Welcome to Norfolk, England: The Survival Guide

If someone were to say “stop your mardle”, what would it mean exactly? Or perhaps you’re sporting a nice pair of “buskins” today. What are they referring to? Maybe they ask  you if  you are feeling particularly “puckaterry”. Do you just give them a blank stare?

We all know English is the lingua franca and that there is somewhere between 470 million to perhaps a billion number of speakers among whom speak different dialects, have different slang, and accents galore. That general understanding gets both native and non-native speakers by, but then we head over to Norfolk, England and everything you thought you knew about the Queen’s English takes a sharp turn. If you’re part of many that have no idea what the aforementioned terms actually mean, take a walk with us and check out our Norfolk survival guide. We’re here for you.

Photo via Wikipedia

Where is it?

Norfolk is a county in England lies in the the east opposite Holland in Europe, bordering with Lincolnshire to the west and north in an area that called Anglia. Cambridgeshire is to the west and Suffolk is to the south. It spans 2,074 square miles and houses a population of  859,400.

Historically it has seen its fair share of invasions, falling victim to the Angles and Saxons. The term East Anglia is a hark-back to the 5th century Angles. This influence of early settlers linguistically shaped the names of local villages with the endings of “ton’ and “-ham”.

Following the Norman conquests marshland was turned into agricultural developments and settlements alike. To date the agricultural industry still accounts for much of the work undertaken by locals.

By the 13th century the black death wiped out much of the population. Norwich, the capital reached its hiatus, as the second largest City in England in the 16th Century.

Principally 40% of the population are found to inhabit the major built up locations, ranging from Norwich and extending towards the towns of Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Thetford alike. The county is famed for its close ties to the Royal Family, whom sojourn at the estate of Sandringham. During the summer months The Broads, a network of mostly navigable waterways are especially popular amongst tourists from near and afar. The University of East Anglia, known locally as the UEA is situated in the capital.

Famous figures from Norfolk


Alan Partridge, a parody of a British television presenters and created by British actor Steve Coogan, will forever be synonymous with Norman’s county. Partridge is described by Coogan as holding a “, slightly philistine mentality”, a tongue in cheek jape around  the prevailing ‘little-Englander mindset’, and at stark contrast with other mindsets in the UK.

Other famous figures from Norfolk include the singer James Blunt, actress Olivia Colman, Sir James Dyson, who created the bagless hoover(vacuum cleaner to our american readership) Stephen Fry, a national treasure in the form of actor, comedian and writer. Lastly, you may not have been aware that Princess Diana was born at Sandringham estate.

GIF via Giphy

How to survive!

Norfolk is of course no different in terms of its own dialect and distinctive accent. The local dialect is known as “Broad Norfolk”. If someone is said to speak broad Norfolk, it means he or she has a strong accent and adopt many localisms.

10 ways to tune your ear to Norfolk English and thereby survive:

  1. The ‘s’ disappears when a verb is conjugated in third person.
    Examples:
    - ‘He reckons’ becomes ‘he reckon’.
    - “Cor blimey, he speak well!” might be how someone pays someone else a compliment for his eloquence.
  2. Sounds extremely colloquial when compared to standardised English. ‘That’ replaces ‘it’.
    Example:
    - ‘It smells funny’, subsequently becomes ‘that smell funny’.
  3. Pronunciation takes on a completely different form. The term ‘one’ is pronounced as ‘un’. A local newspaper football supplement ought to be entitled the ‘Pink one and the yellow and green one’, instead becomes‘ Pink’Un and the Yellow & Green’Un’.
  4. Commands or instructions vary. Rather than saying simply ‘sit down’, it’s more common to hear ‘sit you down’.
  5. Some words also change meaning and are used in different contexts. For example  ‘do’ in Norfolk denotes ‘’otherwise’. Thus, it wouldn’t be too out of place to hear ‘be you careful, do you’ll have an accident!’
  6. Verbs conjugate differently. The past tense of ‘show’, for example is ‘shew’.  The verb to snow,  transforms into ‘snew’. Many verbs have no past tense, and use the present tense. e.g. ‘Come’, ‘say’ and ‘give’.
    Example:
    - ‘When my husband come home, he say he give tuppence for a loaf of bread.’
  7. ‘Who’, ‘which’ and ‘that’ are replaced with ‘what’ in Norfolk. Ciao to relative pronouns!
    Example:
    - ‘That was the one what I was talking about’
  8. Adverbs usually ending in ‘ly’ aren’t used in Norfolk.
    Example:
    - ‘She sung bootiful’ instead of ‘she sang beautifully.’
  9. The word ‘above’ denotes ‘more than’.
    Example:
    - When talking about a person’s age, ‘She could not have been above eight’.
  10. The present participle, or ’ing’, form of the verb, such as running, writing etc. is mostly rendered in the Middle English form of ‘a-running’, ‘a-jumping’ etc. If someone is stealing from you and you need help then you could shout ‘’she’s a robbing me’ in the street to attract attention.

The last few tips

There are many linguistic differences to be aware of  and initially it could seem somewhat overbearing. Brace yourself for some dramatic departures to the English you once knew. Such customary distinctions in language and behaviour are ironically known as ‘Normal for Norfolk’, which deeply reflect county’s odd customs, in addition to being in contrast with other parts of the UK.

Remember most of the language is closely linked with many archaic forms, which are in disuse today. One way to adapt to the lingo is to remember that many archaic shakespearean terms like ‘abed’ denoting ‘in bed’. Also ‘shall’ replaces ‘will’ for future events are still used. In keeping with the traditional aspect of the language the S is dropped in the third person and the pronunciation is extremely distinctive. Try listening out for the jist of what’s being said as well, rather than the individual lexicon itself, which can be baffling.

If you really do have enough of the language, the endless countryside and need to make a break for it, then then just remember Norwich does have an International Airport. It has connections with Bulgaria Spain, Turkey, Holland, as well as domestic flights. Don’t worry there is an escape route if the differences become too much but remember to say ‘fare yer well’ which is akin to shakespearean term ‘fare thee well’ or ‘goodbye’, as you show your passport to the airport steward before boarding your plane.

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