The Sussex dialect is a dialect that was once widely spoken by those living in the historic county of Sussex in southern England. Much of the distinctive vocabulary of the Sussex dialect has now died out, although a few words remain in common usage and some individuals still speak with the traditional Sussex accent.
The Sussex dialect is a subset of the Southern English dialect group. Historically, there were three main variants to the dialect: west Sussex (west of Shoreham and the river Adur), mid Sussex (between the Adur and Hastings) and east Sussex (from Hastings eastwards). There were also differences between downland and Wealden communities. In particular, the people of the Weald were thought to have the most impenetrable accents. The Sussex dialect shows remarkable continuity: the three main dialect areas reflect the historic county's history. The west and mid dialect areas reflect the ancient division of Sussex between East and West, which until the creation of the rape of Bramber in the 11th century lay along the river Adur. The eastern dialect area reflects the unique history of the Hastings area, which was home to the kingdom of the Haestingas until the 8th century.
Sussex dialect words have their sources in many historic languages including Anglo-Saxon, Old Dutch, a dash of 14th-century Middle French, and a little Scandinavian. Many words are thought to have derived from Sussex's fishermen and their links with fishermen from the coasts of France and the Netherlands.
Below is a set of features of pronunciation in the dialect used across Sussex:
- /æ/ before double d becomes /ɑr/ in such words as ladder
- /æ/ before double /l/ is pronounced /ɒ/ in words as fallow
- /eɪ/ before t is expanded into ea; rate, mate, plate, gate
- /æ/ before ct becomes /ɛ/, as in satisfaction
- /ɛ/ before ct becomes /æ/, as in affection, effect and neglect
- /iː/ is pronounced as /ɪ/ in such words as sheep, week, or field
- /aɪ/ is pronounced as [iː], and thus mice, hive, dive are pronounced [miːs], [hiːv], [diːv]
- /ɪ/ sometimes becomes /ɛ/, as in pet for pit or spet for spit
- io and oi change places respectively, so violet and violent become voilet and voilent, while boiled and spoiled are bioled and spioled
- o before n is expanded into oä in such words as pony, don't, and bone to be pronounced a poäny, doänt, and boän
- /ɔr/ is pronounced as /ɑr/, so that cord and morning become carn and marning; perhaps in a card-cord merger
- Father-bother merger: /ɒ/ becomes /ɑ/ in such words as rod and cross, which sound like rad and crass
- /aʊ/ (ou) is elongated into aou in words like hound, pound and mound so they are pronounced haound, paound and maound
- The final ow is pronounced er, as faller for fallow
- Double t is traditionally pronounced as /ɾ/ or /d/, so that little and butter sound like liddle and budder; see Intervocalic alveolar flapping
- Th-stopping: /ð/ is invariably [d]: these and them become dese and dem
- /d/ in its turn is occasionally changed into /ð/, turning fodder into fother
- Metathesis of final "sp" in such words as wasp, clasp, and hasp, pronounced as wapse, clapse, and hapse
- Words ending in /st/ have an additional syllable in the possessive case and the plural; therefore, instead of saying "the birds had built their nests near the posts of Mr. West's gate," a Sussex boy would traditionally say "the birds had built their nestes near the postes of Mr. Westes' gate;" see reduplicated plural
In the 19th century, William Durrant Cooper found that the people in eastern parts of Sussex spoke many words with a French accent. For instance, the word day was pronounced dee, and mercy as in the French merci. In Rye, the word bonnet was pronounced bunnet and Mermaid Street was pronounced Maremaid Street.
Gender is almost always feminine. There is a saying in Sussex dialect that 'Everything in Sussex is a She except a Tom Cat and she's a He.'
In the western variant of the Sussex dialect, 'en' and 'un' (sometimes written as 'n) were used for 'he' and 'it' and 'um' was used for 'them.'
- Ahson - Alciston
- Arndel - Arundel
- Bodjum - Bodiam
- Burush - Burwash
- Chanklebury - Chanctonbury
- Charnton - Chalvington
- Chiddester - Chichester
- Envul - Henfield
- Furrel - Firle
- Gorun - Goring
- Heffel - Heathfield
- Helsum - Hailsham
- Hors-am - Horsham
- Lunnon - London
- Medhas - Midhurst
- Merricur - America
- Pemsy - Pevensey
- Pettuth - Petworth
- Stammer - Stanmer
- Tarrun - Tarring
- The Sheeres - Shires England outside of Sussex, Kent and Surrey
- Simpson - Selmeston
- Storrin'on - Storrington
In a seafaring county such as Sussex, fishermen were given nicknames, which by extension also sometimes applied to all residents of a town. These names include:
- Chop-backs - Hastings
- Jugs - Brighton
- Mudlarks - Rye
- Pork-bolters - Worthing
- Winnicks or Willicks - Eastbourne (also the dialect name of a guillemot or wild person)
- Bostal (or borstal) - a steep path, particularly over the Downs
- Knap, knep or kneb - a small hill (as in Knepp Castle, which is built on a small hill)
- Hill - the Sussex Downs
- Laines - open tracts of land at the base of the Downs (originally as in the North Laine area of Brighton)
- Rife - a small river, especially across the West Sussex coastal plain (as in the Ferring Rife)
- Totty land - high land
- Fret - a sea fog
- Went - crossroads
Flora and fauna
- Ammot - ant
- Brown-bird - thrush
- Culver - a pigeon or a dove
- Cutty - wren
- Dumbledore - bumble bee
- Flittermouse - bat
- Humbledore - hornet
- God Almighty's cow - ladybird
- Kime or kine - weasel
- Kiss me - wild heartsease
- Mousearnickle - dragonfly
- Neddie - warble fly
- Old man's beard - wild clematis
- Old man's nightcap - hooded bindweed
- Pook flies - fairy flies
- Prickleback urchin - hedgehog
- Puck - nightjar
- Puck stool - toadstool
- Reynold or Reynard - fox
- Ship - sheep
- Snag or sneg - snail
- Snottgogs - yew berries
- Sprod - junction of branch with trunk of a tree
- Tottle grass - high grass
- Varm - bracken
- Winnick or Willick - a guillemot
- Yaffle - green woodpecker
- Windhover - European Kestrel
Words for mud
While there is a popular belief that the Inuit have an unusually large number of words for snow, the Sussex dialect is notable in having an unusually large number of words for mud, thought to be over 30 different terms. Some of the words are:
- Clodgy - muddy and wet, like a field path after heavy rain
- Gawm - especially sticky, foul-smelling mud
- Gubber - black mud of rotting organic matter
- Ike - a mess or area of mud
- Pug - a kind of loam, particularly the sticky yellow Wealden clay
- Slab - the thickest mud
- Sleech - mud or river sediment used for manure
- Slob - thick mud
- Slough - a muddy hole
- Slub - thick mud
- Slurry - diluted mud, saturated with so much water that it cannot drain
- Smeery - wet and sticky surface mud
- Stoach - to trample ground, like cattle; also the silty mud at Rye harbour
- Stodge - thick puddingy mud
- Stug - watery mud
- Swank - a bog
Other dialect words
- Boco - much (from the French word beaucoup)
- Beasted - tired out
- Bread-and-cheese-friend - a true friend (as distinguished from a cupboard-lover)
- Caterwise - diagonally
- Chipper - happy
- Chog - apple core
- Dosset - small portion
- Druv - driven (as in the unofficial Sussex motto 'We wunt be druv')
- Dursn't - must not
- Farisees - fairies
- Goistering - loud feminine laughter
- Gurt - big
- Jiggered - surprised
- Kiddy - friend or workmate
- Somewhen - sometime
- Steddle stones- a dialectal variation of Staddle stones, used to support a base or platform on which hay or corn is stacked
- Strombolo - a type of lignite found on local beaches; sometimes used as fuel in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it emitted a strong sulphurous smell when burnt
- Surelye - this word is often added to the end of a sentence to round it off or add emphasis
- Twitten - a path or alleyway
- Wapple way (or waffle way) - bridle path
- Woddle - the game of bat and trap
Links to American English
Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, commented that Sussex dialect had considerable similarities with the dialect of New England at the time. Some phrases common to Sussex were common in New England as well, such as "you hadn't ought to" or "you shouldn't ought", the use of "be you?" for "are you?" and "I see him" for "I saw him."
There are also significant links with the dialect of East Sussex and the dialect of African Americans in the southern United States. In particular, the use of dem, dat, and dese for them, that, and these was common in the 19th century both in Sussex and in the southern United States.
Other phrases that may appear to be Americanisms were widely used in Sussex dialect. Examples include the use of "the fall" for autumn, "mad" for "angry," "I guess," and "I reckon".
Significant numbers of Sussex people moved to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even earlier than that, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, Quaker William Penn, left Sussex for New England with around 200 Sussex Quakers. For several years before the voyage in 1681, Penn lived at Warminghurst Place in Sussex, worshipping near Thakeham. Later, there was also a major migration from Sussex to Ohio in 1822.
The Sussex dialect and accent are facing extinction. Commuting is on the increase in Sussex, caused by the lack of local employment opportunities coupled with high housing expenses and proximity to London. This has caused people with other accents to move to Sussex and the corresponding loss of the southern dialect.
Works in dialect
- Tom Cladpole's Jurney to Lunnon, told by himself, and written in pure Sussex doggerel by his Uncle Tim – Richard Lower, 1830
- A Glossary of the Provincialisms in use in the County of Sussex – William Durrant Cooper, 1834, 1853 
- Jan Cladpole's Trip to Merricur, written all in rhyme by his Father, Tim Cladpole – Richard Lower, 1844
- "Sussex Dialect from the Authorized English Version by T. Spencer Baynes," in The Song of Solomon in Twenty-Four Dialects – Mark Antony Lower, 1860 
- Puck of Pook's Hill - Rudyard Kipling, 1906
- Rewards and Fairies – Rudyard Kipling, 1910
- Sussex Gorse - the Story of a Fight – Sheila Kaye-Smith, 1916
- Joanna Godden – Sheila Kaye-Smith, 1921
- Summat 'bout Sussex an sum Sussexers, by Jim Cladpole – James Richards, 1930
- Cold Comfort Farm – parody by Stella Gibbons, 1932
- Hare, Chris (1995). A History of the Sussex People. Worthing: Southern Heritage Books. ISBN 978-0-9527097-0-1.
- Lucas, E.V. (1904), "Chapter XLI: The Sussex Dialect", Highways and Byways in Sussex, New York: MacMillan and Co., Limited (The MacMillan Company)
- Parish, Rev. W.D. (1875). A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect – a Collection of Provincialisms in use in the County of Sussex. Lewes: Farncombe & Co. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
- Cooper, William Durrant (1834). A Dictionary of the Provincialisms in Use in the County of Sussex. London: John Russell Smith.
- Wales, Tony (2000). Sussex as She Wus Spoke, a Guide to the Sussex Dialect. Seaford: SB Publications. ISBN 978-1-85770-209-5.
- Brandon, Peter (2006). Sussex. Phillimore. ISBN 978-0-7090-6998-0.
- Brandon, Peter (1998). The South Downs. Phillimore & Co. ISBN 978-1-86077-069-2.
- Arscott, David (2006). Wunt Be Druv - A Salute to the Sussex Dialect. Countryside Books. ISBN 978-1-84674-006-0.
- Collins, Sophie (2007). A Sussex Miscellany. Alfriston: Snake River Press. ISBN 978-1-906022-08-2.
- Middleton, Judy (2003). The Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade. Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries. Vol. 13, p. 133.
- "The Language of the American South". KataJohn. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
- "Welcome to the Thakeham Quaker Meeting". Thakeham Quaker Meeting. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- "Sussex dialect being wiped out by commuting". The Argus newspaper. 3 January 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
- "Endangered Words". BBC Inside Out. 17 January 2002. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
- A Dictionary Of The Sussex Dialect by Rev. W.D. Parish, Vicar of Selmeston, Sussex free online version at Sussex History website
- Sussex Dialect on the British Library website
- "Learning the Sussex Dialect with Tim Cladpole - Jan Cladpole's Trip to Merricur" a humorous work written in Sussex dialect by Richard Lower, first published in the 19th century. Free version on Funnell's Wood website.