No dinlos here…! Students’ film celebrates Portsmouth’s dialect and accent

Lecturer in English and Media - Steve Murray
Lecturer in English and Media - Steve Murray

STUDENTS used Pompey terrace chants and the language of the dockyard to make a documentary film exploring the history of Portsmouth’s accent and dialect.

Project co-ordinator and lecturer at Havant and South Downs College, Steve Murray, said: ‘The idea to investigate the city’s dialect came from the students. The city has a very distinctive accent and dialect which, unlike Scouse, Yorkshire or Geordie, isn’t often recognised nationally. As a result the students decided to make a film which focuses on the proud heritage of their dialect.’ 

Left to right - Anna Morel ,17, Joe Cobbold, 18 and Abiie Spratt, 17, along with work looking into Portsmouth's dialect.

Left to right - Anna Morel ,17, Joe Cobbold, 18 and Abiie Spratt, 17, along with work looking into Portsmouth's dialect.

The English and media students carried out research into the linguistic origins of the city’s language. This included a trip to the British Library to speak with leading dialectologist, Jonnie Robinson, interpretation of terrace chants from Portsmouth Football Club games and historical and contemporary dialect analysis of language used in the city’s dockyards.

Student, Abbie Spratt, 17, said: ‘It was really interesting to see how proud people are of their dialect. One of our key findings was that many historical terms are still prevalent as people are proud of the sense of identity it provides.’

Two of the key words still regularly used are ‘squinny’ and ‘dinlo’.

‘A squinny refers to someone who moans a lot whilst dinlo refers to a person who is acting a bit stupid,’ explained student Joe Cobbold, 18. 

South Downs College students (from left) Anna Merel, Joe Cobbold and Abbie Spratt

South Downs College students (from left) Anna Merel, Joe Cobbold and Abbie Spratt

The film highlights the close connection between a Portsmouth dialect and that of London.

Abbie said: ‘Portsmouth became dubbed as Little London as during the Second World War many people moved from the capital down to the south coast to help in the war effort and the building of ships.’  

The research suggests that much of the city’s colloquial language can be traced back to its naval and maritime heritage.

‘The dialect can undoubtedly be linked to the dockyard and ‘Jack Speak’ – naval language with a nautical connection. Dockyard oysters refers to phlegm spat by sailors whilst skates became a detrimental term referring to the people of Portsmouth – still sometimes used today by Southampton fans,’ said Mr Murray.

The documentary will form part of an exhibition taking place at the Aspex Gallery. In addition to the film, visitors will be able to experience an accent installation.

‘Dockyard dialect has been projected onto recordings of young people talking. This connects the historical context with the current day contemporary use of the language,’ explained student, Anna Morel, 17.

The £34,000 funding for the project was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Young Roots Programme.

A spokesperson for the fund said: ‘This was a really interesting project being led by enthusiastic young people in Portsmouth. Whilst research projects can never guarantee findings so far these people have engaged with their local heritage, produced an exhibition and gained vital skills along the way.’

The film premier and opening night will take place on Thursday, October 18 from 6pm to 8pm with the exhibition running until November 25.