'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Yan Tyan Tethera

Workington Regeneration have advertised for a dialect poet to help them add some art to the experience of their redevelopment of the town's shopping centre. This is obviously A Good Thing, but I won't be applying - not just because I was perversely fond of the neo-brutalism of the old St John's Precinct, but there are much better-qualified people - particularly a sometime Cumbrian bloggist - for that gig. (Perhaps Workington's due a psychogeographical excursion, to be reported on in this blog? Anyone care to join me?)
The notable feature of the successful poet's brief is that s/he is supposed to explore the roots of Cumbrian dialect in Scandinavian languages. And they trot out the interesting-if-true chestnut about 15% of Cumbrian men having genetic markers in common with Norwegian men. (Stories that Cumbrian dialect can be understood in Iceland are amazingly persistent - helped by a well-known local author's broadcasts on Radio 4 - but I've never entirely believed them & certainly never met anyone who's actually tried it & had a sensible conversation). I'm fascinated by but wary of the Viking element of our Cumbrian background - it strikes me as being a useful shorthand, adopted by the rest of Britain, to explain and characterise the distinct otherness of Cumbrians and Cumbria - a debatable land neither Scottish nor English. (Cumbria is the only part of modern England that was never a part of one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms). And the genetic statistic above rather leaves one wondering about the other 85% of Cumbrian men (& the women too).
So I hope the poet remembers that the one piece of Cumbrian dialect that people outside the county recognise - Yan Tyan Tethera the old shepherds' tally for counting sheep - isn't Scandinavian at all, but Cumbric. Yes, Cumbric. Cumbric? What's that? Cumbric's one of the great lost languages of the British Isles, spoken from Lancashire to Strathclyde in the 6th century, and for 600 years afterwards - it apparently survived in the Eden Valley until the 1300s. It was never written down, so it probably died with its last speakers; all we have today are odd words as glosses in manuscripts of Medieval Welsh (its southern sister-language), placenames - Blencathra, Pelutho, Blencogo, Derwent - and echoes in the dialect. And of course Cumbria - 'the land of our fellow-countrymen'.


Blogger RenMan said...

yan tyan tethera methera pimp sethera lethera hovera dover dick...
If pimp is 5 then why isn't it - estereeverseenacuddelowpapimpbaryat?

16/6/05 7:02 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Ah divvent knaa, marra . . .but 'pimp' certainly goes to middle welsh for '5' . . .

16/6/05 11:30 pm  
Blogger RenMan said...

The only pimp in the village.../

19/6/05 12:46 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

It's the fur coat, silk cravat & bling-bling jewellery isn't it? I should never have had that makeover . . .

19/6/05 1:09 pm  
Blogger Toast said...

this is *very* interesting - i was not aware of cumbric, but i do spend a lot of time in mallerstang nr kirkby stephen and interested to know that it would have been spoken there? do you have any recommendations for further reading on this kinda thing?

contact me through my blog

great site btw.

1/8/05 1:38 pm  
Blogger Shamus said...

Yes, I wondered about the other 85%. I guess it would be anglo-saxon/danish and ancient briton as I think they called it, even in ireland which might have upset them. Regarding Cumbric. If you google it you get some things. Ifor Williams' beginnings of Welsh Poetry maybe useful but it's not directly about Cumbric.

29/11/05 7:26 pm  
Anonymous Yanovus said...

After...yan tyan tethera methera pimp sethera lethera hovera dover dick... comes
Yan-a-dick, Tyan-a-dick, tethera-dick, methera-dick, bumfit, yan-a-bumfit, tyan-a-bumfit, tethera-bumfit, methera-bumfit, giggot = 20 =a score, the No. @ which you put a "score mark" on yer stick. Whence cometh the idea of 3 score & ten.

27/6/07 5:17 pm  

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