Yorkshire Topolect

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"British schoolboy's thick Yorkshire accent goes viral", by Sae Strang, Newshub (11/20/19):

A six-year-old from Barnsley, South Yorkshire has captured the attention of thousands after a video of his thick accent went viral.

The footage shows the boy talking to his mum about an interaction with his teacher, Miss Macdonald.

His mother, Pebbles Quinn who has chosen not to name her son, then posted the video on Facebook.

"I have done more than one sentence, and she says 'you haven't,' and then I said, 'look there's full stops'," the boy tells his mum in the video.

"So I comes, does me wrong things, fixes me wrong things and then I shown her.

"She says, 'just put it in the box, I'm sick of hearing you now'."

What do linguists have to say about this little boy's accent?

The Yorkshire dialect (also known as Broad Yorkshire, Tyke, Yorkie or Yorkshire English) is an English dialect of Northern England spoken in the English county of Yorkshire. The dialect has roots in older languages such as Old English and Old Norse. The Yorkshire Dialect Society exists to promote use of the dialect in both humour and in serious linguistics; there is also an East Riding Dialect Society.

Yorkshire is generally not as stigmatised as other regional dialects, and has been represented in classic works of literature such as Wuthering Heights, Nicholas Nickleby and The Secret Garden. Studies have shown that accents in the West Riding (that is, mostly, modern West and South Yorkshire) are well-liked among Britons and associated with common sense, loyalty, and reliability.


Yorkshire must be quite a place, because it also has the inimitable Yorkshire Terrier, which is prone to what is known as a "pharyngeal gag reflex", i.e., "reverse sneeze" (see at :28 in this 1:14 video):

And Yorkshire pudding:

I want some as soon as possible!

[Thanks to Jon Roche]


  1. Timothy Rowe said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 9:17 pm

    That isn't particularly broad Yorkshire. It was no problem to understand (I'm from nearby rival Lancashire, mind); I have a friend from Yorkshire whose accent is so broad I often have trouble understanding it at all, so I just have to smile and nod a lot.

  2. Noel Hunt said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 9:31 pm

    Nor is it particularly difficult to understand for an Australian who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, being exposed to a great deal of British television. I have probably never come across the type of Yorkshire accent of which Timothy Rowe speaks, but at least once in an epistode of 'George Gently' there was an speaker of Newcastle English whom I had great trouble understanding, and in fact was once told by an English woman that Newcastle accent was difficult even for the British themselves.

  3. Geoffrey Nathan said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 10:30 pm

    He sounds just like my father (who was from Leeds), particularly if he'd had a bit to drink. He used to recite 'Sam, Sam, pick up the musket' in his native dialect. And sometimes, if encouraged, he'd recite the Leeds Jewish version, 'Sam, Sam, pick up the kishke'. Wish I'd recorded him.

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 10:41 pm

    "His mother, Pebbles Quinn who has chosen not to name her son"

    A decision she'll no doubt regret if she ever has another child.

  5. Vireya said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:10 am

    "Thick" accent? I had no trouble understanding him, but as an Australian, I have heard accents like this all my life. in contrast I used to know someone from Glasgow, and could hardly understand anything he said.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:56 am

    Other than the fact that he obviously comes from the north of England I find his way of speaking completely unremarkable. (I'm from southern England myself.)

  7. baby capu // cherry capu said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 1:46 am

    The fact that this boys accent is considered novel says more about how people from the north are represented in the media. Millions of people in the UK have similar accents but you won't hear them on TV.

  8. Keith said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 3:46 am

    I don't find him at all difficult to understand, either. The "non-standard" aspects of his speech are mostly the sounds and some of the grammar; there wasn't any typically dialectal vocabulary in the segment.

    I would guess that he comes from somewhere around Leeds or a bit to the west of there. I grew up in Sheffield, in the south of the county, where the accent is very similar.

  9. John Swindle said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 4:24 am

    I turned on the closed captions, thinking they'd surely bail me out.

  10. Levantine said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 4:51 am

    Does this really deserve the label “topolect”? Surely “regional accent” is more accurate. I’m not sure why this has gone viral given that the boy is speaking in an entirely unremarkable way that’s typical of his part of England.

  11. CNH said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 5:59 am

    You can hear true Yorkshire in 'skoo-ell' for 'school' and 'put it int' box'.

  12. Andrew said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 6:15 am

    "His mother, Pebbles Quinn who has chosen not to name her son, then posted the video on Facebook."

    This strange sentence is quoted verbatim from the source, including (or rather not including) the missing comma after "Quinn".

    I agree with other posters that the accent is not particularly thick.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 8:15 am

    Without looking at the transcript in the article, I had trouble understanding more than half of what the boy said. I'm from Stark County, northeast Ohio, where I lived until age 18, then moved around the world for the next decade (including London for one year), and have lived in Philadelphia for the last four decades.

    I was particularly struck by this clause of the boy's speech: "I showun'er".

    Anybody who has been reading LL for the last decade should know what a "topolect" is.

    **I'm surprised that no one has commented on the "pharyngeal gag reflex", i.e., "reverse sneeze" of the Yorkshire Terriers. I was particularly wondering whether such a sound exists in human speech anywhere in the world. I have heard humans make it, but not as part of their speech, just as an involuntary inhalation. The Yorkshire Terrier in the video demonstrates the "pharyngeal gag reflex" particularly well. I have a student this semester who makes this sound several times each class session. I have had a few other students in the past who were prone to producing that same sound, and I remember that a couple of them were from Shanghai.

  14. David Marjanović said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 9:20 am

    By the way, can anybody here place Fiona Hill's accent (impeachment hearing 2 days ago)? She described it in her opening statement as "northeastern England" and "distinctly working-class"; I'd never heard anything much like it before (but why would I, not having ever been to northern England).

    The really striking thing is that her FACE vowel is not [eɪ̯] (mainstream, including the boy in the video!) and not [e(ː)] (Scotland, Canada, northern US), but [ɛː], differing from her DRESS vowel only in length.

    'put it int' box'

    …where t' doesn't contain anything like [t], but is just a glottalization: [ɪmˀpːɔˀk̚ːs].

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 10:11 am

    If you can post a link to Fiona Hill speaking, David, I will do my best as a native Briton to identify her accent,

  16. Leo said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 11:20 am

    Philip Taylor: Ms Hill's speaking voice can be heard here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4Dg00JxxkM

    Just in the first few seconds, her pronunciation of 'conduct' with an un-reduced vowel in 'con' – as opposed to a schwa – sounds characteristically North East England to me.

  17. David L said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 11:49 am

    Fiona Hill is from County Durham, and is the daughter of a coal miner. I imagine her native accent was much more pronounced than it is now. Her FACE vowel (as in Ukraine and investigation) struck me as the most Geordie thing about the way she speaks, although it's not all that different from a general northern English accent.

    Full-on Geordie is one of the more impenetrable English accents, in my experience. I tried to find a good YouTube illustration but didn't.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:10 pm

    Although Dr Hill clearly has an accent, it is not a strong one, and apart from suggesting "somewhere up North" I would not be able to identify it further. But what did she mean when, in the closing seconds of the Youtube recording to which Leo kindly referred me, she spoke of "the firth of the American people" ?

  19. Michael Watts said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:20 pm

    She's not saying "firth". The clause is "destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy".

  20. Greg said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:29 pm

    @Philip Taylor: in those closing seconds she refers to the *faith* of the American people. I can't hear an 'r' sound in the word myself but she does seem to destress the vowel as she says the word, almost as if she's out of breath.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 12:34 pm

    I am aware of ingressive speech sounds which have diverse functions in many languages. See here, here, and here.

  22. Trogluddite said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 2:38 pm

    @Victor Mair: I was particularly struck by this clause of the boy's speech: "I showun'er".
    Such use of the past participle of irregular verbs is very common in the West Riding dialect (as it is in other BrE dialects); e.g. "Ah thrown it 'im" (I threw it to him), "Ah seen 'er two week ago" (I saw her two weeks ago). The omitted preposition "to", and singular count noun "week" in these examples are also common.

    The lad's use of "I've not" rather than "I haven't" is quite typical too; contractions of negative phrases which include variants of "have not" or "will not" commonly leave the "not" free-standing (e.g. "I'll not", "she's not" rather than "I won't", "she hasn't".)

    I didn't notice him use the one which most baffled me when I first moved to the West Riding – "while" used to mean "until". "Don't cross the road while the green man is lit" would be considered perfectly reasonable advice around here!

  23. AntC said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 3:14 pm

    @David M can anybody here place Fiona Hill's accent (impeachment hearing 2 days ago)? She described it in her opening statement as "northeastern England" and "distinctly working-class";

    As @David L says, she's from County Durham. But that is not "Geordie". I'm unconvinced that accent is particularly working-class. I suspect it's a claim from journalist south of Watford, who thinks everything Northern is ipso facto working-class. Ms Hill's accent is closer to Teesside/Middlesborough, which brings us to North Yorkshire.

    Yorkshire (being God's own, and the largest County) has a wealth of accents. There are three Ridings, with distinctive grading of dialects across them. The lad from Barnsley has a relatively mild West Yorkshire accent; it gets much thicker in Sheffield; and shades into Lancaster as you go West from Leeds; or shades into Derbyshire as you go South (such as Holmfirth where 'Last of the Summer Wine' is set).

    The East Riding (mentioned in Victor's quote) features a stressed schwa — that should excite some round here.

  24. AntC said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 4:35 pm

    Ah, correction: as @David M cites, Ms Hill's statement "I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent." and wp says she didn't go to Oxford (although eminently able) because her accent was derided at her interviews. Oxford's/England's loss is Harvard's/America's gain.

    I'd still say the accent I heard at the impeachment was not particularly working-class. Ms Hill has been living away from County Durham for ~30 years.

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 5:05 pm

    Firth/faith — fascinating. I definitely heard "firth" (non-rhotic), could not understand what she meant, turned on the closed captions and sure enough saw the word "firth". As it sounds (to my ear) so far from "faith", it might perhaps have been helpful in identifying her origins/accent, had these not already been firmly established. I hear very little in her speech to suggest working-class origins other than possibly "pow-wer" (/paʊ wəː/) and "kuhnot" (/kənɒt/).

  26. David L said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 6:09 pm

    AntC: you're right, of course: Geordie is Tyneside. I was confusing my dialect names. I don't think there is a specific name for the Durham accent.

    If I hadn't known Hill was from Durham I don't know that I would have placed her accent correctly. But I do think her FACE vowel is a little more Durham than the Yorkshire/Lancashire/Derbyshire varieties of English. (My father was from Derbyshire and we had neighbors from Consett, Co. Durham, when I was growing up).

    PS to Google: why are Lancashire and Yorkshire accepted but Derbyshire given the red-line treatment? On my father's behalf, I am shocked and dismayed.

  27. David L said,

    November 23, 2019 @ 6:19 pm

    Then again, some descriptions of Geordie place it as an accent originating with coal miners in a larger area that includes Northumberland, Durham and Tyneside.

  28. Philip Spaelti said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 3:28 am

    Re: Fiona Hill. I guess County Durham fits with being from the Northeast and the story about her father being a coal miner, etc., but in her opening statement she writes "the same region George Washington's ancestors came from". Since Wikipedia lists Lawrence Washington as coming from Northamptonshire, I can't make any sense of this. Any LLers with more knowledge of Britain care to comment?

  29. Leo said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 3:49 am

    Philip Spaelti – probably a reference to Washington in Tyne and Wear https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_Tyne_and_Wear

  30. AntC said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 6:35 am

    @Philip S see wikipedia on 'Washington Old Hall', "ancestral home of the family of George Washington". As @ Leo says, that's in the Politician's county of Tyne and Wear; but I've stopped there (it's on the A1) and its dialect is "part of historic County Durham.", equidistant between Durham and Newcastle as says wp on Washington town.

  31. Rose Eneri said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 8:00 am

    Honestly, is nobody going to comment about how utterly adorable the little boy is? I was especially struck by the long pause beginning at :22, before he says "I am done." What was he thinking?

    Yorkies are great dogs, but it's sad the breed overshadows the Manchester Terrier, a sleek, fun, all-terrier breed (which I lovingly own).

  32. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 11:46 am

    Why did the mother post this? Why would she think her son's accent is a particularly amazing example of the Yorkshire accent? Doesn't she hear it all around her? Doesn't she speak that way herself?

  33. Kate Bunting said,

    November 24, 2019 @ 12:47 pm

    Yorkshire pudding cooked in butter? It should be cooked in the fat of the beef it's going to be eaten with (or before, to be really traditional) and said fat should be very hot, not just 'melted' – or so my Yorkshire Mum taught me!

  34. John Swindle said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 12:35 am

    At 00:26 Fiona Hill decries "politically ___ falsehoods". What's the word? The closed captions have "politically derived." "Politically driven," maybe, with a slightly rolled "r"?

  35. Andrew Usher said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 8:08 am

    Yes indeed! That's an alveolar tap for the r in 'driven', with the necessary epenthetic schwa/vocoid for producing one next to an alveolar stop. She also uses the tapped r in her first 'narrative', though the second is not clear. This is one of several Scottish-like features of her accent.

    This could well be heard as *deriven, which was presumably 'corrected' by the captioner to what you saw.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  36. Sordle P said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 8:18 am

    @CNH – "You can hear true Yorkshire in 'skoo-ell' for 'school' and 'put it int' box'"

    Put it also comes out distinctly in his speech as "purrit". That's often heard both in Yorkshire and in Lancashire – at least in the Manchester area.

    @DavidL – "Full-on Geordie is one of the more impenetrable English accents, in my experience. I tried to find a good YouTube illustration but didn't."

    Try Brian Johnson in his early ACDC days. Pretty broad for those of us not from the area, even if not the broadest of the broad. He kicks in at around the 2-minute mark.


    There are also a couple of short documentaries about the Angelic Upstarts, another local band (South Shields, I believe). Several non-band speakers as well; 25'50" in this one, for example


    Music interviews (also sports, especially football) are a rich resource for hearing regional British accents, especially when the musicians are still young and still based in Britain. There are fewer pressures to speak any way other than naturally. To me these clips are infinitely preferable to those of people consciously demonstrating the accent of this or that city, even if they're actually local in the first place. Too contrived.

    I'm partial to the Liverpool accent myself. For that, you can't really improve on the La's.


  37. daveR said,

    November 25, 2019 @ 10:00 pm

    Fiona Hill hails from Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

  38. Biscia said,

    November 26, 2019 @ 5:54 am

    @Victor Mair: I’m not sure that reverse sneezing exists in humans. But at my local library I often run into a man who makes apparently involuntary snorting sounds, and in his case at least I suspect it’s Tourette syndrome.

  39. Keith said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:08 am

    I had a look around, and found that the boy is from Barnsley; it's a small town I've been to a few dozen times just to the north-west of Sheffield.

    AntC points out rightly that Yorkshire is the biggest county in England, and so has many different accents and dialects. The Sheffield topolect is perhaps a bit special in that it has a number of words in its lexicon that are not known in other Yorkshire topolects, but that are known in those of Cheshire, north Derbyshire, north Nottinghamshire and north Lincolnshire. This is probably the result of the rapid growth of the city during the industrial revolution when the factory system drew labour into Sheffield at the same time as the demand for agricultural labour declined.

    The term "West Yorkshire" is anachronistic, though. Yorkshire was made up of three "ridings", the North Riding, West Riding and East Riding until the boundaries commission redrew the maps and created the four divisions of North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and the East Riding. This system of division seems to have been abandoned, and the ridings re-established, around 1995. The term "West Yorkshire" should only be used to refer to the administrative county as it existed from 1974 to c. 1995.

    Some interesting reading here:

    This one is very accessible:

  40. Kate Bunting said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 12:06 pm

    "Purrit in't box" can be heard in Derbyshire too (and not just the northern half).

  41. Patrick Snook said,

    December 4, 2019 @ 9:07 am

    At school in Rotherham (20 minutes by car south of Barnsley on the M1), in the 1970s, I often heard jokes about the Barnsley accent. It was imitated and mocked for its coarseness—the broadest of Yorkshire accents. The accent also implied lower social status. Compared to 1970s Rotherham!? Funny now to observe that.

    The young lad in the video is a delightful storyteller and performer, clearly improvising and relishing his Mum’s interest and entertainment. The accent sounds natural, easy, and fluent (so unlike most actors who attempt similar—eg. “Last Tango in Halifax” where Dean Andrews’ authentic Rotherham Yorkshire accent shines clearly to my ears in comparison say to that of the estimable Derek Jacobi).

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