Is Sheffield dialect less ‘deedah’ now?

What’s appenin’ to t’Sheffield dialect?

By reader.letter2
Wednesday, 24th April 2019, 3:00 pm
Updated Friday, 26th April 2019, 3:39 pm
Catherine Wainwright and Vera Cutts, two of the famous Buffer Girls who worked in Sheffield cutlery firms, pictured in September 1976
Catherine Wainwright and Vera Cutts, two of the famous Buffer Girls who worked in Sheffield cutlery firms, pictured in September 1976

This is the question that I am hoping to answer as I carry out the first research study to track Sheffield speech across 100 years, writes Johanna Blakey.

As a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, I embarked upon this huge task last October.

I have since been familiarising myself with over 100 recorded interviews of Sheffield speakers held by Special Collections at the Western Bank library, the majority of which were done in the 1980s and the rest in the late 1990s.

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Steel, another industry that once defined Sheffield people's lives

These recordings, consisting of local speakers from various parts of the city, give us an insight into how Sheffield people spoke as far back as 1901.

I will soon be collecting new recordings, which I can then use to compare the archived recordings with the Sheffield dialect of today.

Interestingly, earlier studies have suggested that the use of Sheffield features can vary according to whereabouts a speaker lives, how old they are and which social class they identify with.

Sheffield is a particularly interesting place to look into, as it is much more socially diverse now than it once was.

Supertram was one of the major 1990s Sheffield developments

Social changes over the last 100 years are likely to have affected the way people speak, especially the huge changes in geographical and social movement, and the decline of the cutlery and steel industries that were once central to the lifestyles of local people.

There has also been an influx in professionals entering the city, as we are home to five teaching hospitals and two world-leading universities, which has given Sheffield the highest retention rates in the country for students who choose to stay after graduating - most of which tend not to use local speech.

Gentrification in and around the city centre - with prime examples being the opening of Meadowhall and the Supertram in the early 90s - has also had a massive impact, and made the city a hotspot for local tourism.

Another point of interest is that previous research has shown that Sheffielders have a strong sense of local identity and pride in their roots.

Meadowhall, whose arrival in the 1990s heralded big changes for Sheffield

We tend to find that people use dialect as an emblem of their local identity to demonstrate this, particularly in times of social upheaval - something which I will explore further.

I am also hoping to find out whether the way that locals think about Sheffield is influential to their use of local features.

For instance, are the most proud Sheffielders more likely to speak like ‘deedahs’ and to use dialect words like ‘reyt’ and ‘mardy’?

Another common local feature is the vowel that Sheffielders use in the phrase ‘oh no’ which becomes ‘or nor.’

You might notice that speakers of different generations in the city have slightly different ways of pronouncing words.

Have you ever noticed differences in the ways that your family members speak?

Hopefully by the end of my project I’ll be able to provide you with more of an insight into what’s going on and what might have stuck around or changed over time.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Sheffield dialect, you can find loads more content on my blogsite:

Twitter: @johannablakey