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Parsley, steamrollers and the letter “H”: how dialect shibboleths reflect our differences—for better or worse

As the popularity of the recent New York Times dialect quiz reminds us, we're fascinated by what our speech says about who we are. But what happens when telling "us" from "them" becomes a dangerous pursuit?

By Darran Anderson  

In the poem ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ from his 1975 collection North, Seamus Heaney encapsulated the dangers in Northern Irish speech during the Troubles. This was a “land of password, handgrip, wink and nod”; a place where language could be read for clues as to the religious background and political persuasion. Accents, pronunciations and differences in word usage were shibboleths that could give identity away. If a person said Derry rather than Londonderry,…

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