Dialect in "The Singing Detective"?
April 26, 2013 5:33 AM   Subscribe

What is the regional dialect/accent in the childhood scenes in the British miniseries "The Singing Detective"? Does it have a name? Does it still exist today?

I've been watching the 1987 miniseries "The Singing Detective", and have been enjoying it quite a bit. Some of the scenes, such as this one, involve flashbacks to the main character's youth in a small coal-mining community in the early '40s. The dialect of the father and the grandparents in that scene (and in other scenes) is fascinating to me, even if I usually have to put the closed captions on to understand what they're saying. It seems to use "thou" and "thee" (and "hast") quite a bit, as well as "ben't" instead of "isn't".

Were there rural communities that spoke like this in the 1940s? If so, where were they? I don't know enough about UK geography to pick up on other clues that might be in there either, so if you've seen the series and know the answer, feel free to chime in. Finally, if I went to those places today, would I still hear people talking that way?

(Oh, and one last request: I've only seen half of the miniseries so far, so if you're going to reveal any major plot points, please use SPOILER tags.)
posted by Johnny Assay to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about Singing Detectives, but here's some detail on English dialects that have used "thou" and "thee" in relatively recent times. You might also like to read The Secret Garden which contains a lot of Yorkshire dialect and Thees and Thous.

So far as I know, regional use of "thee" and "thou" is dying out.
posted by emilyw at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2013

Best answer: Wikipedia suggests it's meant to be the Forest of Dean. And an article on the West Country dialect, though I guess it's debatable whether that's the precise dialect in the Forest of Dean. There's an old article on the BBC website about the Forest of Dean dialect.
posted by hoyland at 5:46 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, it's the particular dialect of the Forest of Dean, where Potter himself grew up. You can here more of it in Potter's teleplay Blue Remembered Hills, which is on YouTube.
posted by neroli at 6:24 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's a 2004 BBC-produced conversation with native speakers about Forest language.
posted by neroli at 6:28 AM on April 26, 2013

I am a Westcountry lass: the Forest of Dean is a funny one, because it's like the westcountry accent only with a touch of welsh. If you check the map you'll see why!

So, to a southern bird like me they have a touch of Cardiff-Welsh accent, and to a welshperson, they probably sound "like farmers" which is usually what gentiles think us westcountry folk sound like :)
posted by greenish at 7:25 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreed, that's Forest of Dean and the link neroli provides makes it clear (eventually) that it's a dialect and not merely an accent. If you went to that area you'd hear a distinct local accent but I don't know that you'd hear (much) of the dialect, especially spoken to non-Foresters; dialect is increasingly these days something people can turn on and off.

Both mass media and population migration are smoothing out small pockets of language; you really need a concentrated population to maintain a dialect. Yorkshire currently has enough natives to hold its dialect; I'm not sure the Forest of Dean does but I don't actually know.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2013

people still use thou and thee all over the place, even in the metropolis, but probably not to strangers. It becomes an in-group thing, a little bit jokey, a little bit proud.

"Casn't thee my babby?" (Bristolian)

" 'Ark at he!" (Bristolian)

"Wur bist?" (Where are you? Bristolian)

Beast Clothing do a nice line in Bristolian dialect T-shirts.

"Ma! I wants a go on the slider!"
posted by glasseyes at 7:15 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more: Thee's Gotten Wur Thee Casnt Backn Hasnt?
posted by glasseyes at 7:21 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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