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Black Country expression is part of our human nature

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

By Dr Brian Dakin

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IN his letter (The Bugle, January 9 edition) Ivor Morgan accuses me of setting myself up as an expert writer of the Black Country dialect.

I'd like to put him straight. At no time do I advocate that I am writing in a definitive version of the variety.

He should understand this as many years ago I went great lengths to explain this to him after a previous criticism. Since then, I have spent almost 15 years writing and performing in a variety of Black Country English that embraces aspects from different localities within the region and becomes part of what I 'see ' and 'hear' in my head.

In my doctoral thesis, which was funded by The Black Country Society, I use the concept of 'voice' as a way of understanding what it is to be Black Country. We can all criticise variations of how words are written, including those that feature on the Bugle Ballad page.

Brendon Hawthorne, a bostin' writer and performer from Wednesbury, and myself discussed the ways in which some of the dialect expressions he wrote for his play: 'Ard Graft All F' 23 Bob' should be spelt. Coming from different localities within the Black Country, our versions were different.

We understood this and respected each other's variety when committing speech to writing paper.

Unlike standard English, a regional variety of English such as that of the Black Country does not have the equivalent of an Oxford English Dictionary to regularise its standardisation. Or is Mr Morgan claiming to have the equivalent authority of the OED when it comes to the Black Country dialect? On whose authority? Does he use Biddulph, Conduit, Chinn, Clark and Asprey or other writers who write about the linguistics of the dialect to inform his own opinion?

My concern has always been the role Black Country dialect plays in relation to Black Country identity.

The reason why there are variations in spelling in writing Black Country words is that there are variations in their pronunciation and Black Country speakers will disagree about spellings. That's part of the fun. The representations of dialect I use in my writing and performing are those I speak and which I hear in my head. Creativity is not defined by boundaries and certainly not when no definitive agreed written spelling conventions of dialect expressions exists for all words. Mr Morgan also misses the point that there is variety within any variety of English, including that of standard English. Mr Morgan fails to grasp this point when he uses his expertise to criticise those who seek to claim Black Country identity through any form of creative work.

I was also puzzled by his comment about folk clubs and live performance, especially as it coincides with an article I'm writing for Mick Pearson, editor of The Black Country Man. The article is called 'Are We Reborn?' and is based on the reclamation of our Black Country identity over the past 10 years or so through writing and performance.

Great local poets such as Geoff Stevens and Alfie (both now no longer with us), Brendan, Dr Paul Mcdonald, Anthony Cartwright, the theatre group Fizzog and broadcaster, musician and record producer Laurence Hipkiss with whom I work in RoosterSpake and Billy and Lozz are just a few names who use Black Country varieties to index to place and identity. Mr Morgan should come and take part in these events or listen to radio shows such as Radio Wildfire.

Nobody writes or performs in their variety unless they feel it is who they are. Expression is part of human nature.

Mr Morgan chooses to express himself in his way and I respect that. I and many like me 'feel' Black Country and use ours and others experiences to acknowledge an ever-changing identity as we have always done and will continue to do so. Maybe Mr Morgan could create a poem for the Bugle Ballad page and just enjoy what comes into his head. It will be fun I assure you.

Dr Brian Dakin,

Visiting Research Fellow,

Aston University.

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