The 19th century Dorset poet William Barnes has never been a household name beyond the environs of his native English rural county, unlike Thomas Hardy. And if his poems seem a little rustic and rough round the edges, well, he would not have made any apologies for the obvious fact that he may not have had the genius of a Hardy, but he possessed the self same love for the Dorset landscape, it`s people, and most importantly, it`s local dialect.
For William Barnes was an exponent of English purism: English is probably the greatest linguistic sponge there has ever been; it has pinched and borrowed from languages in it`s relentless chimeric advance towards world domination. Barnes didn`t like this dilution of his native Anglo-Saxon tongue; he wrote in Dorset dialect and thought the English had no self respect, and deplored the loss of Anglo-Saxon words to be replaced by foreign upstarts which now seem as natural to the English tongue as Fish and Chips are to the national cuisine.
And there`s the rub for William………A word like `cuisine` would have angered him to distraction; it`s not Anglo-Saxon, it comes from France for goodness sake. Where ever a new word needed to be coined for something new, Barnes thought Anglo-Saxon should be plumbed for one rather than something parachuted in from across the English Channel.
Germanic languages such as Anglo-Saxon can seem brutally direct to ears used to modern English, but England`s Germanic cousins still use similar idioms of speech as England`s Anglo-Saxon forefathers. Modern English is the odd one out in having jettisoned so much of it`s Germanic linguistic heritage in favour of foreign words. Even so, enough remains for English to still be considered a Germanic language; if your ear listens long enough to Danish speech patterns for example, enough words will pop out at you to begin to recognize and understand.
William Barnes was having none of this however: he not only spoke in Dorset dialect, but wrote in it as well, because to him, it was as pure in it`s Anglo-Saxon heritage as a well spring of crystal clear water. He would have liked to put a stop to English continually mutating and morphing itself by continuous acquisition, but to no avail. After all, if it is to survive as a vibrant, living entity, language needs to breath, let out it`s waistband and expand. Otherwise it`s simply a dead language without interest except to academics raiding a lost linguistic ark.
So for William Barnes – the obscurity of academic research: his poems read and listened to by the few who have interest in regional dialects, and for his Dorset contemporary, Thomas Hardy, international super stardom………He wrote in modern English by the way, not in Dorset dialect.


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