Company)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Parish, Rev. W.D. (1875). A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect – a Collection of Provincialisms in use in the County of Sussex. Lewes: Farncombe & Co.
  4. 1 2 3 Cooper, William Durrant (1834). A Dictionary of the Provincialisms in Use in the County of Sussex. London: John Russell Smith.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Wales, Tony (2000). Sussex as She Wus Spoke, a Guide to the Sussex Dialect. Seaford: SB Publications. ISBN 978-1-85770-209-5.
  6. Brandon, Peter (2006). Sussex. Phillimore. ISBN 978-0-7090-6998-0.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Brandon, Peter (1998). The South Downs. Phillimore & Co. ISBN 978-1-86077-069-2.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Arscott, David (2006). Wunt Be Druv - A Salute to the Sussex Dialect. Countryside Books. ISBN 978-1-84674-006-0.
  9. Collins, Sophie (2007). A Sussex Miscellany. Alfriston: Snake River Press. ISBN 978-1-906022-08-2.
  10. Middleton, Judy (2003). The Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade. Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries. Vol. 13, p. 133.
  11. "The Language of the American South". KataJohn. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  12. "Welcome to the Thakeham Quaker Meeting". Thakeham Quaker Meeting. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  13. "Sussex dialect being wiped out by commuting". The Argus newspaper. 3 January 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  14. "Endangered Words". BBC Inside Out. 17 January 2002. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
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