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Kentish regional dialect - quiz on how many local words you know and how Kentish is your accent

National Poetry Day today celebrates regional dialects and words. Alex Claridge talks to linguist David Hornsby about the evolution of the Kent accent

Mention the Kentish accent to anyone and they’ll probably tell you it’s not too dissimilar from the way Londoners have spoken for generations.

They’ll describe it as indistinct to much of the rest of the South East, the tongue known as Estuary English.

But Kent has in fact a far richer and more diverse linguistic heritage than might be supposed.

And it is one that intrigues socio-linguist Dr David Hornsby, head of the department of English language and linguistics at the University of Kent.

The 54-year-old is an expert on the way language evolves.

“Accents in Kent are a lot more diverse than you might think,” he says.

“Yes, there’s the bog standard south-eastern accent. But you can find older people who still speak the traditional accent, who still roll the letter r.”

This, Dr Hornsby explains, is known in linguistics as the “rhotic r” and is most notably found in the West Country and pockets of Lancashire.

“You can still find people in Kent who speak in this traditional way,” he said.

“They tend to be people who don’t have much contact with the towns, don’t move about much and don’t have much contact with London.”

Indeed, it is the spread outward of London English which has come to characterise what we would call a standard Kent accent.

It is a good time to discuss accents as next Thursday is National Poetry Day, which this year celebrates regional dialects and words.

Kent has rich history here, too.

Miners at Chislet Colliery
Miners at Chislet Colliery

On the Isle of Thanet, for example, a traditional word for an ant is pismire, a word imported into English from Scandinavian languages.

Lodge in old Kentish means shed while keys are sycamore seeds and a yaffle is a green woodpecker.

Then there are the various words for woodlouse. These include monkey peas, peabugs or cheesebugs.

There are divergencies inside the county, too.

In north Kent a large edible crab is a ponger, but in Folkestone it is called a heaver. Dr Hornsby is also interested by the pockets of accents in Kent which defy the broader picture.

He says there is “richness here which is worth looking at”.

People in Staple or Appledore are found to pronounce vowels differently to the places around them, substituting an “e” in some words for an “i”.

And then there’s Aylesham, which can be said to have an accent all of its own.

“I’ve always been fascinated by Aylesham,” Dr Hornsby says. “If you talk to the people there, they will not sound like they come from east Kent.

“It’s a mixed dialect which emerges from migration into the area.”

Aylesham’s history as a mining village meant that miners and their families were encouraged to move to east Kent from places such as south Wales and northern England to work in the coalfields in the 1920s and 30s.

Miners have played a large part in shaping Kent's accent
Miners have played a large part in shaping Kent's accent

They brought with them pronunciations alien to the area which still exist today.

Many people in Aylesham use a short “a” in words such as last whereas in other places in Kent the long “a” is common.

In a paper on the subject, Dr Hornsby writes: “Aylesham offers a fascinating example of dialect divergence in a region which has too often been dismissed as linguistically homogeneous.” So what of the future direction of accents in Kent?

Here, again, the capital city will play an influential role.

The dialect emerging from it today is known as Multicultural London English – a product of the effect of immigrant communities on the way people speak.

Sacha Baron Cohen's creation Ali G parodied a London accent
Sacha Baron Cohen's creation Ali G parodied a London accent

If we were being unkind about this accent, we would say that it is something like the way Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic creation Ali G spoke.

But Dr Hornsby points out that elements of Multicultural London English will soon enter mainstream speech, such as “innit” – the use of which is intended to be emphatic and for the speaker to make sure that the listener is properly heeding him.

Dr Hornsby’s department has applied for a grant to carry out research into the way we speak.

He said: “It’s an absolutely fascinating area and there is a richness and diversity that is destined to continue.”

How Kentish are you? Take our quiz below to see how many traditional Kentish words you know*. Scroll down for answers

1. Akers

2. Aquabob

3. Back-out

4. Bee-liquor

5. Cream

6. Dole

7. Doss

8. Gill

9. Gollop

10. Monkey peas, peabugs, cheeseybugs

11. Nabbler

12. Ponger, heaver

13. Pismire

14. Roil

15. Scran

16. Sen

17. Shuckish

18. Tommy

* From Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect


1. Acorns

2. Icicle

3. Backyard

4. Mead

5. To crumble, like hops when over-dried

6. Boundary stone

7. Sit down rudely

8. Narrow valley

9. Swallow greedily

10. Woodlice

11. A gossip

12. Large edible crabs

13. Ant

14. Make a disturbance

15. Food

16. Seen

17. Shifty

18. Workman’s lunch

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