Our accents are a strong link to our cultural identity, our heritage and our place in the world. They are also incredible indicators. When the country was divided by class, you could not open your mouth and fail to give away your social standing. Now they are forged to our heritage, you cannot help but smile at a West Country drawl, a Scottish burr or an Irish lilt, and though you may not have the knowledge or skill to make out specific towns (we cannot all be Henry Higgins) the region of origin is ever at our finger tips.
This is ever true to those locals of the Forest of Dean. The dialect could rival the broadest Glaswegian as it takes some time to get your ear in. However as the UK becomes more homogenised, the edges softened and accents are all a little more diluted, the Forest of Dean dialect is running low on speakers.
In an attempt to retain the colloquial slang, there is a strong literary community that continue to write and perform in the dialect. Keith Morgan is a poet who is raising awareness by not only writing on subjects close to the forest’s heart, but also by writing phonetically in dialect. Though keeping this dialect alive is important for the area, it is also important for the country as a whole.
While for many years the works of Shakespeare have been performed in what is known as Received Pronunciation, in reality it would have sounded closer to the dialects of these isolated communities. Many of the spellings are similar to some dialects when written phonetically and when read in rural Forest of Dean dialect, Shakespeare’s words come to life far more than when pronounced with the over enunciation of Received Pronunciation.
While many local literary festivals celebrate the works of those inhabiting or inspired by the forest, you can usually find at least one person reading in the old way. However when in a holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean, many local pubs and quiet villages are often populated by the locals who speak a version of English close to Shakespeare’s own.
Let’s put thic awld yer to bed,
‘im a’n’t bin best nor wust.
If bist aimin’ to get martal,
Ol Butt, thou wunt be fust!
Edward Hunt (2011)