Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Charlie Haylock to the Parish Room last night to talk to us on “The History of Spoken English” and “The Suffolk Vernacular”. As we had expected, he enthralled our impressively large audience with his wit and intelligence, his charm and downright common sense, which together make for a marvellous combination. Hopefully the following extracts do justice to what was, judging from the spontaneous applause during the show, an absolutely superb presentation.
We learnt (or should that be larnd) that the Angles and Saxons arrived in Suffolk, mixing together to form the basis of our Anglo-Saxon language. Suffolk is therefore where the English began and is the oldest English dialect. East Anglia was also the most populated part of the country at this time, which is why the Suffolk vernacular has had such a significant impact on other cultures and accents across the globe, notably Australia, following the mass migrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Interestingly Suffolk has just four villages with Celtic origins (Iken, settlement of the Iceni; Kenton; Monewden and Clare) and the same number with a Norman derivation; Boulge (“heather-covered waste land”), Bures (a row of houses), Capel St Andrew (a chapel dedicated to St Andrew), and Capel St Mary (chapel dedicated to St Mary). It seems that all other Suffolk villages are Anglo-Saxon, Frisian (*) or Viking settlements.
(*) A coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea extending from NW Netherlands across NW Germany to the Danish border. Frisia and the traditional homeland of the Frisians, a Germanic people who speak Frisian, a language group closely related to the English language.
After this quick history of the English Language, both as “writ” and as spoken in Charlie's wonderful Suffolk drawl, he moved onto the derivation of place names and surnames, before demonstrating his incredible ability to mimic every regional accent in the country and loads more from around the world. Whilst doing this, Charlie simultaneously explained how the different accents were achieved; amazing stuff that held the audience spellbound, as were the many one-liners interspersed during the evening, such as “Where do you live Charlie ………… At home, where do you live?”
Charlie ended his talk with his perfect execution of a poem by an unknown author; if you had closed your eyes, you would swear absolutely that it was not a white man doing the reading, once again demonstrating his flawless rendition.
When I was born, I was black.
When I grow up, I'm black.
When I'm ill, I'm black.
When I go out in the sun, I'm black.
When I'm cold, I'm black.
When I die, I'm black.
But you -
When you're born, you're pink.
When you grow up, you're white.
When you're ill, you're green.
When you go out in the sun, you go red.
When you're cold, you go blue.
When you die, you're purple.
And you have the nerve to call me coloured?
Not surprisingly this had the audience in raptures and was met with great applause. Everyone had a thoroughly entertaining evening, learning hugely from a narrator who really knows his stuff and who can put it across in such an easy and absorbing manner. I suspect he may well have an additional audience for his regular spot on BBC Radio Suffolk with Lesley Dolphin, which is currently exploring the lost words of Suffolk; the programme is called Haylock's half hour (in 40 mins).
Finally LWHS must also thank Charlie for generously donating his royalties from book and CD sales on the evening to the Society because he wished to help such societies maintain local history for the future - we couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Our next talk, on Wednesday 13th November, is “The Tudor housing revolution” by John Walker, a former Chairman of Essex Historic Buildings Group who studied and lectured for 30 years on timber framed buildings in Essex & Suffolk. We look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room for what is sure to be a fascinating evenings entertainment.
Andy Sheppard 17th October 2013