Syntax and Lexis in Glamorgan English

My usual, phonetically fairly sophisticated, readers may note that this article was originally prepared for inclusion in a publication, English in Wales (1990) edited by Nikolas Coupland, which was directed at a not necessarily particularly phonetics-oriented audience. Hence its usual avoidance of phonetic transcriptions and terminology. This version of the article incorporates numerous very minor corrections and adaptations appropriate to its appearance on this website.

In 1964 I completed a manuscript entitled Glamorgan Spoken English of over 400 typewritten pages. It had been put together with many interruptions over the previous fifteen years and consisted of phonetic, grammatical and lexical observations on those features which distinguished the English of Glamorgan (as it then was though not including its western peninsula of Gower), from most of the varieties spoken elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

Having been born in Cardiff and lived there in total twenty-five years and having many contacts in the rest of the county, I found such a compilation a natural exercise to undertake for someone attracted to the study of language. Its glossary of over 2,600 entries was based on general observations and informal discussions but not any attempt to use systematic questionnaire-based interviews. It included word forms not witnessed elsewhere, pronunciations and semantic values not found in the standard language, three hundred or so local place-name and personal-name pronunciations and many ‘reverse entries recording the fact that certain expressions or forms in general everyday use in most of the rest of the English-speaking world were alien to Glamorgan English. This was an innovation which to me seemed to provide an informational element which I have found to be sadly overlooked in all other such writings. The lexical comments that follow are very much only a selection from the contents of that glossary.

The following abbreviations have been used: Cdf for the variety of English heard between and around Cardiff and Barry (and along to Newport); Cmr for the Cymric/`kImrIk/ variety of English heard in the rest of the historic county of Glamorgan (ie excluding Gower); and Gm for the name of that county. I have usually omitted any comment on the wideness of currency of the items. This was extremely variable, some being apparently universally known in Wales and most others being of very restricted incidence and/or in some cases, by the time of the completion of the MS possibly obsolete. Some were exclusively Cdf and some exclusively Cmr. I have here excluded most place-names, nicknames, slang, catchphrases, stock metaphors and similes and proverbialisms and have in general not included the numerous references to occurrence in Anglo-Welsh literature made in the original text.

The expression cf is sometimes used to indicate vowel agreement or rhyming value in reference to the parallel portions of the words in question. Some glosses are close synonyms; others are only explanatory descriptions. The sign [`], the tonetic high-fall symbol, I have used as a marker of principal stress on the following syllable. I have not on this occasion made systematic use of phonetic transcription and [’] only marks an omitted segment.

The Welsh-language element in the Glamorgan vocabulary

Cdf very significantly yielded no words of Welsh-language origin not shared with general English except for the mildly pejorative term for a Cymric south Walian shonny, the Cymricised form of Johnny and its derivatives. Daio from Dai, ie David, was similarly far from universally used. Probably the latter placing of the second element of shonny-onions (ie ‘onions Johnny, the term for the once very familiar itinerant Breton onion-seller, betokens original formulation in Welsh and subsequent passage into English.

Even Cmr Gm English provided only a few widely used Welsh-language items. Gymanfa ganu and cawl were naturally used, like eisteddfod, for identifiably Welsh phenomena. The commonest Welsh word in daily use seemed to be the oath Duw. Phonetic variants of this as Jiw, Jawch, Jawl and other items like darro, Jesu (mawr). arglwydd (mawr), nefoeth (mawr or wen) and myn ufferrn i were confined to fairly self-consciously jokey or mildly humorous Cmr speech, as were most of cariad (darling), bach and fach (male and female address endearments), conin (grouser), crachach (élite), diprish (lethargic), didorath (shiftless), graven (rind), mochyn (term of disgust: literally ' pig') and wuss (contemptuous term of address). Less self-consciously used were bopa (auntie), cam (step, pace), kibe (hoe), milgi (whippet), shwmai (a greeting) and teishen lap (layer cake). Not all of these are of certain Welsh-language origin.

Welsh-language influence on the forms of originally non-Welsh words seemed at least possible in a number of Cmr items. These included braddish and brattish (both 'brattice), coppish ('trouser-fly evidently from 'codpiece), cornish (cornice), loshin (Cmr for 'lossin, ie sweetmeat, from lozenge) and slyshe (slice) all possibly showing Gwentian palatalisation. The vocalic elements of croot (puny fellow) and cloock (broody, etc), both with the foot vowel, and particularly those of Lewis, Llew and mew as heard in Cmr with the first vowel of Welsh Dewi point clearly to Welsh-language influence.

The Flemish Element in Glamorgan Vocabulary

A well-known expression usually found written as ach-y-fi (also ych-y-fi), shown by its usual spelling to be generally taken for Welsh, rather naturally on account of its usually containing a voiceless velar fricative, is curiously enough most likely to be of Flemish origin. It has a Cdf variant akkavee and Wright (1905a) at accabe suggests for that a derivation in common with closely similar forms quoted from Bremen, Holstein and Flemish sources. It has to be remembered that the same fricative value can be associated with the general English exclamation ugh, exclamatory noises falling frequently outside the normal phonetic repertoire of a language (see Jones 1977 s. ugh).

Of likely Flemish origin are the word reeve ('gather' of fabrics) and the Cmr items culf ('hunk of bread) and pimp in its sense of Peeping Tom (and corresponding verb) as used by Dylan Thomas in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. So is Cmr bosh for a kitchen sink (known to Murray et al. 1884 and Wright 1905a only as a mining term).

The Scandinavian Element in Glamorgan Vocabulary

The surnames Skyrme and Skrine are more likely to owe their non-Saxon-seeming /sk-/ to Flemish than to Scandinavian origin but, as with the standard language, the intermingling was such that attempts at disentangling origins are pretty futile. Thus despite the prevalence of Danelaw /r/ quality and distribution in South Wales (as suggested in my article on The Roots of Cardiff English on this website) it is only possible to point to a handful of items that could have descended from the lowest Germanic substratum. One such is teem whose now-forgotten metaphor is paralleled in the synonymous Gm usage empty (come down hard of rain). The literal sense cuckoo of gook (vowel as in spook) is also apparently no longer used. A similar term toop (with the foot vowel) for stupid (person), limited to Cmr and widely taken as a Welsh-language loan (thus usually spelt twp accordingly) seems to equate to tup (ram). Other possible items are eckle (spy, peep' see Wright, 1905a, at ettle), flake, flick (both flitch', side of bacon'), gilt (young sow), gossup (gossip), niggle (nag), sket, skit (both spot, splash), skip (basket), scram (scratch), skranky (scraggy), scrink (runt; niggardly), scruggins (bacon bits) and two items which seem to have entered general English slang only relatively recently, cag-handed and gawmless. Some of these are not very widespread and any of them might have entered Gm from south-western or more northerly dialects.

Various word forms and senses were recorded which, though not necessarily even of likely Scandinavian origin, are yet characteristic of the Danelaw rather than Saxon areas of England. Among these were again in the sense of 'later, aisy (easy), bap (kind of loaf), better (recovered), bowly (childs bogey ie nit or nasal mucous particle), clatch (clout; doughy), clotch (clot), cokum (cunning; stupid), daft, danted (daunted), devilskin (naughty child), hunker down (crouch), mam/my, (mum/my), mange (rhyming with flange), poin (whine), run (verb: race in competition with), scruff (scrape), sniffles (snuffles), soddened (soaked), sodgy (soggy), tash (throw roughly), up in years (elderly), wan (rhyming ran; won) etc.

The South-Western Element in the Glamorgan Vocabulary

It is usually impossible to determine, of any one of the fairly considerable number of south-western contributions to the South Wales vocabulary, whether it is attributable to pre-industrial times or later. Among forms and senses recorded in Wright (1905a) for south-western counties are the following Gm expressions: cree (respite), daps (plimsolls), bulk (belch), dram (tram), fousty (fusty), golden chain (laburnum), (my) handsome (term of address), heck (hop), lootch (filthy liquid, rhyme butch ), mob (a game of hide and seek), navel (rhyming with gravel), nippy (cold), pink (chaffinch), pink up (cheer; adorn), pine end (gable end), scag ('catch thread of garment), scud (scab; sleet), skit (splash), smeech (smell), sprayed, spreathed, spreed (all 'chapped), stingy-nettles (stinging nettles), shoe-nut (Brazil-nut, from resemblance to a clog), reeve (gather fabric), tump (hillock), whimberry (bilberry), wisp ('styon eyelid), wit-wat (rhyming cat: foolish) etc.

Some of these were more West Midland rather than purely southwestern items eg tump. To this grouping we can probably also assign pikelet (muffin) and the Shakespearian verb to mich (play truant). Besides this last thoroughly characteristic South Wales word there is another which in its exact form is apparently to be found nowhere else but is surely derived from French via western English: jibbon (spring onion). The nearest Wright (1905a) has to it is gibble (which like jibbon is obviously a descendant through Old French from Latin cepa) with a record of that form in Gm as 'seaside plantain which I was unable to detect as still current.

Various domains of use might well have repaid more systematic investigation. including some of the following:

Glamorgan Mining Terms

Among the handful of such expressions which came to my notice, all belonging to the Cymric area of the mining valleys of course, were: bond (pit-cage), bonked ('left above ground having missed descent of cage), braddish, brattish (draught-curtain), butty (workmate, chum): dram (tram), journey (set of trams), pitch (slope), stem (work area).

Glamorgan Countryside Terms

My glossary was no doubt particularly short on farming expressions. I had little or no contact with farmers, fishermen and the like. Among nature terms noted were boys ribbon for a plant with green-and-white striped leaves, golden chain (laburnum), shivvy (wild strawberry), shoes and stockings (yellow trefoil), tongue-fern (harts tongue) and whimberry (bilberry). Terms for or connected with animals included coob (with the foot vowel; 'coop), coot (rhyming foot, 'sty), crink (runt), goody-hoo (owl), honey-coomb (rhyming boom), in kindle (pregnant), sheep-tod (dropping), wizzen ('weasand' ie windpipe), yucker (nestling bird).

Glamorgan Games Terms

Most of those who discussed the regions English with me had vivid recollections to offer of their childhood usages especially the names of games they played and other games terminology, some of which varied widely. There were eight different terms for fivestones (also gobstones, pitstones, dandies), several for strong horses (a rough boys game also called bomberino), and variants of hide-and-seek (including mob), chasing games including copper-slopper (played with truncheons), shoocky (rhyming cookie, played with knotted scarves), ballgames including queenie-o-coco (played with boys against girls) and various games with marbles to which term allies (or alleys) was much preferred. There was careful preservation of 'correct traditional expressions such as adging (edging forward), barm (favourable position), camel ('knuckle-hold, very probably a Welsh-language loan, known only in Cymric) and fen mennance (a call to prohibit the next item), fernollerking (surreptitious improvement of position). The individual whose turn it was to be the seeker was called it. The claim for immunity from being caught twice in succession was no killing the butcher, and the derisive reply of a participant addressed by the wrong name was quaintly barley mans name! An appeal to be temporarily excused from participation in a chasing game was cree! Wright (1905a) had it only for Salisbury but Opie & Opie (1959) showed how incomplete such records were, finding it the prevailing term on both sides of the Bristol Channel besides at Worcester and Birmingham.

Other Glamorgan Childrens Expressions

Expressions used by and to young children included acky (disgust), babba (baby). boogyman (with foot vowel: bogeyman), cacker (defecate), coopy (boot & foot vowels) down (crouch), loller, lossin (sweetmeat), oo (you), poop ( foot vowel: defecate), tats, tatters (for babies’ 'walkies – no doubt from 'ta-ta) etc.

Older childrens expressions included much conscious slang such as guff (challenge), cleck (tell tales), half-snacks (half shares), impot (imposition ie punishment) and goosegog (first syllable as in gooseberry) and razgog for gooseberry and raspberry which gave rise to the even more extravagant very slangy childrens punning liegog (library ie 'lie-berry)!

Glamorgan General Expressions

There were many other usages not felt to be either childish or slangy but ordinary everyday colourless expressions most unlikely to be recognised by their users as regionalisms. They included: aye (yes; not homophonous with eye because [a:i] ie more or less two syllables), back and fore (ie forth), bad [rhyme bard]-in-bed (ill), beeswax (to polish). birdlime (ie bird droppings). boughten (attributive: 'bought), bracers (braces), by here (here), chesty (boastful), cootch (vowel as foot: snuggle etc), dirt (as verb), drib-drab (piecemeal), dull! (stupid!), eggbound (constipated, nominally from eating eggs), empt (empty: verb), grain (original fabric colour), grouts (tea-leaves), ingrimed with dirt (ingrained with dirt), kid (informal friendly term of address), latebird (person given to late bedtimes: compare homebird), like (so to speak), mun (unstressed vocative to either sex with neutral vowel), pith (the crumb of bread), trimmings (Christmas decorations), tricky (ingeniously devised) and many others.

Glamorgan Pronunciations of Individual Words

The distinction between a pair of 'different though related words and a pair of variant pronunciations of the 'same word is of course in fact a gradient one. The following items were all included as occurring either usually or to some extent in forms different from those of the most general varieties of current British English: adver`tisement, af’noon, alablaster, almond (as Alma), a’thritus, ashphalt, aspidestra, ast ('ask and 'asked), ba’s (baths), bay’net, blackbeedle, Bri`dgend (not Bridg`end), Cammel ('Campbell only in 'the Campbells are coming), car’board, castle (as Cassell), casterate, casuality, catacomb (rhyming tomb), celery (as salary), cellu`loid, cementery (compare the standard Spanish form), cheffon`nier, (chiff-), choir (as coir and also so but beginning /kw-/), coll’ery, collok’ial (colloquial), comb (rhyming doom), com`ment (verb), coveteous /-ʧəs/, cookoo, darling (Cmr as dullin), demerara (first syllable as dumb), dee`vorce, domineer (as dominair), drounded, err as air, Eu-rope, excape, fish’op, fi’ep’nce, foolish (Cmr as fullish), gange`rene, girl (Cmr as 'gel), Giberaltar, God (as gawd), gone (as gawn), gransher (ie 'grandsire), Griffiths (as Griffiss), grove (as groove), gully (rhyming bully), gypso`philia (rhyming lobelia), half past (as ap-arse), handbag (as ambag), hear and here (as year, rhyming with fur), heightth (consonants as eighth), Hirwaun (as Urwin), hold (as holt but as noun only), hose (as whose), is'nt (as in or idn), jaunders (ie jaundice), jujube (as jube ie without the usual first syllable), ladened, lampost (ie 'lamp post), laurel (Cmr first syllable as law), leave (noun as leaf), liquorice (as lickerish), maroon (the colour, as marone), mar’lous (ie marvellous), mazzapan, mastiff (as mastive), Maureen (as marine), mercry (ie mercury), mischievious, mind (as mine), motor (Cmr as moto), moustache (second syllable stash), nearly (as nurly), Nebuchadnezzar as Nebakanezzer, night-dress (as nitrous), nougat (as nuggat), nought (for 'nothing - but not for 'zero - as nowt), now’days, or`chestra, orniment, pantomine, papier maché (as paper mashy), paraffin (as paraˋfeen), partic’lar, pavement (as payment), pearˋmain (cf remain), peep-bo (as peep-oh), pep’mint, p’roxide, petticoat (final two syllables as delicate), photo (rhyming motor), picture (as pitcher or pit-tcher), pillow (as pillar; and so most such -ow words), pincers (as pinchers), plen’y, p’escription, p’etend, progr’mme (Cmr only), pudding (as pudden), pumice-stone (as pummy-stone), Rabaiotti (as Rabiotti), raddish (as reddish), rear (ie 'raise as rare), record (as rec’rd for Cmr noun only), rhubarb (as -bab. -bob, -b’b), ridic’lous, rind (as rine), `robust, salad (rhyming pallid), Sarah-Ann (as Sar’Ann), sarsaparilla (as sasperella), sauce (Cmr rhyming loss), saucepan (as sosp’n), Scotch Highlander (as Scotchy-Lander), Si’mese, siren (as sy`reen), somebody (some’dy), something (as summin), somewhat (as noun only, regularly summat), stirrup (as sturrup), student (as studient), syrup (as surrup), s’ringe, tarpaulin (as tarpolin), ta-ta (as tur`rah or tra) taters (ie potatoes), the`atre (rhyming better), tooth (with 'foot vowel), tortoise (second syllable rhyming noise), twen’y, umberella, vase (rhyming gauze or phase), vi’let, wad (rhyming fad), wan (rhyming pan:past of win), wasnt (as wodden, also rhyming wan), wasp (rhyming asp), weir (as ware), Wenceslas (as Wencelesslas), whore (rhyming Ruhr), woman and won’t with no /w/, yeast (as east). yesday and many others.

Glamorgan Syntax and Morphology

My 1964 MS acknowledged that Gm shared with most popular forms of English such features as double comparatives and negatives, demonstrative them, the regularised possessives hisself and theirselves, uninflected adverbs as in, for example, it hurts awful bad, unmarked plurality after numerals, unsanctioned past-tense expressions as in, for example, we’ve ate[et]’em, he come, they done it, she never etc, and present-tense forms with -s for all persons. It also listed a number of to some extent more peculiarly Gm features among which were the following.


It noted various plural-form substantives regularly treated as singular, including baths, bracers, pinchers, scissors, scales, trousers and tweezers, and other plural nouns with collective senses also so treated, eg as in not this ages, not much hopes/thoughts, eggs is good, apples is best besides the widespread popular orders is orders.


Besides the generally familiar sentence-final vocative you of admonitory commands, it found you so added in encouraging ones, as in eg carry on, you and sit down, you. The notorious Cmr look you seemed to have become rare if not quite obsolete,

It was pointed out that the initial do of emphatic general educated commands (eg as in do sit down) was alien to unsophisticated Gm usage.

Masculine and feminine pronouns were noted as very often used to refer to what Wright (1905b: §393) termed 'formed, individual objects as in for example, she's a lovely job, that bike and tha’ stone’s a big ’un, idn ’e!

Old-fashioned Cmr speakers were recorded as sometimes using which instead of the usual Gm who or that as in eg my sister which lives in Pengam. The widely popular what in such use was not recorded.

Adjectival usages

The adjectival suffixes -y and -ified were noted as occurring in items like burny, fainty, goldy, liquidy, mocky, picky, pointy, pound-notey, stingy (from sting), reddy, Welshy, whiley etc and cheesified, shonnified, summerified, Welshified etc.

Paratactic adjectival clauses were fairly commonly recorded as in I gets I cant help it, it do [Cmr only] make me I doen’ know where I am and I'm gone [=Ive become] I don’t know how to get through my work.

Adverbial and prepositional etc usages

Certain participial adjectival forms were noted as employed adverbially, notably in its raining pouring.

Only temporal uses of since were commonly found. Since was not much used for 'because, being replaced by coz, seeing as or being as. Temporal since could be followed by present-tense verb forms, eg not since I’m back home.

The general educated as if was noted as often replaced by like if or like as if, eg in they treated him like as if he was dirt.

The replacement of to by and found in the general educated usage try and was observed as extended to start and mind as in mind and look after yourself and don’t start and make trouble.

The preposition for was noted as sometimes heard before an object in connection with like to as in I wouldn't like for him to know it.

The reduction of complex prepositions by omission of the second element increasingly observable in general educated usage was found to be very prevalent in Gm as in out the window, round the back, over the shop (which thereby was ambiguous),

One of the most characteristic features of Gm English proved to be the absence (in all but rather sophisticated speakers) of exclamatory how with adjectives and adverbs. The most typical equivalent of this is here’s or [Cmr] there’s lovely! General educated colloquial usage has only commendation (and discommendation) using theres before substantival expressions, eg there’s a fine sight or theres a good boy, of which the Gm pattern is probably a development.

It seemed that the least sophisticated Gm speakers showed much greater preference for the a form over the an form of the indefinite article before words beginning with vowel sounds. This frequently resulted in loss of the article altogether through elision of the rhythmically weak schwa, thus making have a heart and give us a hand indistinguishable from have heart and give us hand, since generally in unsophisticated or casual Gm no aspirates would figure in such expressions,

Verbal usages

Highly characteristic of Gm English proved to be its employment in most situations by the least sophisticated speakers of the -s form of the present tense not only for the third person singular as in general educated usage but for all the other persons singular and plural as well. This is a characteristic shared with various, especially southern and southwestern, areas at least as far east as Reading. (It is found very widely indeed in popular usage over the English-speaking world in what we may call the present historic or narrative style notably with the verb say as in so I says to him.)

However, and in this respect it does not accord with the distinctions reported in Cheshire (1978) for the Reading area. Gm seems to have semantic distinctions between iterative and non-iterative uses of present tense forms, the latter not taking the -s inflection. The non-iterative forms appear to express a non-conclusive state of mind while the s-inflection forms refer mainly to repeated activities, continued conditions or expressions of futurity. The iterative forms are generally interchangeable with progressive-tense forms. For example he always doubts my word and he’s always doubting my word can be interchanged with little difference of meaning but I doubt it can hardly be exchanged for I’m doubting it without a very much stronger sense contrast.

In some of the following contrastive examples, the choice of the s-inflection form is more or less equivalent to the addition of an adverb such as 'always' in general educated English. Sometimes it endorses the iterative meaning of an accompanying adverb:

I agree ... I agrees with you usually. I ask you! ... I always asks you first. I bet he don't ... I bets on horses.

I believe you ... I never believes horoscopes. I doubt it! ... I never doubts your word.

I forget for the minute ... I forgets people’s names. I forgive you ... Your mother and father always forgives you.

I guess you're right ... I guesses the answers. I mean to say ... I means well but I puts my foot in it.

I notice you got a new car... I notices things like that. I reckon that’ll do ... I reckons up the totals.

I see ... I sees her home. I tell you what ... I tells him where he gets off.

I would not wish to claim that the kinds of usages illustrated above were never departed from by any speakers: but the pattern was far too frequently observed in the least sophisticated speakers for the uninflected forms to be put down simply to standard-usage influence; and the use of inflection in some non-iterative types was not surprising in view of the subtlety of the distinction in many situations.

This feature of Gm grammar is probably the most strongly stigmatised of all and is generally avoided by lower-middle-class speakers. Even so, it was curious to observe it cropping up from time to time in various speakers who had positive ideas on correctness of usage that might be expressed for example by insistence on the desirability of sounding one's 'aitches.

In Cmr only, the unemphatic periphrastic present with unstressed do proved very common, possibly more eastward from Rhondda than westward, eg they do /də/ 'do it `for you.

The prefix a- was never noted to occur before present participles in living use though a-past and participial adjective a-willing were reported to me to have been in recent use among older folk in the north-west of Glamorgan. Although the non-standard past-tense forms heard were mostly the ones shared with popular English world-wide, some use of brung was noted and of swole and snook (rhyming book) instead of sneaked, but the latter at least seemed to be mainly jocular. Quite commonly hurted was noted in serious use.

In Cmr alone the future tense form was very frequently observed in temporal subordinate clauses, eg Wait till she’ll have him home. This perhaps reflected Welsh-language influence.

Present and past participles were quite frequently observed as postponed to the final position in the sentence, as in eg hes a nice lad getting, its a good size coming, isn’ it cold gone! Such occurrences would usually treat the participle as post-tonic but it could be the tonic or have its own separate tonic as in it’s six oclock `gone.

Finally, comparing the Glamorgan Spoken English record with the most recent account of Cdf morphology and syntax in Coupland (1988: 33-37), the following points occur. No confirmation can be offered for the verb usage of they’s awful. Besides we has, the form we haves was well attested. The verb form do’s /du:z/ ie does was recorded for speakers born in Cardiff who had never lived elsewhere, but only for the iterative-type semantic applications, never as an auxiliary. The absence of were in first and third singular forms was confirmed. So was absence of various generalised non-standard -ed forms. So was the existence in Gm of the invariant tags is it and especially isn’t it, but the point was made that they were vastly more characteristic of Cmr than of Cdf where i’n it? would be the usual form. Predicate fronting was so little observed as not to be recorded for Cdf, being taken to occur there no more than in general educated usage.


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