What is the Gower dialect? Where did it come from? And is it still used today?
In a new publication from myself and Dr Rob Penhallurick, The Gower Glossary (2018), we examine some of these questions about the old English dialect of the Gower Peninsula.
Separated culturally from the mainland of Wales from as early as the 1100s, Gower English had an early beginning as one of the first English varieties outside of England and with later contact from dialects across the Bristol channel in south-west England, it became a very distinct dialect. From tinmeats (mutton baked in tins for weddings) and dumbledareys (cockchafer beetles) to inklemakers (active people) and being as tight as a wheel (to be intoxicated), Gower developed a range of lexical wealth within upon its ‘linguistic island’.
Our new book came into being with a little help from the Gower Landscape Partnership, a council-funded initiative that has overseen several Gower-related projects over the last few years. Having some prior experience from another lexicographic project on dialect (my first publication: Welsh English Dialect (2016)), I was in the position to utilise my skills as chief writer and editor for a new glossary.
Starting in November 2017 (having barely caught my breath having submitted my PhD thesis) my task began for the GLP’s new linguistic project. The mission? To rework and edit Rob Penhallurick’s seminal academic book on Gower dialect, Gowerland and Its Language (1994) that is now out of print, into a new publication.
Penhallurick’s collection was the first text to incorporate all prior research on the dialect into one volume: one dialect repository. Everything from Isaac Hamon’s 1697 wordlist, which was found in a letter to a like-minded language scholar, to Horatio Tucker’s Gower Gleanings (1951), one of the popular mid-twentieth century guidebooks on Gower, is included. Also contained within is data from the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects, Swansea University’s pioneering dialect survey on Welsh varieties of English which was led by David Parry in the 1960s.
The aim of this project, however, was not only to find a new way to present this material about Gower’s dialect but to create a glossary for a general readership: one that was accessible to non-specialists, and across all age groups. Indeed, the main body of text was a glossary – a huge collection of lexical items, about 660 to be exact!
Was there a new way to present this lexical information? Dress it up in a different way? To begin, I reduced the number: some entries were combined, later twentieth century words were omitted, as were some words that featured in other English dialects. The final count was 330, about half the original word stock. The number is still pretty substantial considering the final pocket-book comes to 68 pages.
One of the first things that was evident when sifting through so much dialect material was that prior glossary creators had gathered words from a diverse range of rural experiences. The more I looked through the entries, the clearer it became that we could divide the material into about five distinct descriptive categories. All of a sudden, we had a brand new way to represent lexicographic material. These five categories became five chapters based on descriptions, cuisine, flora & fauna, objects & peoples, and idioms & phrases. The intention here is that readers will be able to dip into the repository in a thematically encyclopaedic fashion: being guided by the kind of word they’re after.
The final task I set myself was to do with contextualisation. Having discovered from my PhD research that dialect may be utilised by creative writers (poets, novelists, filmmakers) in to add ‘realism’ to their works, I saw a unique opportunity to collect some of the best Gower ‘dialect poetry’ for the work. I spent time in Swansea University’s Rare Books archive as well as the Civic Centre and identified three poems that featured a Gower word.
Contextualisation also took the form of pictorial examples, which meant that we could pair up some dialect words with imagery, such as a gambo (a two-wheeled or four-wheeled farm cart that is often open-ended), a photo I took at Gower Heritage Centre, an open-air museum in Parkmill.
This project on Gower dialect is the beginning of something far bigger and more collaborative, which is why this edition has the subtitle ‘limited edition’. We’ve already had some fantastic response from people already who have got in touch with us about their familiarity with the old dialect and some have offered contributions that will be valuable going forward with future editions of The Gower Glossary.
The Gower Glossary is available now. If you would like a copy, please contact Ben! at firstname.lastname@example.org
Benjamin A. Jones has just finished his PhD on dialect studies at Swansea University’s Applied Linguistics department. His thesis is titled A History of the Welsh English dialect in fiction.