The Grammar Of East Anglian English

The English of East Anglia is characterized by some distinctive grammatical features. The traditional East Anglian dialect had an interesting use of the word do as a conjunction meaning ‘or’ or ‘otherwise’:

  • ‘You better go to bed now, do you’ll be tired in the morning’
  • ‘I hope that don’t rain, do we shall have to go home’

And time was used in the sense of ‘while’:

  • ‘Sit you down time I get the dinner ready’

Modern East Anglian English grammar still has a number of special characteristics which you can readily hear if you walk around the streets of Ipswich or Norwich. East Anglian speakers use that rather than it, though only where it is the subject of a verb:

  • ‘that’s raining’
  • ‘that’s cold in here’
  • ‘I’ve got a new book—that’s on the table’

When it is the object of a verb it is still used:

  • ‘I’ve already read it’

They will also say ‘I’m now coming’, rather than ‘I’m just coming’, and will give instructions using forms such as:

  • ‘Sit you down’
  • ‘Go you on’

And East Anglian speakers also say:

  • ‘He say’
  • ‘She go’
  • ‘That hurt’
  • ‘He like her very much—Oh, do he?’

East Anglian forms are likewise evident in manuscript and published literature. In correspondence, Admiral Lord Nelson, who came from north Norfolk, wrote of how ‘Captain Lambert have been very fortunate’, and ‘The Lady Parker have done a great deal of mischief around the island’. In his Essex Ballads, published in Colchester in 1895, the journalist and inventor, Charles Benham, wrote:

I loike to watch har in the Parson’s pew
A Sundays, me a-settin’ in the choir;
She look jest wholly be’tiful, she do.
That fairly seem to set my heart a-fire.
Miss Julia: the Parsons’ Daughter

This very sensible verb system omits the -s which Standard English has at the end of verbs in the third person singular—it is redundant, after all, communicating no meaning of any kind. One explanation for this streamlined system is that it came about as a result of the ‘invasion’ of Norwich and Colchester in the sixteenth century by the ‘The Strangers’, thousands of Protestant refugees fleeing from religious persecution by the Spanish in the Low Countries. By 1600 these Dutch and French-speaking refugees formed an astonishingly high proportion—about 35%—of the population of Norwich. And of course third-person –s is well known to cause difficulties for foreign learners of English.

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