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Bostin’ broadcast celebrates Black Country speech

Esther Asprey

Warwick dialect expert Esther Asprey will be celebrating the voices of the Black Country in a new episode of the BBC Radio 4 series, Tongue and Talk: the Dialect Poets

In conversation with presenter and poet Emma Purshouse, Dr Asprey discusses the origins of the dialect - a West Midlands language variety descending ultimately from Mercian Old English - and talks about what it means to write in dialect, how we represent sound through spelling choices, and the pressure poets can feel on a national level to use Standard English.

Dr Asprey explains: “Regional dialects have suffered increasing stigma nationally since processes of standardisation really began in earnest in the 18thcentury, and even at the local level, children whose first language is Black Country dialect face pressure to abandon these speech forms as they progress through school into the working world.”

The distinctive Black Country dialect is often associated with entertainers such as Slade frontman Noddy Holder and comedian Sir Lenny Henry, but has in fact been used by writers since the 19thcentury and in recent years has inspired a rich contemporary poetry movement - the annual Wolverhampton Literature Festival features poets such as Liz Berry, Dave Pitt, Emma Purshouse and Brendan Hawthorne, while further back in the past, local ballads were collected and written down by brothers Michael and Jon Raven, founder members of the Wolverhampton Folk Song Club in the 1960s and experts in the history, music and poetry of this industrial region.

Dr Asprey, Senior Teaching Fellow in Warwick's Centre for Applied Linguistics, said: “The BBC series Tongue and Talk plays an extremely important role in legitimising dialect poets, too often seen in England as ‘niche’ and only concerned with regional interests.

“I was delighted to connect my knowledge about the history of the dialect with Emma’s first-hand knowledge of how to represent sounds in writing to better understand the ways in which its speakers are using it creatively.

“Dialect poetry speaks to a community on a deep emotional level - particularly communities like the Black Country where speakers come under pressure to lose their dialect for the schoolroom and the workplace.

“Dialect speech is an important part of our identity, and dialect poetry is one of the ways speakers can share it on a national level with others who can enjoy what they write.”

Dr Asprey will be featured in Episode 4 of the series in conversation with writer and performance poet Emma Purshouse, co-editor of The Poetry of the Black Country (Offa’s Press, 2017).

  •  Tongue and Talk: the Dialect Poets Episode 4 – The Black Country will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 6 September at 16.30 and will then be available on the BBC iplayer at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000mbq5

3 September 2020

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Sheila Kiggins

Media Relations Manager

University of Warwick

S.kiggins@warwick.ac.uk

07876 218166