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Friday, 18 September 2015

A Somerset Dialect Story and a Scottish Linguistics Expert; John Read, Somerset Folk Press

Searching the web for some of the Somerset (or "Old-World Wessex") stories by John Read published by the Somerset Folk Press ("Cluster-o'-Vive", 1923), I found one of John Read's stories, "The Story of Vall-Teacher", quite by chance, embedded in this Sandy Fleming linguistics posting on Language Varieties (scroll down to find the story, and Sandy Fleming's notes and glossary).

I wish Mr. Fleming had included a note in his glossary on the delightful dialect expression (penultimate paragraph of the story) "Bezuggers".

There is a biographical note about John Read which is printed before two of his dialect poems in "Selected Poems in Somerset Dialect", The Somerset Folk Series, Number 1 (Somerset Folk Press, 1921). It may come as a surprise:

"Professor John Read, M.A., Ph.D., B.Sc,. is a descendant of an old South Somerset family, and was educated for some years at Sexey's School, Bruton. He chose a scientific career, and, following a series of brilliant successes in education and research, accepted, in 1915, the Chair of Organic Chemistry at the University of Sydney, N.S.W. Dr. Read has made the study of his native dialect one of his intellectual delights, and he is probably the foremost authority upon its origins and usages. He has constructed several remarkably skilful plays, primarily designed to portray and preserve the rustic idioms and ideas; and these have been produced by local companies with excellent results."

In his preface to "Cluster-o'-Vive" ("a familiar cry along the hedgerows of Wessex druing the nutting season"), the author says that "although the West Countryman will detect in the cluster certain 'chestnuts' which have been handed down in the land from generation to generation, yet for the most part the stories and incidents have been collected at first hand from actual participants or their acquaintances." His book contains a useful glossary.

In a review of his collection of dialect plays and sketches "Wold Ways A-Gwain" (The Western Gazette, 1914), the Dorset County Chronicle wrote:

"Dr. Read's book is quite as interesting to Dorset readers as to Somerset, for there is a close kinship between the dialects of the two counties....If  'wold ways be a-gwain', Dr. Read is helping to put the brake on, and to retard their departure... - of real philological value."

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