Language quiz

Here’s some text from a book I’m currently reading in which some of the dialogue is written in this way. Do you have any idea where people speak like this?

“Vares nuffing nú unnersun, mì sun. Doan ask wy ve öl daze wuz bé-er van vese, coz U aynt gó ve nous fer í. Lemme tellya, no geezer az a clú abaht iz own tyme, yeah? Ees juss lyke a sparrer, eggzackerly lyke a sparrer aw a bitta bá-erred cod.”

Another bit:

“E oo ayts lyf wil keep í, thass wot í sez in ve Búk, innit? Wel, Eye doan luv lyf ennymaw wivaht Am, so Eye spose Eye must ayt í. Awl Eye did woz 4 Am, awl Eye evah wannid woz 4 uss ló 2 B cumfy.”

Note: as far as I know, this form of speech is rarely written, and this spelling system seems to be one developed by the author. The second quote is in a future version of the form of speech used in the first one.

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21 Responses to Language quiz

  1. TJ says:

    Well apparently it’s English … but I’m not sure which accent.
    Maybe cockney or black american?

  2. David Eger says:

    Well, I’m buggered if I aynt gunna reck’inize me own nay’ive dialect.

    …although I don’t actually speak like that myself. I was at school with people that did, though, if perhaps a slightly more modern version of it.

  3. renato figueiredo says:

    both are English, from Indonesia area (Austronesia)

  4. Christopher Miller says:

    Definitely a variety of English from southern England, one where ‘th’ is pronced [v] or [f] depending on whether it’s voiced, and where /t/ after vowels becomes a glottal stop or gets dropped. The spelling is a sort of ‘Eye English’ with a few idiosyncratic additions like the grave ans acute accents on certain vowels.

  5. J. A. Roberts says:

    It’s Estuary English, innit?

  6. phanmo says:

    London geezer-speak

  7. Andrew says:

    I get using “4” and “2” as simpler ways to write “for” and “to”, but what is the point of writing “Eye” instead of “I” or “uss” for “us”? It looks like these passages were written in this way for the sole purpose of being confusing, like the way Herge, creator of Tintin, used to make “gibberish languages” for non-French speaking people that were actually bastardized spellings of various French dialects.

  8. David Eger says:

    ” but what is the point of writing “Eye” instead of “I” or “uss” for “us”?”

    Yes – it’s a somewhat ‘creative’ way of transcribing dialect. I suppose ‘eye’ is used in order to distinguish ‘I’ from ‘í’ (‘it’) and perhaps ‘uss’ is intended to indicate an unvoiced s, as distinct fromthe ‘uz’ pronunciation heard in some accents.

    I suspect the various diacritics and od spellings are an attempt at phonetic accuracy. In reality, it’s a bit vague, with a fair amout of abiguity and redundancy (‘oo’ = ‘ú’ in ‘clú’, but not ‘ú’ in ‘búk'; the acute accent seems to represent a glottal stop in ‘í’, ‘gó’ etc., but not in ‘clú’).

  9. David Eger says:

    “The second quote is in a future version of the form of speech used in the first one.”

    Do you mean it’s a prediction of how people from the area (London, I assume) might speak in the future? Two features I don’t recognise are ‘Am’ for ‘him’ (or ‘them’?) and ‘winnid’ for ‘wanted’. But perhaps the trends of pronunciation of Cockney English at the time when this was written suggested that that is how it would develop. But perhaps the writer had not predicted the profound influence that 1. the mass media and 2. ethnic diversity have had on London (and other regional) English.

  10. David Eger says:

    …*odd* spellings. That was not an intentional typo, although I wish it had been.

  11. Simon says:

    David – Am refers to an island where the action takes place in a future in which sea levels have risen a great deal and England or Ing has become an archipelago of islands, including Am or Ham, which I think is Hampstead Heath.

  12. David Eger says:

    OK – That makes things clearer. Presumably, ‘Arrer’ would be another of the islands. This hasn’ quite happened yet, so the representation of future Cockney may yet prove accurate. Who is this by and when was it written?

  13. Simon says:

    The quotes come from The Book of Dave by Will Self, which was published in 2006. The first one is an example of Cockney, a variety of English spoken in the East End of London, and the second is an example of Mokni, a form of Cockney from the 26th century, when part of the story is set.

    Most of the dialogue in the parts of the novel set in the future is in Mokni, though some characters speak in Arpee, which is defined in the glossary at the end of the book as “court or sophisticated speech (as opposed to Mokni)”. Mokni is defined as an “Inglish dialect”.

  14. Jade says:

    The first comment said black American or cockney, lol. Well, it’s not English or any English dialect, it looked a bit Norse to me but when I look again there are too many differences. So after look around I found out the most likely possible language is Tagalog (Filipino).

  15. Jade says:

    I really don’t know but it still looks old English, Gaelic or Norse to me

  16. dreaminjosh says:

    Jade- You’re right, it’s not black American but it definitely is English.

  17. Kevin says:

    Jade: re “it’s not English or any English dialect”. Rispeck, no wó Eye meen? — but that is definitely Lannun-Esschurry Inglish…!

    Will Self’s attempt to find a spelling system for London-Estuary is very interesting, though I’m very disappointed to see what an opportunity has been lost — if as our host tells us, the second sample is intended to represent the speech of the same language community as in the first sample, 500 years on — to demonstrate language change. I find it very hard to believe that in a world where the people of Arra Rill (? Harrow Hill) have been separated by large tracts of water from those of Amsted Eef, there wouldn’t have arisen considerable dialectal variation.

    In my view, Russell Hoban set the standard for handling this kind of thing magnificently in his dystopic novel “Riddley Walker”, where he uses several varieties of “future English” of the type that could conceivably emerge in the wake of a global catastrophe.

    PS: I’m not convinced that “winnid” (in the second example) isn’t a typo for “wonnid”. Simon?

  18. d.m.falk says:

    Another book that does something similar is “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell.

    d.m.f.
    (Yes, the book the movie is based on.)

  19. Simon says:

    Kevin – you’re right, that was a typo and should be “wannid”.

    Here are versions of the texts in standard English for those not familiar with Cockney:

    “There’s nothing new under the sun, my son. Don’t ask why the old days were better than these, because you haven’t got the nous (knowledge) for it. Let me tell you, no geezer has a clue about his own time, yeah? He’s just like a sparrow, exactly like a sparrow or a bit of battered cod.”

    “He who hates life will keep it, that’s what it says in the Book, isn’t it? Well, I don’t love life any more without Ham(stead), so I suppose I must hate it. All I did was for Ham(stead), all I ever wanted was for us lot to be comfy.”

  20. jay says:

    Being an East Ender I had no problem reading the first text, imagining an older man on a market stall talking ( they usually had the strongest accents coupled with the loudest voices). Like many I’ve moved away now and most locals now come from overseas and so the previous locals have taken the accent/dialect to the very ends of London and into Essex.

  21. David Eger says:

    Even coming from leafy Ealing, it was quite recogniseable to me.