The Wessex region as defined by the Society is broadly conterminous with the south-western dialect region of English, as it existed prior to World War 2 (since then, “London creep” has pushed the boundary between south-western and south-eastern dialect regions slowly westward). Probably the foremost literary exponent of Wessex dialect was the Dorset poet William Barnes, a mentor of Thomas Hardy. Barnes’s Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect is available free of charge from the Internet Archive.
Some of the distinctive features of Wessex dialect include:-
- Substitution of “z” for “s” and “v” for “f” (eg “I zaw a varmer”)
- Substitution of “d” for unvoiced “th” (eg “dree” for “three”)
- Strongly rhotic “R” sound, as in the “arrr” popularly associated with pirate speech.
- Pronoun exchange (eg “him’s a good hammer”)
- Addition of a “y” to the end of verbs with no direct object (eg “I dig the garden” vs “I do diggy vor dree hours”)
- Simplified form of the verb “to be” (“I be, you be, he be” instead of standard English “I am, you are, he is”)
- More use of the “-en” suffix to denote “made of”. As well as the standard English wooden, golden etc, there is also “bricken”, “dirten”, “glassen ” and many others.
- More strong verbs, ie those that change vowel sounds in the past tense, such as “clomb” instead of “climbed”.
The definitive work on this subject is Wessex Dialect by Norman Rogers (Moonraker Press, 1979), the glossary of which is reproduced on this site. The book is now out of print, but inexpensive pre-owned copies are relatively easy to obtain.