33 – Is the Yorkshire Speech in The Secret Garden Accurate?

In this episode Rodney Dimbleby, Chair of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, helps to examine three passages from The Secret Garden, which show how Martha, Ben Weatherstaff, and Dickon all use the Yorkshire Dialect. Mr. Dimbleby identified areas where the text could benefit from clarifications to help readers produce a more authentic sound when reading aloud. There’s also an interesting comment from listener Kate (@nurseryrhymeville), who wondered what Mary and Colin’s accents must have been like, given their odd upbringings.

Burnett was too skilled a writer to have made mistakes in writing out the dialect. After this close reading, it’s possible to see plot and character based reasons Burnett may have held back at times from writing in full dialect, as well as practicality concerns around writing a story meant for children.

Most sincere thanks go to Mr. Dimbleby for his help in preparing this episode. Learn more about The Yorkshire Dialect Society at yorkshiredialectsociety.org.uk. Visit Rodney Dimbleby’s website and purchase books he’s written at roddimbleby.co.uk.

Featured Passages from The Secret Garden in this episode

Below is the text of the passages from The Secret Garden as analyzed by Rodney Dimbleby. He has edited each selection into full dialect, allowing an exploration of what such text might look like. It’s easy to see that, while text written in dialect does result in more accurate pronunciation, it’s also harder for readers, especially younger ones, to understand.

Passage from Chapter Four: Original Text

She walked back into the first kitchen-garden she had entered and found the old man digging there. She went and stood beside him and watched him a few moments in her cold little way. He took no notice of her and so at last she spoke to him.

“I have been into the other gardens,” she said.

“There was nothin’ to prevent thee,” he answered crustily.

“I went into the orchard.”

“There was no dog at th’ door to bite thee,” he answered.

“There was no door there into the other garden,” said Mary.

“What garden?” he said in a rough voice, stopping his digging for a moment.

Passage from Chapter Four: Yorkshire dialect

She walked back into the first kitchen-garden she had entered and found the old man digging there. She went and stood beside him and watched him a few moments in her cold little way. He took no notice of her and so at last she spoke to him.

“I have been into the other gardens,” she said.

“Ther wor nowt ter prevent thi,” he answered crustily.

“I went into the orchard.”

“Ther wor no dog at t’ dooar ter bite thi,” he answered.

“There was no door there into the other garden,” said Mary.

“What garden?” he said in a rough voice, stopping his digging for a moment.

Passage from Chapter Seven: Original Text

“I thought perhaps it always rained or looked dark in England,” Mary said.

“Eh! no!” said Martha, sitting up on her heels among her black lead brushes. “Nowt o’ th’ soart!”

“What does that mean?” asked Mary seriously. In India the natives spoke different dialects which only a few people understood, so she was not surprised when Martha used words she did not know.

Martha laughed as she had done the first morning.

“There now,” she said. “I’ve talked broad Yorkshire again like Mrs. Medlock said I mustn’t. ‘Nowt o’ th’ soart’ means ‘nothin’-of-the-sort,’” slowly and carefully, “but it takes so long to say it. Yorkshire’s th’ sunniest place on earth when it is sunny. I told thee tha’d like th’ moor after a bit. Just you wait till you see th’ gold-colored gorse blossoms an’ th’ blossoms o’ th’ broom, an’ th’ heather flowerin’, all purple bells, an’ hundreds o’ butterflies flutterin’ an’ bees hummin’ an’ skylarks soarin’ up an’ singin’. You’ll want to get out on it at sunrise an’ live out on it all day like Dickon does.”

Passage from Chapter Seven: Yorkshire Dialect

“I thought perhaps it always rained or looked dark in England,” Mary said.

“Ee! no!” said Martha, sitting up on her heels among her black lead brushes. “Nowt o’ th’ soart!”

“What does that mean?” asked Mary seriously. In India the natives spoke different dialects which only a few people understood, so she was not surprised when Martha used words she did not know.

Martha laughed as she had done the first morning.

“There now,” she said. “I’ve talked broad Yorkshire again like Mrs. Medlock said I mustn’t.

‘Nowt o’ t’ soart’ means ‘nothin’-of-the-sort,’” slowly and carefully, “but it teks (or taks) so long ter say it. Yorksher’s t’ sunniest place on earth when it is sunny. Ah telled thi tha’d like t’mooar after a bit. Just thee wait till tha sees t’ gold-coloured gorse blossems an’ t’ blossems o’t’ broom, an’ t’ heather flowerin’, all purple bells, an hundreds o’ butterflies an’ bees hummin’ an’ skylarks soarin’ up an’ singin’. Tha’ll want ter get aght on it at sunrise an’ live aght on it all day like Dickon does.”

Passage from Chapter Ten: Original Text

“Where’s that robin as is callin’ us?” he said.

The chirp came from a thick holly bush, bright with scarlet berries, and Mary thought she knew whose it was.

“Is it really calling us?” she asked.

“Aye,” said Dickon, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “he’s callin’ someone he’s friends with. That’s same as sayin’ ‘Here I am. Look at me. I wants a bit of a chat.’ There he is in the bush. Whose is he?”

“He’s Ben Weatherstaff’s, but I think he knows me a little,” answered Mary.

“Aye, he knows thee,” said Dickon in his low voice again. “An’ he likes thee. He’s took thee on. He’ll tell me all about thee in a minute.”

Passage from Chapter Ten: Yorkshire Dialect

“Wheer’s that robin at’s callin’ us?” he said.

The chirp came from a thick holly bush, bright with scarlet berries, and Mary thought she knew whose it was.

“Is it really calling us?” she asked.

“Aye,” said Dickon, as if it wor t’ most natural thing in t’ world, “he’s callin’ sumbdy he’s friends wi. That’s same as sayin’ ‘Here Ah am. Look at me. Ah want a bit of a chat.’ There he is in t’ bush. Whose is he?”

“He’s Ben Weatherstaff’s, but I think he knows me a little,” answered Mary.

“Aye, he knaws thee,” said Dickon in his low voice ageean. “An’ he likes thee. He’s took thee on. He’ll tell mi all abaht thee in a minute.”

18 – Speaking Yorkshire in the Secret Garden

This is the last of five episodes taking a look at the use of dialect in the children’s novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett wanted to create a world where the characters return to their roots, literally and metaphorically, so the best way to express that was to find words that are closer to their roots. In this novel, the Yorkshire dialect is used to represent moments of emotional vulnerability or closeness to nature because it is a branch of the English language that is much closer to its ancient roots than more widely spoken dialects.

Activity: Dialect Interviews

Students can learn more about authentic use of dialect in writing by interviewing someone who speaks a dialect different from their own. This could be an immigrant from another country, or someone who is just from a different area of your own nation. Dialects also change over time, so a child could interview a grandparent and learn a bit about slang terms that aren’t used anymore.

Ask the interview subject about vocabulary words and phrases unique to their hometown. After collecting a list of terms, the student can try writing a fictional passage in dialect. Ideally the person who was interviewed could be on hand to help with polishing to make sure the words are used correctly. There are so many fascinating words that come from other languages, other times, and other regions, and your kids will find it both fun and enlightening to learn a bit more about how people different from them express themselves.

Music used in this episode

Doxology (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”)
music by Louis Bourgeois (1551)
lyrics by Thomas Ken (1674)

This song is referenced in Chapter 26 of The Secret Garden

16 – Code Switching in the Secret Garden

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the use of dialect in the children’s novels written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was lucky to get some great comments from listener Kate Duncan for this episode. You can follow her on Instagram at nurseryrhymeville.

The Secret Garden contrasts two families – the upper class, damaged, and unhealthy members of the Craven-Lennox clan with their posh upper class accents rooted to no place at all, and the happy, well-adjusted, healthy members of the Sowerby family, whose deep connections to family and community are reflected in their thick Yorkshire accents.

As Mary Lennox and her cousin Colin Craven are drawn deeper into the landscape around them, they begin to code switch, shifting into Yorkshire speech when they need to make a more personal connection with those around them. Conversely, the working-class, native Yorkshire speakers must code switch into standard English speech in order to do their jobs.

This episode explores the idea of code switching and the way that a person’s dialect is tied to their social class as seen in the speech of characters in The Secret Garden.

Activity: Self-Reflection on Speech and Code Switching

Ask your students to write out answers to the following questions:

  1. Describe the way your speech changes depending on where you are. Examples of locations might include schools, libraries, shops, places of worship, outdoor places, or places of business.
  2. Describe the way your speech changes depending on with whom you are speaking. Examples of people might include friends, family members, teachers, strangers, community leaders, or someone who is a different age from you.
  3. Do you feel that the way you speak makes it difficult or easy for you to fit in in some situations? Why?

These questions may be very straightforward for many students, but for others this may be a sensitive area. You know your kids best. If one of your students has a speech impediment or comes from an immigrant or minority background, be sure that you handle any discussion with that child sensitively. It may be a really neat opportunity for certain children to share their experiences, but others may wish to keep their stories private. That’s why I recommend that this activity begin as a personal writing exercise, with sharing done on a voluntary basis.

Music in this Episode

“An Acre of Land” – Traditional (Roud 21093)
“Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” – Traditional