The second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is dialect. We will be posting content on our website over the next couple of months. Here’s why we think dialect is important.
During lockdown people have been doing really creative stuff, like playing the mandolin while roller-skating or learning to bake sourdough while blindfolded. We, on the other hand, have been counting how many times D.H. Lawrence uses the greeting ‘duck’ in his work.
On one level, this is the kind of futile distraction that epitomises lockdown. But it has a more serious function as well. How important was dialect in his work? What function did it serve? How successful was he in using it? Geoffrey Trease, for example, believes Lawrence’s best writing was dialogue in his plays. As his earlier plays are set in mining communities, they all use a lot of dialect.
One of the best known examples of dialect in Nottingham is duck. It’s ok to greet anyone with duck – irrespective of their age, gender or any other ism you can think of. This is something I previously explored in the BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: The Dialect poets. Across his novels, plays, poems and short stories, Lawrence references ‘duck’ 15 times in total. It appears most in his debut novel, The White Peacock, with four mentions.
In the short film above, lovingly edited together by Izaak Bosman, we’ve asked various people to read these quotes out to give you a flavour of the Notts/Derbyshire accent. These voices are drawn from different areas, including Mansfield, Wollaton, Sherwood, Southwell, Eastwood and beyond. Some are read by born and bred locals, others have moved here from different cities and countries.
We’re currently working on another dialect video and have asked members of Lawrence Country, an Alt-Country & folk band from the Bagthorpe Delta, to read it out. We love what they do and how they incorporate the sentiments and landscapes of Lawrence’s life and work into their songs, so this was an excuse to collaborate.
Dialect is the second artefact for our memory theatre and these videos will accompany contextual essays on language by Natalie Braber. We’ve also created a dialect alphabet using words directly used in Lawrence’s work. This is being used in the ‘Questioning the Canon’ module at Nottingham Trent University where students are being asked to create their own stories using words from the alphabet and to find equivalent words from their own region.
The Dialect Alphabet (which is being released on our Instagram and Twitter accounts before the website) has already caused much debate. For example, for ‘A’ we selected addle. However, some people have asked why we didn’t plump for ‘Ayup’ which is the standard greeting for hello in Notts. The reason for this is simple: No matter how ubiquitous this expression is in everyday language it doesn’t appear anywhere in Lawrence’s work.
Dialect serves many functions. It can be used to denote a position of class, education and work. Given these influences, dialect is subject to change. For example, the last operating deep coal mine in the UK, Kellingley colliery, closed in December 2015. As industries decline, the names for tools and working practice slowly lose relevance and a whole way of life is slowly eroded.
For Jackie Greaves, a former guide at the Birthplace Museum, dialect and accent are about belonging. Hearing the Eastwood accent spoken is comforting and integral to identity. But not everyone approves of these sentiments. The philosopher, Stephen Alexander, is suspicious of whether phallic tenderness – the attempt to directly translate feelings and desire through language – can ever be truly authentic. Nor does he like the idea of ‘small groups of people – tribes – retreating into semi-private languages in order to uphold some narrow identity and exclude others’. Stephen has also submitted an artefact to our memory theatre which will be published later next year.
Whatever our thoughts on dialect, Lawrence was arguably the first author to write from the ‘inside’ about life in mining communities. He gave validity to the lives he described, paving the way for critics such as Raymond Williams to later declare that ‘culture is ordinary’. Language is political. On the most basic level, some people have the power to speak and others don’t. But a further nuance of this issue is how you speak – the tone, emphasis, choice of words.
Please visit www.memorytheatre.co.uk to see the artefacts in our memory theatre