Beowulf
A Yorkshire dialect translation
Introduction
Whose English?

When we say we speak English, what exactly do we mean? Which English? Whose English? English is a pluricentric language, which means that it is a language with many standards. There's British English, US English, Canadian English, Australian English, and many more. However, within any given location, there are many different variations of a language, many dialects, and language varieties. No one speaks exactly the same. The notion that there is a single, monolithic English is a fallacy. Instead, there are several kinds of Englishes, which vary across geographic, social, political, and stylistic dimensions. Despite this reality, the idea that there is a 'correct' or 'good' way of speaking English is widespread. While great progress has been made toward remedying linguistic discrimination, there is constant pressure to abandon 'dialect' over 'language'; the difference of course is arbitrary and socially constructed.

Project

This project, the Beowulf Dialect Translation, aims to address linguistic discrimination by rendering the most famous piece of Old English literature, the 3,182-line poem, Beowulf, in the Yorkshire dialect, an umbrella term for a series of language varieties spoken in parts of Northern England. Speakers of Yorkshire English can appreciate the story of Beowulf, they may learn some Old English along the way, and readers of Old English can also learn about the Yorkshire dialect.

Old English

What is Old English? Old English is an older form of the English language, spoken between the fifth and the eleventh century. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Shakespearean English, nor is it the English of Chaucer. Old English is much older and is usually unrecognisable to modern speakers of English (without any training of course). There are four documented dialects of Old English: West Saxon, Northumbrian, Kentish, and Mercian. Of these dialects, most texts that were preserved and exist today in manuscript form were in the West Saxon dialect, the dialect of the famous King Alfred.

Yorkshire English

Historically, Yorkshire English traces back to the Northumbrian dialect of Old English, which was spoken north of the Humber estuary. Although pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar can vary, there are several features that are fairly uniform across the Yorkshire varieties. Below are just a few:

  • th-fronting

    • The <th> sounds found in words such as thing and father  (known as the voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives)  are pronounced as [f] and [v] in the Yorkshire vernacular. Therefore, words such as fought and thought can become homophonous, that is, they sound identical. Throughout the translation, th-fronting will be represented orthographically through the use of <f> and <v>.

  • definite article reduction

    • The word <the> is often reduced to a glottal stop, a sound found in many British pronunciations of the word water. In spelling, an apostrophe is sometimes used to indicate this the 'reduction' of the as a glottal stop (e.g., t' stop 'to the shop'). In many British varieties of English, <t> is pronounced as a glottal stop between two vowels (e.g., water, peter, letter)​. The apostrophe will be used to indicate definite article reduction in the Beowulf translation.

  • vocalic differences

    • The vowels are notably different in Yorkshire English. In standard varieties of English, vowels such as <e> and <i> are usually diphthongs, that is, there is a glide-like segment (e.g., a sound, as in yellow) added to the vowel when pronounced. In the word say, we see the in spelling, but we also get this sound in words without the y (e.g., face - pronounced feys - [fejs]). In Yorkshire English, these diphthongs are monophthongs (i.e., there is no sound).

    • The so-called TRAP-BATH split describes differences in the pronunciation of the <a> vowel in northern and non-northern British English dialects. In Yorkshire English, the vowel in trap is the same as the vowel in bath, which is not true for southern and often more prestigiously viewed varieties of English.   

  • dialect words and expressions

    • Yorkshire English is full of words which are not used in other varieties of English. Many of these words go back to earlier parts of the language when Vikings settled in northern parts of England, bringing their own words with them (from a language called Old Norse)​. One such example is lek (modern Norwegian leke 'play') - wanna lek? 'want to play'?

Sample Translation (idiomatic)
Opening Lines (line 1-52)

Yorkshire English

00:00 / 00:32
00:00 / 00:37
00:00 / 00:55

Ey-up, na then, lets lern bout’ Danish kings,

oo bak int day did greet fings 

Ther wo this king, Scyld Scefing,

oo nicked alota mead-benches from‘ enemy’s troops and terrified their leaders. Eveno, ee dint av a reight lot bak int’ day,

soa ee clearly cem a long way.

But eeh by gum, when is tam cum, ee definitely frived. Eee musta bin gree’est

man alive. All’t world ad to giv im’ bunch o dosh fer bein’ king. Blumin ek, wot a king ee wo.Thats wot yer calla king. 

 

But ya noo, ee got owder,

but lukili, ee had a son oo wo young.

God sen’ im t’folk cos ee understud ow distressed they wor, avin bin wi'out’king fer a wile. Soa God

gev em vis worldly onor.

Beow, son of Scyld, ee wo famous, is fame wa well nown. Ee’d distribute is wealf

on beafov is faver

soa that wen ee grew owder, is folk wud remain loyal,

and shud woor cum,

thed fight for’im. Thru glorious deeds like this, annyone annyweer wud prosper. 

 

Then Scyld Scefing popped is cloggs

an went int' protection 'Lord

an is follawas

tuk im t’ sea to bury im,

cos ‘ats wot ee asked for,

wen ee wo ebl to talk that is. 

Ship wo stood at’ abor,

all parky an redy to go.

Then allt’ folk tuk im dahn inta cockles ‘ship, next t’pole.

Ther wa menny treasures

loaded from distan’ lans. I ant ever seen a ship soa grand.

Paked wi' such fancy treasures,

like arma and wepons.

They layd’ king dahn

an surrounded im

with such greet pleasures.

Ah, they dint skimp on those treasures.

Ee left middle-earf wi nowt fewer than wot ee started wi wen ee was a wee little lad,

floatin over' waves all lonli an sad

Then they put a golden banna i-up overis-ed

an let water tek im , as ee wo ded.

They gev im t’ sea.

Oshon ad im now.

But they wor sad, an sed ther fairwal.

Corse men dint noo wot wud appen t’ king

an alt' loot they left beyind

innat greet big bin.

Old Engish

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,

þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,

monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,

egsode eorlas . Syððan ærest wearð

feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad, 

weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah, 

oð þæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra 

ofer hronrade hyran scolde

gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning.

Ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned

geong in geardum, þone god sende 

folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat 

þe hie ær drugon aldorlease

lange hwile. him þæs liffrea,

wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf:

Beowulf wæs breme, blæd wide sprang

Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.

Swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcean,

fromum feohgiftum on fæder bearme, 

þæt hine on ylde eft gewunigen 

wilgesiþas, þonne wig cume,

leode gelæsten; lofdædum sceal  

in mægþa gehwære man geþeon.

Him ða Scyld gewat to gescæphwile 

felahror feran on frean wære.

Hi hyne þa ætbæron to brimes faroðe, 

swæse gesiþas, swa he selfa bæd, 

þenden wordum weold wine Scyldinga; 

leof landfruma lange ahte. 

þær æt hyðe stod hringedstefna, 

isig ond utfus, æþelinges fær. 

Aledon þa leofne þeoden, 

beaga bryttan, on bearm scipes, 

mærne be mæste. þær wæs madma fela 

of feorwegum, frætwa, gelæded.

ne hyrde ic cymlicor ceol gegyrwan 

hildewæpnum ond heaðowædum

billum ond byrnum; him on bearme læg 

madma mænigo, þa him mid scoldon 

on flodes æht feor gewitan. 

Nalæs hi hine læssan lacum teodan, 

þeodgestreonum, þon þa dydon

þe hine æt frumsceafte forð onsendon 

ænne ofer yðe umborwesende. 

þa gyt hie him asetton segen geldenne 

heah ofer heafod, leton holm beran, 

geafon on garsecg; him wæs geomor sefa, 

murnende mod. Men ne cunnon 

secgan to soðe, selerædende,

hæleð under heofenum, hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.