They’re weel off ut con wark for their livin’;
Owd age is a troublesome brid;
Aw’ve gett’n th’ owd pluck to be strivin’,
Bu’ my limbs winnot do as they’re bid;
My joints are a’ stiff, welly breakin’.
Like hinges ut’s covered wi’ rust;
An’ my honds an’ my knees – why, they’re shakin’,
As if aw wur axin’ for trust.
They’re weel off ut con wark for their livin’;
It’s better t’ be healthy nor rich;
Though gowd is a thing aw believe in,
Aw don’t think it’s weel t’ ha too mich.
A mon wi’ a bank in his pocket
Sees boggarts wherever he goes,
An’ his heart welly jumps eawt o’ th’ socket,
If nobbut a chap blows his nose.
They’re weel off ut con wark for their livin’,
And thoose folk ut waint wark should dee;
They should oather be diggin’ or weyvin’,
Or goo beawt their baggin, for me.
Aw’ve a notion ut warkin’s a blessin’,
To some folk it would be a treat;
An’ sweat is a rare sort o’ dressin’,
For folk ut ha’ gout i’ their feet.
They’re weel off ut can wark for their livin’;
It’s seldom bu’ wark’s to be fun’;
Aw mak’ no acceawnt o’ folk givin’;
Aw loike to eyt th’ bread as aw’ve won.
Plain weyvin’s as honest as thinkin’,
Or preachin’, or makin’ a song;
But a chap ut is idle an’ drinkin’,
He’s wur nor a clock ut goos wrong.
They’re weel off ut con wark for their livin’,
An’ thoose folk ut con do it should;
An’ whoile they’re at full toime be savin’
An’ puttin’ a bit by to th’ good.
Bad toimes may be comin’, or sickness,
An’ childer ‘ul come, as yo know;
So put summut by i’ th’ owd stockin’,
An’ maybe ‘t ‘ll favour to grow.
If yo want to be happy, keep warkin’
An’ wark till yo want’n some rest.
It’s nowt, isn’t skulkin’ an’ shirkin’;
It’s best to be doin’ one’s best.
It’s reet enough sometomes t’ be playin’,
Bu’ gammon to gooin’ on th’ spree;
It’s nobbu th’ Owd [Gentleman] payin’
To foind yo a shop [when] yo dee.

Title:'They're Weel off Ut Con Wark for Their Livin''

Author:R. R. Bealey

Publication:Bury Guardian

Published in:Bury


Keywords:dialect, morality, work



This poem presents several phonological characteristics and fewer grammatical or lexical features. To suggest dialect sounds, the writer adopts readable orthographical conventions, as it is the case of “oi”, “ee”, or “oo” to convey [ɔɪ], [i:], or [u:] respectively.

The spelling “oi” is represented in several words: toime (time), sometoimes (sometimes), whoile (while), and loike (like). These words are all pronounced with the diphthong [ɔɪ] in the Lancashire dialect. This diphthong is the result of what Wells (1982a: 208) names “Diphthong Shift”. According to this scholar, this pronunciation took place in around the nineteenth century in several dialects of England and dialects beyond the British Isles. However, [ɔɪ] is regarded as a vulgar realization, which is common among rural and working-class speakers.

The spelling “ow” is represented in two words in this poem owd (old) and gowd (gold). These two words are realized with the diphthong [aʊ] or [ǝʊ]. These two terms present the omission of the grapheme “l” in the spelling which is associated with its absence in the pronunciation. The letter [l] is subjected to vocalization, which mostly results in the vowel [ʊ] as exemplified in the two possible diphthongs suggested. This linguistic phenomenon, known as [l]-vocalization, is considered common in northern dialects.

The poem also presents the alternation of letters within the word brid (bird). This alteration projects a clear case of metathesis at sound level, which consists of a sound shift within a word. Although this word could apparently be considered a typographical error, this alteration or shift is usual in the Lancashire dialect and probably in other English dialects.

The spelling “eaw” suggesting the diphthong [ɛʊ] in the word acceawnt (account) is very typical in the Lancashire dialect as it appears in several nineteenth-century works. The pronunciation is not a pure dialect sound but a novel realization, since it is the RP variant of [aʊ]. The digraph “ee” suggesting the monophthong [i:] is also represented in one single word, reet (right). This monophthong is related to an archaic pronunciation. The digraph “gh” in “right”, represented by the consonantal sound [ҫ], in Old English was vocalized into [ɪ] in the standard and joined the previous [ɪ]. This merger resulted in [i:] which later became the present-day English diphthong [aɪ]. However, in several northern dialects including the Lancashire dialect words containing [ç] remained unvocalized. When these words in northern dialects finally lost the consonant, the previous vowel became [i:] because of compensatory lengthening.

The word mak’ (make) presents the omission of the final “e” in the spelling, which is related to the absence of the diphthongal sound [eɪ]. As a result, the sound suggested could be [a] or [æ] in the Lancashire dialect. This word contained a long vowel in Middle English that later diphthongized into [eɪ] in Standard English. However, in northern dialects there was an early shortening before diphthongization took place. The words honds (hands), mon (man), and con (can) present the substitution of “a” by “o” in the spelling, which relates to the pronunciation [ɒ] in these terms. This substitution, which has its origins in the Old English times, is common when [æ] is in front of nasal consonants such as [n] in the north of England and the West Midlands.

Finally, the spelling “oo” conveys the monophthong [u:] in the words those(those), goo (go), and goos (goes). Although the standard diphthong and the dialect sound differ from each other, they both share the same origin Middle English [ɔ:]. What is interesting here is the fact that northern dialects contained Middle English [ɑ:] and not [ɔ:], since this last monophthong is usually connected with southern dialects.

As far as the grammatical perspective is concerned, there is not much variation between Standard English and the Lancashire dialect. The most relevant forms are the conjunctions ut and nor that substitute the standard words “that” and “than” respectively. The non-standard conjunction nor is frequently represented in the dialects as the scholar Wakelin (1977: 119) locates it in northern England and eastern and western Midlands. Finally, we find the reduction of the definite article “the” which is find as th’ as in the form It’s nobbu th’ Owd Gentleman payin’ (It’s nothing but the old gentleman paying). This ellipsis is one of the most stereotypical marker of Northern British English dialect, especially of those varieties belonging to Lancashire.

As far as the vocabulary is concerned, there is not much variety in the lexicon employed. We can mention Aw for I, boggart for ghost and childer for children. The first term, Aw substitutes the first person singular pronoun “I”. Although Aw is frequently represented in the Lancashire literature, its origins are unclear. Boggart is a word typically found in the north of England and probably the West Midlands. Finally, the word childer substitutes the standard “children”. The word childer was the Middle English form to refer to the plural of “child”. The Standard English form “children” would be an incorrect form as it shows the addition of the -en suffix to mark the plurality. As a result, “children” is a wrong derivation as it shows double plurality and the dialect term “childer” would be the right form. Finally, the text represents nobbu for “nothing but” and welly for “almost”. This dialect term would be a composition of the two words “nothing” and “but”.