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The Lake Dialect
by [?]

I have thus come round to the name of Fairfield, which seemed to me some forty years ago as beyond all reasonable doubt the Danish mask for Sheep-fell. But, in using the phrase ‘reasonable doubt,’ I am far from insinuating that Mr. Ferguson’s deliberate doubt is not reasonable. I will state both sides of the question, for neither is without some show of argument. To me it seemed next to impossible that the early Danish settlers could, under the natural pressure of prominent differences among that circuit of hills which formed the barriers of Grasmere, have failed to distinguish as the sheep mountain that sole eminence which offered a pasture ground to their sheep all the year round. In summer and autumn all the neighbouring fells, that were not mere rocks, yielded pasture more or less scanty. But Fairfield showed herself the alma mater of their flocks even in winter and early spring. So, at least, my local informants asserted. Mr. Ferguson, however, objects, as an unaccountable singularity, that on this hypothesis we shall have one mountain, and one only, classed under the modern Scandinavian term of field; all others being known by the elder name of fell. I acknowledge that this anomaly is perplexing. But, on the other hand, what Mr. Ferguson suggests is still more perplexing. He supposes that, ‘because’ the summit of this mountain is such a peculiarly green and level plain, it might not inappropriately be called a fair field.’ Certainly it might; but by Englishmen of recent generations, and not by Danish immigrants of the ninth century. To balance the anomaly of what certainly wears a faint soupcon of anachronism–namely, the apparent anticipation of the modern Norse word field, Mr. Ferguson’s conjecture would take a headlong plunge into good classical English. Now of this there is no other instance. Even the little swells of ground, that hardly rise to the dignity of hills, which might be expected to submit readily to changing appellations, under the changing accidents of ownership, yet still retain their primitive Scandinavian names–as Butterlip Howe, for example. Nor do I recollect any exceptions to this tendency, unless in the case of jocose names, such as Skiddaw’s Cub, for Lattrig; and into this class, perhaps, falls even the dignified mountain of The Old Man, at the head of Coniston. Mr. Ferguson will allow that it would be as startling to the dense old Danes of King Alfred’s time, if they had found a mountain of extra pretensions wearing a modern English name, as it would to the Macedonian argyraspides, if suspecting that, in some coming century, their mighty leader, ‘the great Emathian conqueror,’ could by any possible Dean of St. Patrick, and by any conceivable audacity of legerdemain, be traced back to All-eggs-under-the-grate. If the name really is good English, in that case a separate and extra labour arises for us all; there must have been some old Danish name for this most serviceable of fells; and then we have not merely to explain the present English name, but also to account for the disappearance of this archaeological Danish name. What I would throw out conjecturally as a bare possibility is this:–When an ancient dialect (A) is gradually superseded by a more modern one (E), the flood of innovation which steals over the old reign, and gradually dispossesses it, does not rush in simultaneously as a torrent, but supervenes stealthily and unequally, according to the humouring or thwarting of local circumstances. Nobody, I am sure, is better aware of this accident, as besetting the transit of dialects, than Mr. Ferguson. For instance, many of those words which are imported to us from the American United States, and often amuse us by their picturesqueness, have originally been carried to America by our own people; in England they lurked for ages as provincialisms, localised within some narrow circuit, and to which some trifling barrier (as a river–rivulet–or even a brook) offered a retarding force. In supercivilised England, a river, it may be thought, cannot offer much obstruction to the free current of words; ages ago it must have been bridged over. Sometimes, however, a bridge is impossible under the transcendent importance of a free navigation. For instance, at the Bristol Hotwells, the ready and fluent intercourse with Long Ashton, and a long line of adjacencies, is effectually obstructed by the necessity of an open water communication with the Bristol Channel. At one period (i. e. when as yet Liverpool and Glasgow were fifth-rate ports), all the wealth of the West Indies flowed into England through this little muddy ditch of the Bristol Avon, and Rownham Ferry became the exponent and measure of English intercourse with the northern nook of Somersetshire. A river is bad; but when a mountain of very toilsome ascent happens to be interposed, the interruption offered to the popular intercourse, and the results of this interruption, become much more memorable. An illustration which I can offer on this point, and which, in fact, I did offer (as, upon inquiry, Mr. Ferguson will find), thirty-eight years ago, happens to bear with peculiar force upon our immediate difficulty of Fairfield. The valleys on the northern side of Kirkstone–namely, in particular, the three valleys of Patterdale, Matterdale, and Martindale–are as effectually cut off from intercourse with the valleys on the southern side–namely, the Windermere valley, Ryedale, and Grasmere, with all their tributary nooks and attachments–as though an arm of the sea had rolled between them. It costs a foot traveller half of a summer’s day to effect the passage to and fro over Kirkstone (what the Greeks so tersely expressed in the case of a race-course[5] by the one word diaulos). And in my time no innkeeper from the Windermere side of Kirkstone would carry even a solitary individual across with fewer than four horses. What has been the result? Why, that the dialect on the northern side of Kirkstone bears the impress of a more ultra-Danish influence than that upon the Windermere side. In particular this remarkable difference occurs: not the nouns and verbs merely are Danish amongst the trans-Kirkstonians (I speak as a Grasmerian), but even the particles–the very joints and articulations of language. The Danish at, for instance, is used for to; I do not mean for to the preposition: they do not say, ‘Carry this letter at Mr. ‘W.’; but as the sign of the infinitive mood. ‘Tell him at put his spurs on, and at ride off for a surgeon?’ Now this illustration carries along with it a proof that a stronger and a weaker infusion of the Danish element, possibly an older and a younger infusion, may prevail even in close adjacencies, provided they are powerfully divided by walls of rock that happen to be eight miles thick.

[Footnote 5:
I mean that they included the progressive or outward-bound course, and equally the regressive or homeward-bound course, within the compass of this one word [Greek: diaulos]. We in England have a phrase which conventionally has been made to supply the want of such an idea, but unfortunately with a limitation to the service of the Post-office. It is the phrase course of post. When a Newcastle man is asked, ‘What is the course of post between you and Liverpool?’ he understands, and by a legal decision it has been settled that he is under an obligation to understand–What is the diaulos, what is the flux and reflux–the to and the fro–the systole and diastole of the respiration–between you and Liverpool. What is the number of hours and minutes required for the transit of a letter from Newcastle to Liverpool, but coupled with the return transit of the answer? This forward and backward movement constitutes the diaulos: less than this will not satisfy the law as the complex process understood by the course of post. Less than this is only the half
section of a diaulos. ]

But the inexorable Press, that waits for few men under the rank of a king, and not always for him (as I happen to know, by having once seen a proof-sheet corrected by the royal hand of George IV., which proof exhibited some disloyal signs of impatience), forces me to adjourn all the rest to next month.–Yours ever,