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Silly Suffolk - Your Guide To The Suffolk Dialect

Silly Suffolk - Your Guide To The Suffolk Dialect

The Suffolk dialect really is quite special! With regional dialects being heard less often nowadays, here in Suffolk we are extremely lucky that the local dialect is still in use regularly amongst residents. Also known as 'Silly Suffolk' it is soft with rises and falls as sweet as the county’s landscape, it has several distinctive features… and is awash with words you won’t find anywhere else!

Suffolk folk share a wry and dry sense of humour, along with a warmth that’s inevitable given that we live in the county of the so-called Sunrise Coast. But the smiling stops (only briefly, because we’re actually very good-humoured) when the way in which we speak is imitated by those who don’t know their West Country from our East Anglia. Saxons, Angles and Danes have all made their mark on Suffolk and its people. But today it’s the media, along with social and geographical mobility, that influences the way we live, work and communicate. It’s a fast-moving, frenetic world, one in which face-to-face conversations are less frequent and, when texting, being ‘all fingers and thumbs’ can only be a good thing.

Thankfully, though, a love of good conversation remains as strong as the distinctive dialect and accent here in Suffolk; listen in and learn how to talk like a local… Suffolk intonation is unique, with a distinctive range of rise and fall in pitch that makes it sound as if the speaker is asking a question. Importantly, this is one of the main differences between Suffolk and Norfolk speech; the latter has more of a distinctive 'drawl'.

Along with other East Anglians, Suffolk speakers pronounce words like ‘sure’, ‘pur’ and ‘fury’ with the same vowel as ‘nurse’, so that ‘surely’ sounds the same as ‘Shirley’. Not quite so prevalent perhaps, but many older speakers pronounce long-vowel words like ‘home’, ‘stone’ and ‘boa’t with the short vowel of ‘foot’.

When it comes to tenses, traditional Suffolk speakers will use words like ‘shew’ instead of ‘showed’. To add to the confusion, you may well hear ‘that snew’ rather than ‘it snowed’ when enquiring about the winter’s weather – in Suffolk-speak, ‘that’ is used in place of ‘it’.  And, taking it all one step further, the traditional East Anglian dialect makes interesting use of the word ‘do’ as a conjunction meaning ‘or’ or ‘otherwise’, hence ‘I hope that don’t rain, do we shall have to go home’.

Suffolk vocabulary is idiosyncratic and individual, with a smattering of cheerful nonsense or, as it’s known here, ‘squit’. You’ll hear the word ‘boi’ used as a term of familiar address, equivalent to 'mate', and there’s no age limit to its application – it might sound more like ‘buh’ or ‘bor’ these days, but a son is just as likely to call his father ‘buh’ as vice versa. 

Souvenir tea-towels, mugs and books all celebrate Suffolk speak. And one of our favourite terms, ‘on th’ huh’ – meaning ‘not quite straight’ – has even made it onto the page of that most venerable of books, the Oxford English Dictionary. Despite such lofty legitimacy, however, there’ll always be the likelihood of a misunderstanding or two.

So, if someone talks about ‘brewen up’ don’t mistake it for an invitation to a cup of tea – it’s actually a warning that there’s a storm approaching. And don’t you worry if you hear that a friend has been ‘suffercated’ – it’s a nice way of saying he’s been accepted by the locals!


Written by Gill Bendall