'Pit talk' the dialect in danger of disappearing

With most of the coal industry gone from the area, so too have the words and phrases used by miners Photo:

Do you know your "shufty" from your "shifter"? Or a "Dudley" from a "Digger"? If you do, the chances are you were once a miner in the East Midlands.

With most of the coal industry gone from the area, so too have the words and phrases used by miners themselves. But now there is a move to make sure so-called "pit talk" is preserved.

MIning was not just a job but a way of life for many

Most pits in the East Midlands have closed, their demise taking with it a way of life and to some extent a way of speaking.

Like many tight-knit groups, miners developed their own slang called pit-talk, with words and phrases that were a mystery to outsiders.

"You can get away with that youth you can go and stick pins in it."

"By, I'm gaggin' for a swaller - where's your Dudley?"

Now linguistics students from Nottingham Trent University are embarking on a study of pit talk, the aim, to record catalogue and preserve it.

"There's quite a lot of research been carried out on pit talk in the North East of the country, in Scotland and even in parts of Canada but nothing around this area so it's interesting for a comparison value as well."

– Natalie Braber, Nottingham Trent

Mining is recorded in the East Midlands as far back as the 1500s but in its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were dozens of pits across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Pit owners often built houses for their workers close to the pit head, so communities were close, almost closed in.

Local accents and phrases grew up often only heard by outsiders in films like the 1960 classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was set in Nottingham.

Many mines have closed down throughout the Midlands

In reality miners were close and spent almost all their time with each other. Put two former miners from Clipstone colliery near Mansfield together and you can hear the pit talk come back in seconds.

'Digger' Dickson and Kevin Cope, former miners

"Then it come to snap time and you sit down and get yoursen a lid, chuck it on't floor, sit on it, then you'd get your Dudley out and have a swaller."

"We weren't as privileged underground, we used to have to get a bag of stone dust and a tim...and sit and eat it like that."

"Shufty....gi's a look. Pass us that shifter...which is an adjustable spanner. If you wanted a pick, it was a shaft or a blade."

– 'Digger' Dickson and Kevin Cope, former miners

Listening closely to all that are linguistics students Chris Dann, who grew up in Russia, and Alice Cope, daughter of Kevin Cope. Alice says she and other miners' children and even non-mining locals probably use pit-talk without realising it.

"Yes, because it's be a big part of the village and even people that have no connection with mining on the village and people that moved into this settlement - they'd have probably picked something up along the way using the local pubs and shops."

– Alice Cope, Student

Anyone with examples of pit talk is urged to get in touch with Nottingham Trent University so that this historic way of speaking doesn't go the same way as the mines themselves.

If you have links with mining and the East Midlands collieries and can share any examples of pit talk, you can contact the team by emailing Natalie.braber@ntu.ac.uk