Video: You say Austin, I say Alston – Essex and Suffolk accents

An interesting note from 1745 in West Bergholt‘s parish register shows us that the vicar got muddled up with some of his parishioners’ surnames. Understanding the accent of your ancestor’s region can be really helpful if you want to trace them back further. In this video I talk about certain features of the accent(s) found in the north of Essex and the south of Suffolk, delivered in my authentic north-east Essex twang.


  • There are lots and lots of accents in Essex and Suffolk – a ten minute video barely scratches the surface, but I hope it provides a handy example of how regional accent can affect the way your ancestor’s surname was recorded.
  • Hear lots of East Anglian accents at the East Anglian Film Archive.
  • Sometimes, people use the words “accent” and “dialect” to mean the same thing. I’m using accent here to describe the sounds of people’s speech. I tend to use dialect to mean the words that people use (as in, ‘dialect’ being close in meaning to ‘language’). Regional dialect means the vocabulary and grammar that people tend to use in a particular area, which isn’t within the scope of this video.
  • If you’re interested in the history of accent and dialect, David Crystal’s book The Stories of English is a good place to start.
  • I mention the “labial fricative” at one point, but I actually meant the “bilabial fricative”. In fact, I was wrong anyway (that’ll teach me to ad lib!). In phonetics, the f and v sound at the beginning of a word are voiced and voiceless “labiodental fricatives”. I was nearly right….! The point is – in the accent spoken in Lawshall in the 17th century (and probably nowadays too, to an extent), the f and v sounds were quite similar, and all that really is the difference is that the vocal chords are used to make a “v” sound, but aren’t when making an “f”. This distinction isn’t as clear in the Lawshall accent.
  • No apologies for the rustling paper…!
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