How to Speak Essex: 20th Century Voices from the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Martin Astell, our Sound and Video Archivist, blogs for us about one of the things Essex is most famous for – its accent…

Are you looking for a Christmas gift with a difference? Our CD called How to Speak Essex: 20th Century Voices from the Essex Sound and Video Archive may be just the thing for that awkward relative or friend who seemingly has everything.

How to Speak Essex

The CD includes examples of Essex accents and dialect recorded in the twentieth century. The earliest example dates from 1906, while the majority are recordings of people born between 1900 and 1940. The CD includes both speech and song, with examples from across the county.

I wanted to produce the CD both as a way of promoting the Essex Sound and Video Archive – not everybody is aware that the Essex Record Office collects and preserves sound recordings and videos – and in order to present genuine examples of the way ordinary people in Essex spoke in the twentieth century.

The decline of the Essex dialect and accent, and the seemingly unstoppable spread of theLondonaccent, has been discussed and mourned a great deal in recent times. When people think of the language of Essex they are most likely these days to think of ‘Estuary English’ rather than a soft and lyrical rural accent akin to that heard still in other parts of East Anglia. On the other hand, someEssexresidents can, perhaps, have a nostalgic or exaggerated view of the accents used by former generations. Our CD should provide enough genuine examples to enable a realistic understanding of the language of Essex people born prior to the Second World War.

The recordings should also demonstrate the diversity of accents in Essex. I have split the county into ten geographical areas so that the listener can compare, for instance, the accents of villages in the north of the county borderingSuffolkwith areas of historic Essex now deemed to be part of Greater London. However, even within these relatively small areas a good deal of variety can be heard.

The extracts cover a range of topics and will hopefully provide some insight into life inEssexduring the twentieth century. I have tried to group them in ways which provide a degree of narrative, thus helping to make the CD enjoyable as well as instructive. However, the main effect should be to bring alive the speakers and their use of language.

The CD is available direct from the Essex Record Office priced at £10.20, including postage and packing. You can order your copy by telephoning 01245 244644, or writing to: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT, enclosing a cheque made payable to Essex County Council.