We spoke to NTU Professor and Linguistics researcher Natalie Braber to find out more about Nottinghamshire and East Midlands Dialect

Words: Alfie Beswick
Illustrations: Kathryn Cooper
Friday 05 April 2024
reading time: min, words

The Nottingham accent is an intrinsic part of our local identity, but what exactly makes it unique? Is it set to disappear with new generations? And what are the effects of sitting right in the middle of the North-South divide? We put these questions to Natalie Braber, a professor of Linguistics at Nottingham Trent University to get to the bottom of it…

Nottingham Dialect Kathryn Cooper 8.3.24

Since studying English language at A-level I’ve always had an interest in language and especially in the cultures surrounding it and the variations in the way we speak. This interest was reignited recently when I saw a clip on Notts TV discussing local dialect with Natalie Braber, a Professor of Linguistics at Nottingham Trent University. 


I have always been a proud Mancunian but the Notts TV clip resonated with me very much when Natalie talked of language being a really important part of our identity. It was this that made me wonder how much language makes us who we are, and encouraged me to learn more about the Nottinghamshire dialect in particular. Eager to learn what makes Nottinghamshire dialect as equally unique as the rest of the accents and dialects that have emerged from Britain, I booked myself in for a chat with Natalie to see what more she could tell me. 


The first thing I was intrigued to talk to Natalie about was whether or not she thought language is becoming more homogenous in today’s society, with impacts like the vast amounts of TV, media, and social media we are exposed to in our day to day lives. 

Natalie introduced me to the linguistic term ‘dialect levelling’, which is the theory that eventually there could be an eventual reduction in dialect varieties, but she shortly reassured me that was not her own personal opinion. Thankfully, Natalie reaffirmed that although language is certainly changing and spreading more easily through the mediums of TV and social media, between cities there’s still a massive amount of variation as accents are staying strong and are a big part of who we are. 


Following on from this discussion I wanted to know what made Nottinghamshire dialect unique and asked Natalie how to distinguish and identify language in the Midlands. It turns out being a Midlander is more complicated than you’d think - as Natalie found out during her research: “I did a study with 320 seventeen and eighteen year olds. I gave them a blank map and said ‘if there is a North and South divide then draw a line on the map’. My next question was ‘are you a Northerner or Southerner’, but I didn’t mention [the word] Midlander as I wanted to see what they would say, and most of them either didn’t answer it or said that they weren’t sure. People in Derby were a bit more likely to say Midland, people in Nottingham were more likely to say North, and people in Leicester were more likely to say South, but overall they were not quite sure”. Natalie believes that due to cultural underrepresentation of the Midlands through outlets like film and tv, people associate themselves less with the Midlands and more with their specific city. “I don’t think many people say I’m a Midlander or an East Midlander, they say I’m from Nottingham,” she explained.

Nottinghamshire words like ‘cob’ and ‘mardy’ are definitely staying and won’t be going out of fashion anytime soon, but lots of local dialect words are disappearing.

Intrigued about the impact of the North and South divide, Natalie went on to tell me about a research project at the University of Sheffield that concluded the divide to run directly in-between Nottingham and Leicester, and signified how this geographical dynamic has impacted Nottinghamshire dialect. Caught up in the middle, Natalie explained that the Nottinghamshire dialect contains sounds from the North through pronunciations like ‘bath’ rather than ‘barth’, and also various sounds from the South. After discovering this, it became evident to me that having a variation of regional influence is part of what makes Nottinghamshire dialect so unique and so embracing of their city. 


Another interesting perspective Natalie pointed out within this topic was the lack of acknowledgement towards the East and West divide in Britain, which reinforces the cultural differentiation in the Midlands and injects pride of embracing your roots. For example, although to those who are not from the Midlands would see little variation between the East and West, Natalie told me that “people here in Nottingham would be very quick to say ‘I’m not from Birmingham, or I’m not from the West Midlands’ because there is a significant variation in their dialect.”


Thinking about the change in dialect over time, I asked Natalie if there were any Nottinghamshire dialectal phrases that are disappearing, and whether there is a generational difference in usage of such dialect. Natalie reaffirmed to me that infamous Nottinghamshire words like ‘cob’ and ‘mardy’ are definitely staying and won’t be going out of fashion anytime soon, but also told me that lots of local dialect words are disappearing. 


Natalie explained this deduction through another recent study of hers: “I chose twenty dialect words (with words like ‘croggy’ and ‘corsy’) and had a group of over sixty year olds and a group of sixteen year olds and I flashed up the cards to see how many they knew. The older speakers knew them but the younger ones had never heard of them. There was however a girl from Mansfield who was only about six or seven and she knew all the words and it turned out she lived with her grandparents who were local and spoke that dialect.” 


This study insightfully reveals not only how local dialect can be sieved out of our lexicon, but also how new words and phrases are created replacing the old through generational change, it also reveals the significant impact of our surroundings on the way we speak and the words we use. This highlights that language is something that is always changing as we rediscover and discover new words throughout our lives. Natalie’s work also helped me realise that language is such a big part of who we are and how we define ourselves, leading me to the conclusion that language will never be homogenous because each city or region's dialect is so individualistic and unique - and that’s how we like it! 


Natalie has done so much fantastic work on this subject and it was fascinating to get deep into the research around linguistics. One of the most valuable and memorable things she left me with was that as humans we want to belong to a group - we have lots of ways of doing that and language is a key part. This highlighted to me that a lot of life is about feeling like you belong, and one of the most amazing ways to feel that is to embrace your community, have pride in where you’re from, and what you sound like.

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