When the Yorkshire Dialect Society (a leading member of The Yorkshire Society’s Heritage Guardians network) announced they planned to run a pilot adult education course in Yorkshire Dialect, to teach people to be more able to listen to, speak, read and even write the traditional dialect of Yorkshire’s West Riding, the response was overwhelming and the 6-week course they offered quickly sold out.

Within days of the announcement, news of their classes to “teach Yorkshire people to speak Yorkshire” had gone viral, with local and national newspapers picking up the story. There were articles and even editorials in both the Yorkshire Post and The Times, even The Sun, Metro and Daily Mail carried news items about it and there have also been features on local radio and television too.

People in Yorkshire are notoriously proud and as the Welsh, the Irish and the Cornish have discovered, a language makes a people. Obviously in the case of Wales and Cornwall their language is of Celtic or Byrhic origin, whilst Yorkshire Dialect – like Lowland Scots (the language of Robert Burns) – is a variety of modern English, albeit with some special Anglo-Norse Viking elements.

A new publication Yorkshire – How to Write It by Hebden Langtoft has just been published by the Yorkshire Dialect Society and is flying off the shelves, as is Arnold Kellet’s Yorkshire Dialect Dictionary which may soon have to be reprinted.

So, what is happening?

We think the new-found interest and enthusiasm for Yorkshire dialect is part of a cultural re-birth that our Region needs. We need to find new ways of celebrating everything that is unique and special about Yorkshire as a whole – not just our countryside, our people, great towns and cities but also our language, but also our unique literature, folklore, music and traditions, before they disappear. It’s about re-discovering who and what we are.

Fifty years ago, Wales was perceived as marginal to Britain by many English people, even its language was deemed comic. That has changed – profoundly.  Wales with a population of 3.3 million is now recognised as a nation in its own right. It has its own TV and radio channels in the Welsh language, national publishers, top class authors, traditional pop, progressive rock and classical music and even a thriving film industry with films in the Welsh language for the international market (with English subtitles).

In contrast, Yorkshire with a much bigger population of 5.4 million, is regarded as a mere “county” reflecting a perception of the North which has changed little since our Norman conquerors.

One hugely significant and highly successful part of the revival of Wales culturally and politically has been the annual Eisteddfods, held in different parts of the country.

Dating back to the early 12th century – an Eisteddfod – meaning “a sitting together” is in essence a music and poetry festival which celebrates Welsh identity, nationhood and culture through language and music, including competitions in key disciplines and the appointment of competition winners or distinguished people who have served their nation culturally as Bards. There is an emphasis on youth with young people not only taking part in competitions but in public concerts by Welsh rock and classical musicians attracting audiences of thousands.

Cornwall has now accepted the Eisteddfod tradition and has its own Bards, as do other countries or provinces with a Celtic heritage such as Ireland and Britanny. But Yorkshire too has a Celtic heritage – you’ve probably heard of Pen-y-Ghent?

So, in gentle homage to our Welsh cousins, could Yorkshire also consider hosting an annual Yorkshire Eisteddfod?  This could bring together poets and storytellers, both from among those who use the dialect, the language of Yorkshire in any of its three Riding forms, as well as those only skilled in standard English. It would also include singers and musicians – including Yorkshire’s legendary brass bands and choirs, as well as soloists and smaller groups. The common theme would be Yorkshire and Yorkshireness – what holds us together.

The huge interest generated by The Yorkshire Dialect Society’s Dialect classes suggest this is exactly the right time to look at the idea of an annual festival of Yorkshire literature and music (however so defined), done with the support and involvement of a wide range of partners drawn from the amazingly talented and creative communities of Yorkshire.

Is this something The Yorkshire Society might help initiate?  As co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Heritage Guardians, I’d love to hear from any Yorkshire-based individuals and organisations out there who might be interested in making such an annual event happen. Please contact me at  heritage@theyorkshiresociety.org.

Colin Speakman, The Yorkshire Society (volunteer)

Colin Speakman

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