What are the origins of the West Country accent?
The West Country accent can be traced all the way back to the West Saxon dialects that later developed into Old English. The Saxons were a group of peoples from the region that is now northern Germany. Many settled in the southwest of England. The precise details of how they ended up there is unclear, but it is thought that some were settled by the Romans and others arrived independently.
At some point, the West Saxons gained control over what became the kingdom of Wessex. Viking invaders later began to seize control of large areas of England, but they failed to conquer Wessex, largely thanks to the efforts of Alfred the Great.
Strangely, in the UK, King Alfred is better known for having burnt cakes than for repelling Viking invaders! As the people of Wessex were never subject to Viking rule, they were not exposed to Danish influences and that is certainly one of the reasons why their dialect and accent began to diverge from those of the rest of the country.
It is still possible to detect Saxon influence in the West Country dialect. This is perhaps most obvious in the way locals conjugate the verb “to be”. Many use “I be” instead of “I am”. This mirrors both Old English and modern German, demonstrating that the two languages are derived from those of the Saxons.
Outside Cornwall, it is thought that the local dialects of the West Country reflect the those of the various West Saxon tribes, who held different territories in the region. Accents vary a little across the region but have much in common.
The West Country accent also remained distinctive due to the region’s geographical isolation. For centuries, people were protected from outside influences. In addition, the fact that farming and fishing have always been principle industries of the West Country is significant. Farmers and seafarers work in relative isolation and don’t need to visit other areas of the country to work or trade.
The West Country accent and comedy
The West Country accent is much maligned and is often used by comedians to poke fun at rustic country people.
This is spite of the fact that most people who boast the West Country accent are not ill-educated farm hands!
The locals are also pretty good at finding humour in their own accent. The best example of this is the North Somerset band The Wurzels who had a massive hit in 1976 with their song The Combine Harvester.
We will leave you with the Wurzels doing their best to perpetuate the West Country myth!