Saturday, 18 January 2014

TE Brown and Manx Dialect

Mark Liberman's Language Log post More bee science (which comments on a news story's mistaken description of worker bees as drones) reminded me of a scrap of verse I remember from way back.
What's the gud of these Pazons? They're the most despard rubbage goin,
Reglar humbugs they are. Show me a Pazon, show me a drone!
Livin on the fat of the land, livin on the people's money
The same's the drones is livin on the beeses honey.
- TE Brown
I first encountered this diatribe about parsons in Arnold Silcock's 1952 anthology Verse & Worse: A Private Collection, but I'd never bothered to look into its origins. I'd assumed it was in some folksy US dialect, but far from it. It turns out to be in Anglo-Manx, a now-declining dialect of which the Manx poet, scholar and theologian Thomas Edward Brown was a major chronicler. The above verse is one small segment of "The Pazons", part 5 of a cycle of comic rants - In the Coach - purportedly heard aboard a public coach. It comes from Brown's anthology Old John and other poems (1893, Internet Archive ID oldjohnotherpoem00brow).

He looks an interesting guy. His diaries contain a wonderful and inspirational exposition of what it is to be a writer ...
I must be free free to do what I like, say what I like, write what I like, within the limitations prescribed by me by my own sense of what is seemly and fitting.
... and it seems his works were unusually robust for the time, but he self-censored them in contemporary collections (see The Drama of Storytelling in T.E. Brown's Manx Yarns, Max Keith Sutton, 1991) . The 1998 Fo'c's'le Yarns: An Uncensored Edition of Four Manx Narratives in Verse leads with:
FO'C'S'LE YARNS presents four of T. E. Brown's best Yarns uncensored for the first time. These narrative poems were originally published in 1881 in an edition Brown called an "emasculation" of his best work. George Eliot, Max Muller, Francis Thompson, and W.H. Henley admired his work, yet he was eventually dismissed as too Victorian. These original texts demonstrate the inaccuracy of this characterization with their bold treatment of sex, and their dramatic inclusion of the rough give-and-take between the yarnspinner and his shipmates in the forecastle. The frankness of the Yarns makes them a significant expression of Manx experience and culture, as does their close imitation of the dialect.
Some of the censorship was about expletives - his characters' use of "My God" and the Manx equivalent "My gough" - but I haven't been able to find specifics of what else was involved.

See the Internet Archive - search creator:"Brown, T. E. (Thomas Edward), 1830-1897" - for his many other works.

There are a number of glossaries of Manx dialect, notably AW Moor's 1924 A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect and WW Gill's 1934 Manx Dialect Words and Phrases. Like many regional dialects (such as that of the Isle of Wight), it's greatly declined now, reduced to a regional accent with a few dialect words. Having never heard it, I wasn't sure what kind of accent it would be - I thought it might have affinities with Irish English. In fact it has a lot of similarities to North-West accents, with a twang not unlike Liverpudlian. The British Library has a couple of historical examples, recorded in the 1950s, in its Survey of English Dialects - Amanda Crellin (b. 1878), and John Thomas Teare (b. 1873).

For a modern example, check out the videos by Ben Watterson and Juan McGuinness. While they're a scathing satire on insular attitudes, the general response has been positive, with commentary to the effect that the accent is authentic and only slightly exaggerated. It definitely sounds even more Liverpudlian than the 1950s samples.

- Ray

1 comment:

  1. How complimentary to be put in the same article as T.E. Brown - thanks!