Indexing Bob Cranky: social meaning and the voices of pitmen and keelmen in early nineteenth-century Tyneside song

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Abstract

This article examines the social meanings (indexical relations) of Tyneside dialect spoken by pitmen and keelmen in early nineteenth-century Tyneside dialect songs. I focus on the pitman Bob Cranky. Pieces about Bob and other pitmen and keelmen emerge from a song culture enjoyed by audiences of clerks, artisans, and shopkeepers. A debate emerged from the 1970s as to whether Bob is a subject of satire who could not appeal to a ‘working man’, or whether pitmen and keelmen derived self-celebration from him. Recently, the perspective of self-celebration has dominated. The songs, northern dialect literature more broadly, and dialect itself are said to promote communal values, regional, local, and ‘working-class’ solidarity, and populism. I show that pitmen and keelmen are most closely associated in the songs with non-standard spellings and with expletives. Employing a notion of dialogism, I argue that the meaning of the songs and the language attributed to pitmen or keelmen depends on the attitudes of audiences towards their behaviour, and towards nineteenth-century discourses of respectability and correct language. Bob and his speech may be the subjects of satirical mockery, resistance to ‘respectability’, or self-celebration. The material also has potential to convey labouring-class and regional solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-180
JournalVictoriographies
Volume4
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes

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