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THE SOMERSETSHIRE DIALECT.
majority of English words beginning with these letters have the hard sound; but this is almost unknown in Somersetshire. Indeed I doubt whether it exists at all, for I think it will be found that the genuine natives always tend to give to such words as thank, think, thing, the soft sound instead of the hard. This is, indeed, to be expected, for the greater includes the less, and I am now about to show that there is a strong tendency to soften the hard TH not only into the soft TH, but into the still softer D—e.g.:
Squire Western says, when the fair Sophia rebels against the husband of his choice-the precious Blifil, you will remember-"I won't gee her a happney, not the twentieth part of a brass varden." This word varden is rather a curious one. Out of the six original consonants only two remain, and the changes thus effected represent three characteristic tendencies of the dialect-the softening of F to V, of TH to D, and the rejection of the final G.
A still more characteristic pair of consonants comes now to be considered, the lip-and-teeth sounds V and F. The substitution of V for F is one of the two notorious marks of the Somersetshire dialect, by which it is known and recognised all the world over, the other being the change of S
to Z. I may here notice a rather strange remark which Jennings makes of these changes. Opposing the general notion that the dialect is inharmonious, he says, "Except in its frequent and unpleasant use of Z for S, and V for F, I do not think it will be found so deficient in agreeable sounds as has been commonly supposed," which, as these are almost the only consonantal peculiarities he notices, is really very like saying, "except in its chief characteristics," &c.—rather a serious, in fact, utterly suicidal exception to make, when the object in view is to establish something about the very dialect thus characterised. If V and Z really were more harsh and disagreeable sounds than F and S, it would be difficult, indeed, to prove that the dialect was characteristically smooth and easy. The reverse, however, is, of course, the fact, V and Z being the softened sound of F and S respectively.
The softening of F into V at the beginning of a word is all but universal in the dialect. The following short dialogue may be taken in illustration :“Guaine to vy-er ?"
"Oh, brave! vine daye vor the volks at the vy-er. Guaine a-voote?"
Aye, vooäsed too. Bill hurned a voorke into the old mare's vet-lock, and her's a-valled leeame.” In these few sentences are nine words in which the change takes place. Here are other examples:Vro-ast frost Vee-aste feast Vorrud = forward
The words vy-er, fair, and vi-er, fire, are pronounced very much alike; and the following extract will illustrate the confusion this sometimes produces :
Hannah. Beänt there many vyers in Lunnun, Miss?
Wife. What do a think, Miss, o' thic zilly lass, Hannah ? her and vather walked sixteen miles to zee a vyer.
Visitor. Were there many houses burnt?
Hannah. Houses burnt-noa, Miss! There beant nothing at all burnt at vyers.
Visitor. Not anything burnt at fires?
Hannah. Noa, Miss, it wasn't a vier, but a vyer.
Visitor. Well, what do you call a fire?
Hannah. Why, a vyer be where they zell gingerbread, and cloth, and ribbon: and show wild beeastes-Oh, moi heart! I wou'dn't go to zee they! I shou'd be zo vrightened! And there be monkey-banks there, what jumps dro' hoops, and cats vier. And girt big wax-dolls in a cart. Moi heart! such a zize! One, they zaid, was Boney, and one the Princess Charlotte. Oh, she did look zo purty! And there was zinging, and dancing, and zuch vine vun there. I do like vyers zo
At the end of words, too, where F has the sharp sound in English, it is in the Somerset dialect changed into V-e. g.:
The next pair of consonants, Z and S, the most celebrated in the dialect, are conveniently represented in the very name of the county itself— "Zoomerzetzheere." These are tongue-and-palate
sounds, S hard, Z soft; and it is the hard sound of S which gives to our language that sibilant, hissing character so much complained of by foreigners, and sometimes by natives also. Lord Byron, comparing Italian with English, describes the latter as
"Our harsh northern whistling, grunting, guttural,
Which we are obliged to hiss, and spit, and splutter all."
The hissing, spitting sound here referred to is that of the letter in question. Of course, we may naturally expect to find this softened in the Somersetshire dialect, and we find it is so universally. At the beginning of a word S is always changed to Z. This is so well known that a single illustration will suffice. Take the following, the first verse of the parable of the sower, translated into the dialect: "Yee-arken, behold a Zower went vooäth to Zow, an as a Zooed Zome Zeeäd vell by the waye Zide, an the vowels o' the ayre did yeät it up."
At the end of a syllable, S is softened in such words as houze-house; mouze-mouse, &c. It is also softened by transposition, and that in rather a noteworthy manner. In a word like hasp, for instance, the S cannot be softened so long as it retains its place-the sharp lip-sound P sharpens also the preceding consonant―shuts down sharply upon it, and prevents it dying away into Z. In the Somersetshire dialect the letters are transposed, the S softened, in turn sometimes also softening the P, so that hasp becomes haps, or habs. The following are other examples of this change :-
Only one other consonant remains to be considered the letter R, and I am the more anxious to say something about this letter, because its treatment in the dialect, though in many respects very curious, has rarely been noticed even in isolated words, and never referred to as a general characteristic at all. The letter R stands alone it is rough by nature and in its own right. Like S, it is a tongue-and-palate sound, and, with it, is distinguished for strength rather than for euphony, the one being pre-eminently the hissing, the other the harsh, vibrating sound of the language. R has indeed-like Ireland to successive Governmentsalways been the "great difficulty" with the leaders of fashion, the rulers of refined speech. The problem, of course, generally is to soften and subdue it as much as possible. In the modern London pronunciation, the R in the middle or towards the end of a syllable tends to go out, so that words like work, word, world, become wawk, waud, waulde. In the Cockney, or corrupted London pronunciation, indeed, there is a system of compensation at work, by which the Rs that have been unceremoniously thrown out from the middle of words to which they belong, are charitably taken in again at the end of words where they have no business; and young ladies and gentlemen who would think it "ba'bawous" and a "baw" to sound the R in its proper place, speak nevertheless of Par and Mar,