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Whilst researching my family history, the majority of which is rooted in Kent, I realised that prior to the greater mobility of the population in response to the Industrial Revolution and the coming of the railways and before universal education, there was quite a distinctive Kentish dialect, accent and set of sayings. This was especially true of the eastern part of the county. Dialect remnants existed through to the end of the last century but the emergence of “Estuary English” means that this local language is all but dead. An end perhaps long in the making; I found an article written in 1913 which bemoaned the "blight of the Cockney".

There are several resources for Kentish dialect both in print and on the internet, this website aims to collate these resources, add some comment, and act as a reservoir of knowledge on Kenticisms, a term apparently coined in the eighteenth century by Dr. Samuel Pegge, one of the prime documenters of the dialect. This will hopefully help those interested in how their Kentish ancestors spoke and anybody else researching the dialect.

To supplement the Kentish dialect resources I have begun to add some information on Kent towns and some other peculiarly Kentish topics, including the legal system of gavelkind and the distinction between a Man of Kent and a Kentish Man.

A Brief Introduction to Kent Dialect

Due to the particular nature of the influx of Germanic people in to Kent from about 450AD onwards, who were predominantly Jutes at odds with other parts of England settled by Saxons and Angles, it has long been recognised that the Kentish dialect had distinctive features of its own from the outset. This may be traced from early Anglo-Saxon manuscripts through to documents from the Middle Ages, of which a famous example is the confessional The Ayenbite of Inwyt (Remorse of Conscience) from 1340. There is also a well known anecdote told by William Caxton in the preface to his book Eneydos (1490). Some merchants from the north of England were sailing down the Thames when they stopped for food on the Kent side, one merchant asked specifically for eggs (eggys), the seller said she spoke no French and couldn’t understand him. As the merchant said he also spoke no French there was some confusion until it was realised that he wanted what she knew as eyren, a word derived from the Old English. Caxton himself thought his Kentish dialect “broad and rude” and decided on a more refined London dialect when printing his book translations. Chapter VII of Walter W Skeat's book English Dialects from the Eight Century to the Present Day, is a good source for researching the development of the Kent dialect.

We are largely indebted to clergymen for the knowledge we have today of the Kent dialect, these gentlemen seem to have had the time, the interest in language and the contact with parishoners neccesary to document the local language of their day. Attempts to record the dialect of Kent began in the first half of the eighteenth century, when two vicars in different parts of the county compiled lists of local words. John Lewis, vicar of Minster and minister of Margate published in 1736 The History and Antiquities of the Isle of Tenet [Thanet] including some examples of the language he had heard locally. Also in 1735-6 the Rev. Samuel Pegge prepared the manuscript An Alphabet of Kenticisms representing the dialect of the Godmersham-Canterbury area. However this manuscript was not published until 1874 by the Rev. Walter Skeat, who also encouraged his fellow reverends Parish and Shaw to produce a "more complete glossary", which became the definitive A Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect and Provincialisms: in use in the county of Kent, published in 1888.

There were however two more publications in the nineteenth century which added to the repository of dialect knowledge. In 1811 A Provisional Glossary of Kent dialect words current in that year, compiled by Francis Grose, was published and around 1820 the most famous verse written in Kentish dialect appeared. Dick and Sal; Or Jack and Joanses Fair, A Doggerel Poem was originally published anonymously, but later attributed to John White Masters and became more commonly known as Dick and Sal at Canterbury Fair. The verse gives a unique insight in to the language spoken in the Faversham-Canterbury area as observed by Masters, a professional gardener who travelled widely in the county.

In the twentieth century two main researchers have attempted to preserve a record of Kent dialect words. Between 1950 and 1965 Frederick Sanders compiled The Dialect of Kent drawing mainly from the Medway Towns and the Weald of Kent, in a private publication not widely available. In 1981 Alan Major produced A New Dictionary of Kent Dialect which sought to draw all the various sources together, including his own collection. There is still some interest in Kentish Dialect and there have been a few more small publications in the last twenty years as well as notes on some websites. The great regret, as Major notes in the introduction to his edition, is that more efforts were not made in the 1920s and 30s when the technology became available, to record the spoken Kentish voice as it was then.

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