The Duck Stops Here

Shopping in Lichfield last week, I was called ‘me duck’. It’s not something you hear much here, it’s nearby Burton where you are much more likely to be someone’s duck. In past posts, I’ve talked about how stones, rivers and even ancient burial tombs have been used to define the boundaries of a place, but here I’m interested in audible rather than visible markers. The boundary where a linguistic feature stops and starts is known as an isogloss, and if they say duck fifteen miles up the road but not here, then I reckon there must be one close by. But where?


Photo by Joe Gomez

We may not call each other duck often, but how do we (after eleven years, can I class myself as a Lichfeldian yet?) talk?  According to Timothy Wilson-Smith, Samuel Johnson retained traces of his accent throughout his life (apparently one of the ways he gave his roots away was his pronunciation of the word punch) but is there such a thing as a Lichfield accent now and if so, what is it?

No easy answers but might be fun trying to find out. Perhaps from now on I should carry a dictaphone along with a camera and a notebook, although I might get people calling me something less polite than ‘duck’ (think some probably already do). In the meantime, listen to the accent of Tom Marshall, a lifelong resident Longdon (ok, not quite Lichfield but only four miles away), who David Moore interviewed for an oral history project recently (listen here).


Wilson-Smith, Timothy (2004) Samuel Johnson Life and Times


5 thoughts on “The Duck Stops Here

  1. Look to the River Trent for an accent boundary… once delineated the Danelaw. I hear a Lichfield accent, but only in older speakers. It should, in my opinion, have “grass” ( short ‘a’) not “grrauas” – a post war Brummigemism influence, which I do hear in Kyra. Is Tom speaking “Lichfield”? I think he is too self-conscious to be a good example…he’s thinking RP is “best” and is trying to tend towards it.


    • Yes of course! We’ve touched on the observers paradox in Linguistics. I’d really love to delve deeper into Staffordshire accents as it ticks all my boxes, so to speak!


  2. After all night though….the fact is, that any young person brought up in Lichfield today…Kyra….our own children, HAS a Lichfield accent to which we can refer. My proscriptions based on the rural Lichfield of the 1930s are as stupid and irrelevant as moaning about ending a sentence with a preposition , or text-speak. All modern British isoglosses are flabby and less physical geographical than they once were! Thank you for giving me so much to ponder during that middle of th night wee and tea!!


  3. I’ve got family who live in Derbyshire and surrounding area. I’ve asked them what “duck” means and why it’s used as a term of endearment. They told me that it’s actually anglo saxon/norse for duke, which was Ducas. It was later melded with the Norman word Duchee, also meaning Duke. It’s from these that it’s passed on as a term of endearment. Interesting


    • Alright Duck! Supposed to be mainly used as a term of endearment in the Potteries, but It was well used years ago in B’ham and the Black Country.


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