We’n etton o’ th’ bacon they’n sent,
An’ th’ cloas are gettin’ worn eawt;
We conno pay th’ lon’lords their rant,
An’ credit we’re some on us beawt.
God bless yo! we’re welly o’ fast,
An’ we’ve parted wi’ o’ ‘at we had;
Iv th’ war so mich longer should last,
It’ll nearly drive some on us mad.
Iv we grumble yo’ll say we do wrong,
But o’ pinchin’ we’re getting reet stowd;
Folk conno stond clemmin’ so long,
They’ll be deein’ an’ go eawt o’ th’ road.
No wonder we’re looking so feaw,
Wi’ pinin’ an’ livin’ so low;
For th’ trifle they’re givin’ us neaw
Just keeps us alive – but that’s o’.
Neaw we’d reyther, iv beggars met choose,
Live gradely a bit, do yo see;
An’ then, iv there’s no better news,
When we’n etten o’ up we can dee.
There’s bin plenty provided for th’ poor –
As mich as we need for to-day –
Better use it, an’ trust God for moor,
Nor dee off bi’ inches this way.
Th’ brass wur once rollin’ in loike a flood,
No wonder it neaw comes so slack;
Heaw con it come on as it should,
Wi’ so mony folk howdin’ it back?
It matters nowt what they may give,
We shall ne’er be no better, bi th’ mass;
There’s nob’dy con help us to live,
Except we con get howd o’ th’ brass.
Dear countrymen, help us a bit;
Stur th’ Executive up iv yo con;
An’ tell ‘em yo’ll shift o’ th’ whole kit,
Iv they winna let th’ money come on.
God bless yo, it’s nowt ov a joke,
“At [they] should keep th’ money down theer,
While hunderds and theawsands o’ folk
Are clemmin’ for th’ want on it here.
It’s really a pity to see
Poor men goin’ trudgin’ thro’ th’ street,
As iv they wur ready to dee,
Lookin’ deawn at their hawve shod feet;
Poor fellows ‘at used to do weel,
But neaw they’re ashshawmed to be seen.
For oh! heaw degraded they feel!
No wonder they’n tears in their een.
Oh, there’s lots o’ chaps wish they wur dead,
For it’s better to dee nor to live,
An’ yer th’ childer cryin’ for bread,
When one hasn’t a meawthful to give.
There’s plenty i’ th’ country, it’s true,
But they’ll noan let us have it – O! fie!
It’s a shawm folk should clem as they do,
While there’s hunderds o’ theawsands laid by!
Let th’ Executive do as they owt –
Oather find us wi’ summat to eat,
Or tell us at once they’ll do nowt;
An’ let em be off eawt o’ th’ gate.
We shall never be quiet as we are,
For we conna get porritch enoo –
An’ porritch is very poor fare –
God help us! what are we to do?

Title:What Are We to Do

Author:Samuel Laycock

Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:Aug 29th 1863

Keywords:charity, hunger, inequality, poverty



This poem shows some phonological features that are typical in the Lancashire dialect. However, this poem shows less dialect representation, since the non-standard words are scattered in the poem. The writer, Samuel Laycock, adopts eight different non-standard spellings throughout the poem. However, most of the digraphs are only present in one word. This is the case of “ooa”, “ow”, “oi” and “ey”.

In the case of “ooa”, this spelling is found in clooas substituting the standard word “clothes”. This term would be pronounced with the diphthong [ʊǝ]. Although the standard [ǝʊ] and the non-standard diphthong [ʊǝ] are different, they both share the same origin with Middle English [ɔ:]. Northern dialects typically contained Middle English [ɑ:] and not [ɔ:], since this last monophthong is usually connected with southern dialects. Therefore, in this case, the Lancashire dialect presents a southern characteristic.

The spelling “ow” in the word howdin’ (holding) suggests the diphthong [aʊ] or [ǝʊ] and the absence of the consonant [l]. This is because, northern dialects show the vocalization of [l] into [ʊ]. This phonological phenomenon, known as [l]-vocalization, is commonly found in northern dialects.

The spelling “oi”, represented in the word loike (like), suggests the diphthong [ɔɪ]. This non-standard diphthong is frequently found in the Lancashire dialect in those words containing [aɪ] in the standard. This is because [ɔɪ] is a variation of the standard diphthong whose first element is the result of the so-called Diphthong Shift. However, the use of this non-standard pronunciation is considered vulgar and socially stigmatized.

The spelling “ey” in rather (rather) is pronounced with the diphthong [eɪ]. The standard monophthong [ɑ:] and the dialect diphthong [eɪ] derive from the seventeenth-century pronunciation [a:]. However, whereas [a:] later developed into [ɑ:] in the standard language, in some northern dialects, as in the Lancashire dialect, [a:] derived into the diphthong [eɛ] which later became [eɪ].

The spelling “ee” is represented in two different words there (there) and dee /deein’ (die /(dying). However, the pronunciation of both words differs, since the former is realized with the diphthong [ɪǝ] and the latter with the monophthong [i:]. Theere would be pronounced with [ɪǝ] due to the analogy with the analogous adverb “here” as it contains the same pronunciation in the standard. As a result, “there” and “here” would be equally pronounced in the Lancashire dialect. In dee, the dialect monophthong [i:] is the result of a distinct origin from the diphthong [aɪ]. Whereas the source origin of [i:] is [e:], [aɪ] derives from [i:]. As a result, the divergence of the origin in the word “die” resulted in two distinct pronunciations.

The writer represents the non-standard spelling “eaw” to suggest the diphthong [ɛʊ] in three different words: deawn (down), eawt (out), and neaw (now). This spelling and the pronunciation conveyed would be typical in the Lancashire dialect as “eaw” frequently appears in the Lancashire literature. However, the pronunciation [ɛʊ] found in Lancashire is not the result of phonological phenomena different from the standard, but it is the variant of the standard diphthong [aʊ]. This means that [ɛʊ] is a novel realization that entered the dialect due to the strong influence Standard English exerted over the dialects and, in this case, the Lancashire dialect.

The spelling “o” substituting “a” in the words conno (cannot) and stond (stand) has phonological implications as these two words are pronounced with [ɒ]. This tendency of shifting the sounds [a] or [æ] by [ɒ] is usual before nasal consonants such as [n], as exemplified in the words conno and stond. This phonological phenomenon is not new, but it derives from Old English. Although this trait is frequently seen in the Lancashire dialect, it is typically connected with the West Midlands.

Finally, the poem shows the spelling “i” in the word mich for “much”. This spelling is not the writer’s mistake but a common northern spelling in “much”. This written convention should not entail any difficulties for readers as it is pronounced with the monophthong [ɪ]. In Old English, this word contained the sound [ü], which could have three different developments [ɪ], [ʊ] or [e] depending on the geographical area. The Old English sound developed into [ɪ] in northern and eastern varieties, into [ʊ] in southern dialects and into [e] in Kentish. This process can also be applied to the word “such” as it is frequently represented as sich in northern dialects. Therefore, the written convention chosen in “much” clarifies the origin of the word.

As far as the grammatical perspective is concerned, this poem barely shows any grammatical variation. The most outstanding form is the use of the suffix -en to mark plurality as in we’n etten for “we have eaten”. This use of -en, which goes back to the Old English times, is usually retained in several northern dialects. This use suggests that northern dialect and, in this case, the Lancashire dialect is conservative as it preserves old forms. Finally, the poem presents the reduction of the definite article “the” as it is represented with the form th’ as in Let th’ executive do (let the executive do). The reduction of “the” is one of the most stereotypical marker of Northern British English dialect, especially of those varieties belonging to Lancashire.

Regarding the lexicon, there is not much difference between the standard and the dialect. The writer employs words such as brass, nowt, and welly that substitute the standard “money”, “nothing”, and “almost”. The term brass is not confined to the Lancashire dialect, but it has probably been widespread to other dialects and accents. Nowt and welly are typically found in the Lancashire dialect, but nowt could also be usual in other northern dialects. In general, words cannot be limited to a specific area or a specific dialect as many words are borrowed from other varieties.