||Random House Books
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When I first told friends that I was embarking on a project collecting British dialect, their first thought was often that I would meet a lot of lonely people. I confess I feared they might be right. The speakers whose gems I was looking for were sure to be the last ones standing, bearers of vanishing vocabularies that would never be replaced. For the word 'dialect' has become synonymous with decline, just as English, we are told, is destined to become monolithic, bland, and peppered with universal lines absorbed from TV and Internet chat rooms. It has been one of the nicest surprises of my career to learn just how wrong we were. That English is far from losing its edge I already knew — its golden age may even lie ahead of us still — but I accepted without question that it was different for dialect. Like most people I know; I believed that our local vocabularies are being ironed out at the same electric pace as new words are being coined, and for a much bigger audience than a particular neighbourhood. That what we now have is a general lexicon from which everyone, north and south, young and old, draws for expression. What I've discovered in the course of writing this book is that dialect is alive, well, and kicking hard. It's just doing so in new and different ways. Of course, thousands of beautiful and unmistakably local words are dying out; many have already done so. They are just as surely to be missed as the new are to be celebrated. For the most part they belonged to a world now lost to us — one populated with horse-drawn ploughs, dockers and cotton workers, collieries and tin-mines. The lexicons of these and other industries are still there if you look hard enough, but as the need for them diminishes, so do the aural snapshots of the life they once so brilliantly described. Yet, over the 1,500 years of English's history, it was ever thus — words have come and gone (and often come back again) throughout, but the footprints they leave remain as telline as ever...