Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking

This is right up me street mate. Yer see I was born a cockney. Now I ain’t going to write all that rhymin’ slang cos ya won’t understand it, I can’t be bovvered to explain it all and you probably won’t get it all any’ow. The fing is you ‘ave to drop all your aches. You know that letter in the alphabet, comes after g and before i. I don’t mean it makes a crash bang and lands on the floor, it just don’t exist in cockney, don’t need ‘em, so frow ‘em away. Like we live in a ‘ouse. Somefing else, we luv doing two no’s when we talk. Like I ain’t got nuffing, see. If you ain’t got nuffing, then you ‘ave to ‘ave somefing, but you don’t ‘ave somefing cos you’ve already said that you ain’t got nuffing. Simple ain’t it.

Nah I was ‘appy wiv all this way to talk. Me mum understood me, me dad knew wot I was talking about, and so did me aunts and uncles. Of course it weren’t the proper Kings English was it? At least I don’t fink that Queen Elizabeff talked like that. She was more in the way of talking wiv an apple in her gob.

Then I got older, like wasn’t a cockney sparra any more, but grew up and ‘ad to go to a posh school, like ‘igh school and they wanted us all to talk proper. We were all from the East End of London and cockneys, some more than ovvers. I was a bit more. All the same I ’ad to learn to speak proper, so if you can’t beat ‘em you join ‘em and I was quite good wiv me vowels and consonents. I even started to use me aches.

And then something remarkable happened. I threw all this cockney behind me and left England to work in Switzerland, thinking that I would get by with my English language and my elementary German. Wrong! If you think that German does not have any dialects or accents, then forget it. The Swiss invented the dialect. No-one speaks good German at home, on the streets or in the supermarkets. They invented the dialect. First of all they have four languages. German in the East, French in the West, Italian in the South and sandwiched between all of this somewhere in the mountains in the east they speak Romansh which is a language descending from Vulgar Latin. That would be complicated enough, but dialect being the mother of invention in Switzerland Romansch is also split into roughly four dialects.

The German language in Switzerland has more than 30 dialects, varying according to which village or town you live in. What the French do with their language I am not sure, but I do know it can vary with the way things are said, and the French find the Swiss French quite amusing. Italian is spoken in a sing-song sort of way.

I would add that in the Swiss German schools, so-called high German is spoken, otherwise the Swiss children would grow up speaking a dialect that only the Swiss would understand. Switzerland is a small country with approximately seven million population, so the Swiss would be quite isolated with their strange guttural dialect(s). Broadcasting language is also basically high German the news and the weather forecast also, but the rest is a mixture. They seem to speak what they feel like speaking.

So there I was, a simple cockney sitting in Zürich with two years high German confronted with everyone speaking their own dialect. I decided to move from Zürich to another town, perhaps hoping that the dialect choice would be restricted. No, I was a sucker for punishment. Not only did they speak differently in Solothurn, where I arrived, but I even married one of them, my Mr. Swiss.

I have now been living in Switzerland for forty-six years, forty-four of which I have been married to a Swiss and even possess a Swiss passport. Mr. Swiss brought two Swiss children into the marriage, who could speak basically only Swiss German. I myself made a contribution of two children, who grew up in Switzerland speak Swiss German as their mother tongue. What choice did I have?

So that the story of a cockney in Switzerland. Not that I ‘ave forgot me cockney. Oh yea, I can still speak it if I want to, trouble being that no-one would understand it. Mr. Swiss can understand it, ‘e ‘ad to, ovverwise we would ‘ave ‘ad problems. The kids sort of understand it, me youngest best of all. ‘E likes to frow a few cockney words in when ‘e’s speaking English, but I fink ‘es just showing off a bit.

And now I will close down this bit of blog stuff. Life ain’t easy when you are surrounded by a lot of foreigners all speaking their own stuff, I just ‘ad to learn it meself. No problem, but when I see me dad in England ‘e sometimes asks wot language I’m speaking. See I get a bit mixed up now and again, but you can’t blame me can you.

Weekly Challeng: A Manner of speaking

63 thoughts on “Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking

  1. Love it! I could listen to Cockney sittin’ on me couch in me ‘ouse all day. Cockney is the first accent I ever tried to pick up and it’s still my favorite. Sounds like Switzerland was a challenge. Apparently, it still agrees with you.

    Great post. Cheers!

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    • Switzerland has definitely become my home. I have a Swiss passport (they love me, just gave it to me when I married Mr. Swiss). It might also be that I live in the country where the fox and bats say good night to each other, which is somethig different to the East End of London.

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  4. This post is excellent! I’m just coming to terms with the fact that I do have an accent myself, and they’re what make speech interesting and personal! Keep dropping your H’s, I’ll keep doing whatever weird things I’m doing with my vowels, and forget the King’s English! Also, congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

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  5. My first boss out of college was Swiss, Hanspeter Waechter, and he could speak 4 languages. Very impressive! I wonder what ever happened to him. I always wished to visit, one of these days! Love the cockney!

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    • I think it is a question of necessity to speak many languages in Switzerland, they have 4 languages and many dialects. I sometimes wonder how they understand each other.

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  7. Enjoyed yor writing and your story!
    I “love”languages and dialects ( in Italy we have a lot and I like to browse into some of them) , so your post was a “dainty ” dish for me…..

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  8. When I left my home for a year abroad in the US, I was in for a surprise. Much like you I had 2 years of language experience – high school English here in Switzerland – kind of BBC English with accent.

    My first stop: Pensilvania. But my host parents through a welcome party for me with relatives that happened to be in town – from Alabama, Georgia. Two different languages!

    I later moved to Virginia. Chesapeake, right next to the Norfolk Navy Base. A melting pot of all US dialects, something like a statistical sample of US citizenship.

    And still I was not ready for what happened to me on my way back to Switzerland. On the bus trip to get adjusted to the idea of going home again, we stopped in New York. Was that even English?

    I do understand you perfectly. And then Swiss German just stopped developing and following loud shifts around the time of William Shakespeare. So when I had to read Hamlet and Macbeth in School, I probably was closest to your experience.

    By the way, we are close to 8 million, 1/1000 of world population, and therefor statistically relevant!

    Great post.

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    • Gruessäch u Merci viel mau. Ig ha gemeint i bi die einzige Schwiitzer blogging hier. And that will do, I cannot write Schwiizertütsch so well and make constant mistakes with the article in Schriftdeutsch. I saw that the Swiss population is now up to eight milliion, although I am not sure how many are actually swiss. I live near Solothurn, so we are not far from the language border. Biel is supposed to be German speaking, but I always seem to meet the suisse romands when I am there.

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  9. Awwww! I really enjoyed this post – what a lovely lady you are – you made me giggle thinking of you surrounded by all these languages and dialects after growing up with just the cockney brilliant! and there you are raising some beautiful bi-lingual kiddies ❤

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  11. I have a friend from Basel, “German” that she speaks totally sounds like Yiddish… Oh and Swiss Italian does sound (to use an euphemism) unusual to anyone who, like me, studied the language in Italy (not to say that the dialect spoken over there is source of endless laughs among my “mainland” Italian friends ;)) Congrats on being FPed, woohoo!!!

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    • We speak Solothurn German, but Basel is just over the Jura mountains about an hours drive from where we live. They certainly have their own dialect. If you go over the border to France you arrive in Elsace. I can understand their dialect as it goes in the Swiss German direction. I don’t often hear yiddish spoken, but based on my Swiss German knowledge, I do understand it a bit. I also understand Dutch, but have never actually learnt the language. I love the Swiss Italian way of speaking (Tessin). Seems to me so relaxed.

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  12. Great post. I had a debate with a friend of mine from Frankfurt years ago about the Swiss language and the many dialects versus China and the many Chinese dialects. As many of the Chinese dialects are official languages, I too believe that some of the Swiss dialects should be classified as a Swiss language. Of course, since I do not speak German (or any Swiss dialect), I lost the argument :-). Enjoyed this post (and love your English accent!).

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    • I think for the Swiss the dialects are the Swiss language. I understand the various dialects, although a conversation with someone from Valais or the Bernese Overland, can get a bit complicated for me. Sometimes I think the Swiss do not always understand each other, speaking so many dialects and using so many different words for the same thing.

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  13. Swiss German? Well, no wonder: on our last trip to Europe, husband and I drove through Switzerland. Knowing that Italian and French are spoken there, we figured between the two of us, we’d get along just fine. We had gotten through Germany and Austria without much language difficulty, but Switzerland was a whole other story. Literally neither of us could understand border patrol and he spoke only one language that neither of us were familiar with, which I gather from your post must have been Swiss German. What a difference a dialect makes: it took what seemed like forever to get through the border because the three of us could not understand each other. Eventually, we figured out he could understand some written English, and we were on our merry way! Unfortunately, we were not there long enough to pick up a phrase or two of Swiss German, but I hope to go back again and avail myself of the opportunity. It is always such a pleasure to learn a new language, and thus open oneself to opportunities one might not have otherwise.
    Thank you for sharing! This was a truly educational and enjoyable post!

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    • One word of advice perhaps, do not pick up phrases of Swiss German – it could get complicated. I had to laugh at your experiences.Something similar happened to me when I arrived in Zürich 46 years ago fresh from England and had to appear at the local town hall to register my work permit. I had two years of proper German behind me and was ready to talk to the people. Unfortunately they made no effort whatsoever to speak normal German. It was all dialect and Züritütsch (as they call it) is not exactly the easiest. They speak fast. I think the first thing a customs man asks at the Swiss border is whether you have a Motoroway permit. They cost forty swiss francs at the moment you have to buy one to be allowed on the Swiss motorways. Most tourists swear about this, especially if they are just passing through.
      If you ever intend calling in on Switzerland again, let me know if you need an interpreter.

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  14. oh i love accents and dialects and the marriage between two different ones creating a new one – the thing it adds to confusion and comprehension problem is the only downer. loved your post. congrats on being fp!

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  15. I ‘ave enjoyed reading your entry more than you’ll ever know! We ‘ave an Anglo-Swiss daughter (born and raised in California) who has lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for nearly 22 years. She will love reading your blog! I’ll be sure to forward this to her, She and her Swiss hubby have three sons. You’ll have fun sharing life stories! Thanks for writing! 🙂

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    • That is very interesting. I live quite near to the language border. We speak French, but after an hour’s drive everyone is speaking french, so it is always a good thing to have a sound knowledge of French. I can speak it, but Mr. Swiss laughs when I do, because of the mistakes I make and my accent. Thankyou for the kind comments.

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  16. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Your writing is invigorating and so deserving of being spotlighted on WordPress.
    You have an authentic voice that is rare on this forum. Keep up the good work..you have a fan in me and I will be following your blog closely. Bravo! Dennis http://www.dlmchale.com

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  17. An enjoyable read! I could hear you speaking cockney in my head. Now, I know what bovvering means. 🙂 I heard that word spoken on TV and had no idea what she said.

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  18. I love this! I really enjoyed reading it. I like your creative style of writing. This past winter was spent in Basel, Switzerland visiting a friend and I did not want to leave! Thank you for sharing your adventurous story 🙂

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    • Basel is an hour’s train ride from where I live. It is a very interesting town, being in the three corner zone with borders to France and Germany. I have a friend that lives in a German border town, and we usually meet in Rheinfelden which is a small town very near to Basel. It is a lovely place, and if you ever return to basel I would recommend a visit. Of course, I would also recommend visiting Solothurn which is my nearest town just along the road. It is very old, founded by the Romans and the old cobbled streets in the town center have also now been replaced.

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  19. I enjoyed this very much. This might be an odd request, but are there any books written in Cockney that you could recommend? It helps when trying to write dialect.

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    • I do not know of any books, but could recommend this link Cockney. It is ok, and would help, although I just go on my own knowledge. Sometimes it translates too much into cockney which is not necessary. Cockney is a dialect and not a language and everyone chooses their own way of speaking. Not all cockneys know every rhyming slang, just the one they used a lot in their surroundings.

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      • Thank you very much. Strange that it considers Cockney a “comic” dialect. Is that a tad insulting? Perhaps not. I think mine is silly. We’re lazy talkers 🙂

        People think Cockney’s a language? Oh my.

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  20. I went to Switzerland (Basel, specifically) for only a weekend. I had expected the difference in language to be more like the difference between, say, American and Canadian English. I think it’s really lovely that people are able to keep local or traditional dialects and even whole languages like Romansh alive. After I get a better handle on high German, I want to give Plattdeutsch a go.
    Each culture has something unique and valuable to offer. I think the language your culture is rooted in, be it cockney or Canadian, is a healthy part of expressing that culture.

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    • From what I have been told Swiss German is similar to the language spoken in germany in the middle ages, so it seems the Swiss just stayed with the language and the others continued. Germany has many dialects and Plattdeutsch is really a difficult one to understand. I manage ok with bavarian and Schwabisch around Stuttgart, but mainly due to the tv programmes we get in Switzerland.

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  21. I enjoyed your post. I recently started seeing a man who grew in Dunstable. Sometimes he slips into a Cockney accent for fun. But he’s trying to learn my Southern too!

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  22. This was a great post that had me smiling all the way through! I imagine that your daddy does wonder what language you’re speaking now. My own daddy, were he still here, would probably ask me the same. I am pretty sure I have somewhat picked up that Texas twang. I know i hear it in David’s voice pretty often. 🙂
    Have a blessed day!

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  23. An excellent post – enjoyed the read very much. I am from India and we have over 25 languages. And each language comes with their own distinct set dialects. It does get a bit complicated sometimes – I write in English while framing dialogues (mentally) in Hindi when my mother tongue is Bengali 😀

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    • My Russian teacher was in India for a few years to learn the language. She was an expert on Hindi but also understood and spoke Urdo. She explained the complexities of the language and pronouciation, it was very intersting. I have enough problems with the many Swiss German dialects, although I understand them. I speak Solothurn german, which is similar to Bern german, which is all Swiss German basically.

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      • Language, dialects accents are all very fascinating I feel. And amusing. During his college days, my husband and his classmates went touring to another part of India and asked a local for directions. Help was forthcoming but very unintelligibly, so my husband requested, ‘ We dont understand local language, please speak in English’. Pat came the reply which they managed to decipher after a bit – ‘I am speaking in English’ 😀

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  24. Sorry, I haven’t read the many comments and maybe add something you know already but first of all I have no idea what your ‘freshly pressed’ means and then I only found this article right now…. Also herzliche Glückwünsche zum fp und …
    We are closer to 8.5 millions as I learned in 2016 when we had that very same conversation last year with friends who were ‘in the know’…. And the thing with the accents and dialects is not only a national but universal problem. I am originating from Zurich and everybody knows that we speak Züritütsch and FAST. Hero Husband is Suisse Romand and speaks what the region considers as French – when we lived in UK I worked for the Alliance Française (not as a teacher, I have not only not enough knowledge for teaching French but also wouldn’t be allowed at the AF; they only chose French individuals with ‘credentials’ from French high schools), anyway, I digress…. when we were in Devon I spoke confidently French knowing that my French was pretty good. Except that my boss laughed half the time his head off and told me: Kiki, this is NOT a word/sentence/term you learned from me, this is not French…. There!!!! And now that we live 9 yrs in France, the French still tell us all the time that we use wrong words, terms and surely must be Belgiums or Canadiens…. I just laugh, because with me it’s even more complicated. I have adopted words and accents from all over the world, Canadian English and French in Canada, proper Oxford English at my Swiss school, French from school, trips, friends here and there and everywhere – my ‘high German’ is pretty good (even if I say so myself) and I can do nearly every accent and dialect BUT in the heart of my heart it’s the Züritütsch which comes out when I’m distressed, in a hurry, or angry. AND I have to speak French with HH as he fails to speak any of the German dialects. He gets away with his High German which is a bit hazardous but very well understandable and people in Switzerland/England/USA love his cute and sexy diction when speaking English or German but noboy claps for me who speaks far too well to be taken up with kindness and understanding. When we are in Italy, it takes me 30′ before I speak Italian and when we come home to CH I start thinking in Swiss German …. it’s a fascinating and worthwhile passtime to work on all this and it keeps my grey cells working – which means I have to do less Sudoku and Binoxxo and can read more books.
    Yours is a brilliant article, as so many of them are. And yes, me too – I have a problem to understand cockney, but when I can read it it’s easy to get it 🙂

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    • I spent my first two years in Switzerland in Zürich, so was very much used to Zürideutsch and its speed. Then I arrived in Solothurn, with the Bernese speed so everything slowed down. I met Mr. Swiss who is a Solothurner, and have been living now in Kanton Solothurn for the past 48 years. I learnt French in England in the school, I can speak Italian and also learned Russian for 12 years. I just have a thing for languages. I understand spanish more or less, but cannot speak it very well. My daily language is Schweizertütsch with Mr. Swiss and the kids, although Mr. Swiss speaks excellent english, but does not need it. Swiss German is our house language.

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