Dialect expert: 'I am proud to be a yellowbelly'

Image caption Many of the northern Lincolnshire dialect words have Scandinavian origins

"I am proud to be called a Yellowbelly," Loretta Rivett declared in an emphatic voice.

By using this slightly puzzling, dialect word Mrs Rivett was showing her pride in coming from Lincolnshire.

Her opening conversational gambit had me struggling though, when she also told me her father used to have a "thotty stabber stee".

Mrs Rivett, 59, is a lover of the dialect of northern Lincolnshire and is actively trying to record dialect words and speakers, before the uses are lost.

She is currently leading several sessions at Grimsby library intended to increase people's knowledge of their local dialect.

And don't confuse dialect, the words used in language, with accent, or the way people speak those words. They are related but it is possible to have a strong local accent but yet use few dialect words.

The Viking influence

Many of the dialect words in north Lincolnshire, and across the Humber estuary in East Yorkshire, have Scandinavian origins and were absorbed into the language following invasion and settlement by Vikings over a thousand years ago.

For instance, Mrs Rivett revealed a "thotty stabber stee" was a thirty step ladder. And the Swedish for ladder? Stege.

In another example of the Scandinavian connection, the local dialect word for sweets is goodies and in Swedish the word is godis.

Eric Scaife, of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, confirms the dialect in the area around the Humber estuary is the "purest arising from the Viking influence" - partly because of the rural, more isolated, setting in northern Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire.

He added: "Part of the language has been preserved as it was there but these words have been lost in other areas.

"A strong dialect speaker could go to Scandinavia and carry out a conservation of sorts."

'Verbal chameleon'

Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo, said English "adopted many words from the Danelaw's inhabitants who were of Norwegian and Danish descent".

The Danelaw was the part of England in which the laws of the Viking settlers held sway.

As an example Professor Faarlund used the sentence "He took the knife and cut the steak". Only "he", "the" and "and" come from Old English - all the other words are Scandinavian according to the professor.

Mrs Rivett has been described as a "verbal chameleon" after been overheard switching between her two voices, local dialect and her teaching voice.

As part of her education role she gives talks to school children about the local dialect.

'Twin-edged sword'

Image caption Rural areas have seen some survival of dialect words

The more rural an area, the more likely dialect words are to survive, she suggests.

"Rural areas used to see families staying within very close areas and the Lincolnshire dialect is a very agricultural dialect," she said.

But Mrs Rivett said the use of dialect across the country has been reduced by a "twin-edged" sword.

One of the cutting edges is a far more mobile population, in contact with many different people using modern communications, and the other is the reduction of the size of the agricultural sector in the economy.

But her work is not part of a quest to "save" the northern Lincolnshire dialect.

"I don't think I can keep it alive as a genuine spoken language," she said.

"But I do think dialect should be as much a part of our heritage as the buildings we preserve."

Now she encourages people to record older relatives' voices to preserve the spoken dialect words in which there is a growing interest.

Mr Scaife agrees: "In the past, schools tried to literally knock dialect out of people to create a standard English, now it [local dialect] is encouraged."

But what about the term Yellowbelly? According to Mrs Rivett there are several different explanations for the name including the colour of soldiers' waistcoats, long-haired sheep and newts.

North East Lincolnshire Council has a programme of events until October to encourage people to preserve the local heritage. Mrs Rivett's lectures on the northern Lincolnshire dialect are at Grimsby library.

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