Wednesday, January 30, 2008

dialect in Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte includes a character in Wuthering Heights who speaks in dialect. Usually his speeches are brief, so when I can’t figure out a word or two I can at least get the gist from the context of the conversation.

But I just came across a paragraph in which Joseph is reporting to Nelly on the goings on at the old house where she used to work and some of it stumps me:

“’Nelly,’ he said, ‘we’s hae a Crahnr’s ‘quest enah, at ahr folks. One on ‘ems a’most gotten his finger cut off wi’ haudin’ t’ other froo’ sticking hisseln loike a cawlf. That’s maister, yah knaw, ut’s soa up uh going tuh t’ grand ‘sizes. He’s noan feared uh t’ Bench uh judges, norther Paul, nur Peter, nur John, nur Mathew, nur noaon ‘em, nut he! He fair likes he langs tuh set his brazened face agean ‘em! And yon bonny lad Heathcliff, yah mind, he’s a rare un! He can girn a laugh, as weel’s onybody at a raight divil’s jest. Does he niver say nowt of his fine living amang us, when he goads tuh t’ Grange? This is t’ way on ‘t – up at sun-dahn; dice, brandy, cloised shutters, und can’le lught till next day, at nooin – then, t’ fooil gangs banning un raving tuh his cham’er, makking dacent fowks dig thur fingers i’ thur lugs fur varry shaume; un th’ knave, wah, he carn cahnt his brass, un’ ate, un’ sleep, un’ off tuh his neighbour’s tuh gossip wi’ t’ wife. I’ course, he tells Dam Catherine hah hor fathur’s goold runs intuh his pocket, and her fathur’s son gallops dan t’Broad road, while he flees afore tuh oppen t’ pikes?’”

Some helpful context: Heathcliff has returned to Wuthering Heights (it’s a house) and is staying with his stepbrother, the inheritor of the house, who has been surly and depressed ever since his wife died in childbirth three or four years previous. Catherine, Heathcliff’s stepsister, has married a wealthy neighbor, master of the Grange.

Now let’s see if I can translate Joseph’s speech:

”Nelly,” he said, “we have [?troubles?] enough at our folks [your former employer’s house]. One of them almost got his finger cut off with [?hauling?], the other through sticking himself like a calf. [Joseph is talking about the men who work the ranch?] That’s master, you know, who is sure of going to the grand assizes. [An assize, according to the Microsoft Word dictionary, is ‘a judicial inquest or verdict’; as Joseph often quotes from or refers to the Bible and Prophecy, I suppose he’s talking here about God’s judgment on the master.] He’s not afraid of the Bench of judges, neither Paul, nor Peter, nor John, nor Matthew, nor none of them, not he! [Joseph’s saying the workmen’s injuries (or somebody’s) are the fault of the master’s inattention & sloppiness? God’s judgment doesn’t worry the master, no sir!] He really thinks he longs to set his brazen face against them. And that pretty boy Heathcliff [‘bonny lad’ is surely meant ironically], mind you, he’s a rare one! He can have a laugh as well as anybody at a right devil’s jest. Does he never say anything of his fine living among us when he goes to the Grange? This is the way of it – up at sundown; dice, brandy, closed shutters, and candle light till next day at noon [Heathcliff is playing dice & drinking brandy in the house by himself? or does he have friends over? he & the master gambling?] – then the fool goes banging and raving to his chamber, making decent folks dig their fingers in their ears for very shame; and the knave, why, he [? ‘carn cahnt his brass’? I haven’t a reading!] … and eat and sleep and off to his neighbor’s to gossip with the wife [that would be Catherine]. Of course, he tells Dame Catherine how her fathers’ gold runs into his pocket [Heathcliff’s?], and her father’s son gallops down the Broad Road while he flees before [?to open the gates? ?the upper peaks?]”


Paul Thompson said...

I translated most of Joseph's speeches for my site ( This is my version of the paragraph.

"Nelly," he said, "we shall have a coroner's inquest soon, at our place. One of them almost got his finger cut off with stopping the other from sticking himself like a calf. That's the master, you know, that is so set on going to the Grand Assizes [courts]. He's not worried about the bench of judges, neither Paul, nor Peter, nor John, nor Matthew, not any of them. He doesn't care—he longs to set his defiant face against them! And that bonny lad Heathcliff, you know, he's a rare one. He can grin and laugh as well as anybody at a right devil's jest. Does he never say anything of his fine living amongst us when he goes to the Grange? This is the way it is: up at sundown, dice, brandy, closed shutters, and candlelight till next day at noon: then the fool goes cursing and raving to his chamber, making decent folk put their fingers in their ears for the very shame; and the knave, he can count his money, and eat and sleep, and off to his neighbour's to gossip with his wife. Of course, he tells Catherine how her father's gold runs into her pocket, and her father's son gallops down the road to ruin, while he goes ahead to open the gates!"

Emily's transliteration is certainly hard work. It's lucky that most authors no longer do this.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

My partner did guess "Coroner's Inquest" ... but I said, "Nobody's dead!" ... I see now that Joseph meant somebody could be killed at any time.

Looks like I wasn't far off in most of it, which is some relief. I did make a stab at searching for someone else's translation, but didn't find one. Thanks for offering up yours, Paul. I appreciate it!

Count his brass, ah. His brass coins. And the galloping down the road is down the metaphorical road to ruin.

I followed your link. Nice!

Malt said...

Go here!