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My mother often uses words like "thou", "thy", and "thine" in everyday speech. A typical example is:

"Thou art a jammy bugger!"

She is from the north of England. I'm wondering whether this quirk of language is unique to her or if it's something to do with the area she comes from or possibly her age group.

She's in her late 50's and comes from Yorkshire. I am just curious, because I also picked up this habit, and now that I'm living abroad and talking to non-native English speakers it's struck me how strange it is.

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Is it really "Thou art" or "Th'art"? I've rarely "thou" fully pronounced in this context. –  jaybee Jul 1 '11 at 8:06
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5 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I grew up in West Lancashire (near the Yorkshire border), and pretty well every one of my parents generation used thee, thou, thy and thine. The first three were sometimes combined into a multipurpose “tha”.

Along with this perseverence of the informal second person singular, the equivalent verb form was still often used, e.g. “where goest thou?” instead of “where are you going” and “what dost tha want?” instead of “what do you want?”.

It can still be heard in the Lancashire/Yorkshire region particularly, in rural areas.

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Thee and thar were the norm for informal speech in South Yorkshire mining villages 30 or 40 years ago but are (sadly) heard much less often nowadays. –  jaybee Jul 1 '11 at 8:04
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Thou art is normally shortened to thar/tha in Yorkshire - but thee, thar, thine are still relatively common, and useful if you want to refer to just one person.

So "Don't thee thar me, thee thars them that thars thee" makes perfect sense oop north

edit: my understanding is that you/your originally was a polite form used to social superiors and thee/thine was the familiar (like tu/vous or du/sie). Gradually everybody adopted the more formal/polite form to sound gentlemanly. Quakers and similar groups deliberately used the familiar form to show that they believed everyone was equal.

Yorkshire continued to use the familiar form because nobody is their social superior.

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What does that mean? –  grautur Jun 29 '11 at 3:18
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@gratur - can't tell you because then you would be able to infiltrate the secret Yorkshire resistance movement ;-) –  mgb Jun 29 '11 at 3:20
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Don't you (sir) use thar towards me, you (sir) should only use thar towards those who use thar towards you (sir) - i.e. treat me more politely. So much easier to explain in German, Dutch, French or Danish ;) –  mplungjan Jun 29 '11 at 16:16
    
@mplungjan. It made sense to me. Upvoted your comment. –  TRiG Aug 5 '11 at 0:52
    
Do you think you could localize the usage more than general Yorkshire? I went to the University of York and spent four years living in York and never heard this. Was that simply the luck of the draw or is it less prevalent in the city? –  terdon Sep 11 '13 at 8:30
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Here tells us that "thou" is restricted to:

It is used in parts of Northern England and by Scots.... In the 17th century, thou fell into disuse in the standard language but persisted, sometimes in altered form, in regional dialects of England and Scotland

It remains, what are these regions? I did a wee bit o' research, and came up with:

Cumbrian:

thew : you

Lancashire:

In south Lancashire...where older people,...will still use the pronoun "tha" or "t'" (thou) and "thi" (thee) instead of "you" as the 2nd person singular personal pronoun, subject and non-subject form respectively; "thy" as the 2nd person singular possessive adjective instead of "your"; and "thine" as a second person singular possessive pronoun instead of "yours"

This is Lancashire below:

This is the county of Lancashire

Yorkshire:

Use of the singular second-person pronoun thou (often written tha) and thee.

This is Yorkshire below:

enter image description here

East Midlands(rare):

Up until the mid 20th century it was not uncommon to hear the use of informal forms of address, Thee and Thou

This is East Midlands below:

enter image description here

Black Country:

The traditional Black Country(English West Midlands) dialect preserves many archaic traits of Early Modern English and even Middle English, and can be very confusing for outsiders. Thee, Thy and Thou are still in use,

This is English West Midlands below:

enter image description here Black Country is to the north and west of Birmingham, and to the south and east of Wolverhampton.

Potteries dialect(Spoken by north Staffordshire):

noticeable features of the dialect....and the use of thee and they in place of you

This is Staffordshire below, and remember, only north Staffordshire speaks Potteries:

enter image description here

Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cumbrian are all in northern English, and the northernmost parts of it speak nearly identically with Scots, who also use "ye", and "thee".

Hope that helps!

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Can you color your map to include all the regions you mention? –  KitFox Jun 29 '11 at 2:00
    
Whoa!!!! Another 3 hours of work! –  Thursagen Jun 29 '11 at 3:13
    
To be honest, I've never heard "thee" used in Scotland (outside church/Shakespeare contexts). "Ye" would sometimes be used though. –  neil Jul 1 '11 at 12:13
    
I've heard "ye" as well. Once, "thee". But I'll remove it anyway. –  Thursagen Jul 1 '11 at 12:14
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Yes, it is or was relatively common in Yorkshire (I don't go to Yorkshire, and I don't know anyone from Yorkshire who uses the old forms, but it doesn't mean people aren't still doing it there). The North has a variety of dialects that remain relatively strong, most obviously Geordie.

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The Amish, mostly in Lancaster county in the USA state of Pennsylvania still use those pronouns.

enter image description hereenter image description here

They also still use horse-drawn carriages and plows though.

enter image description here

Their dialect page on Wikipedia actually doesn't mention this, so I suppose it could be an inaccurate depiction of the language I got from movies and TV. I used to live in a neighboring county, but I didn't talk with many of them personally.

Mentions of Amish speaking this way are trivially easy to find in pop culture though. Among ones I found quickly are Amish Pickup Lines.

The Thou Wikipedia page mentions that "such religious groups as the Society of Friends" (Quakers) use it. Amish are in fact a religious group very similar in outlook to the Society of Friends.

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+1 for the three orange spots. Got any references that confirm this current Amish use? –  Callithumpian Jun 30 '11 at 21:46
    
@Callithumpian - Good news and bad news on that front. The good news is that I added a link to their dialect page on Wikipedia. The bad news is that it makes no mention of the archaic pronouns. I suppose it could just be a popular media myth about their English dialect... –  T.E.D. Jul 1 '11 at 12:05
    
@Peter Mortensen - lol. For a second there I thought you were trying to imply something cynical about Wikipedia. ...Fixed. –  T.E.D. Jul 1 '11 at 12:30
    
@T.E.D., Just because the Amish are similar to the Quakers doesn't mean they speak the same. By the way, I believe the Quakers used "thou" in the nineteenth century, but no longer anymore nowadays. –  Thursagen Jul 1 '11 at 12:37
    
@Ham and Bacon - Yeah, that's kinda what I'm getting at in the text. The linked Amish dialect page does say that their dialect is dying out. The linked Thou page has another following page on the Society of Friends that implies a common feature to "Peace Churches" like Quakers and Amish is a belief in "simple speech". I agree that's way weak though. –  T.E.D. Jul 1 '11 at 14:49
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 1 '11 at 12:33

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