Language and Dialect of Cumbria

Cumbria is a modern county created from the ancient counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, but the land has been under the control of many different families and kingdoms in past centuries. This history and heritage is reflected in Cumbrian place names. Celtic, Norse, Irish and Norman influences are found in the names places and the terminology used.

Old English, the language of the Anglo Saxons, is seen in words such as mere, used for lake. Norman French and Norse terms are found in many villages ending with ‘thwaite’.

A few examples are:

Crag (Middle English from cragge) a cliff or rocky outcrop.
Examples: Gimmer Crag - crag of the yearling sheep; Dow Crag - either crag of the doves or deer.

Fell (Norse from fjall) Mountain or high hill.
Examples: Kirk Fell - the fell above the church; Scafell - the mountain with the bare summit.

Force (Norse from foss or fors) Waterfall.
Example: Aira Force - waterfall by the stream with gravel banks.

Ghyll (Norse from gil) Ravine or gully or the stream in the gully.
Example: Dungeon Ghyll - a stream flowing through a dark place.

Grange (Old French from grange) an outlying farm or granary, usually of a monastery.
Example Grange-in-Borrowdale, part of the Borrowdale property of Furness Abbey.

Howe (Norse from haugr) a hill.
Example: Gummer's Howe - Gunnar's Hill with the Norse name Gunnar.

Knott (Norse from knutr) a craggy hill or rocky outcrop.
Example: Carling Knott - the hill where the old woman lives (from kerling knutr).

Mere (Old English) water, a lake or pool.
Example: Buttermere - the lake by the dairy pastures; Windermere - Vinandrs lake with the Norse name Vinandr.

Pike (Old English from pic) a peak or sharp summit.
Example: Causey Pike - the peak above the causeway.

Stickle (Old English from sticele or stikill) a steep place.
Example: Pike O' Stickle - the peak with the sharp summit; Stickle Tarn - tarn by the prominent peak (in this case, Harrison Stickle).

Tarn (Norse from Tjorn) a small lake.
Example: Blea Tarn - the dark tarn; Lindeth Tarn - the tarn under the hills with the lime trees.

Thwaite (Norse from tveit) a clearing for a pasture.
Example: Thornthwaite - a clearing with thorn bushes; Esthwaite Water - the lake by the eastern clearing.

The Dialect of Cumbria

The Lakeland Dialect Society exists to “encourage interest in dialect speech in the writing of verse, prose and drama, to stimulate the publication of dialect literature and the publication of dialect literature and production of dialect plays, to study the origins and history of the dialect, folk lore, folk songs and local customs and traditions.”

The website is at www.lakelanddialectsociety.org

Some examples of Cumbrian dialect are:

Brig: bridge
Clabber: mud
Hagg: peaty, boggy ground
Ken: know
Lang: long

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