CHAPTER 4: The Dulcimer in the British Isles since 1800

Foreword: on the style of language used here

This chapter draws much of its material from visits to living players, most of whom use some dialect forms in their speech, and all of whom have many regional speech characteristics.

The presentation of direct quotations attempts to steer a middle path between, on the one hand, converting them into literary prose, a process which would have sterilised the essential vigour of the originals, and on the other hand trying to represent the details of colloquial language by a written form whicb has no accepted conventions for conveying them; numerous attempts to record dialect and accent in writing have, to my sensibilities only ever produced grotesque parodies reminiscent of the 'Mummerset' of seaside post-cards, insulting to those who inspired them and functioning at best only as an aide-memoire to those already familiar with the sounds they attempted to recall.

The material which is here presented out of quotations is, needless to say, the result of verbal stimuli just as much as that which has been quoted directly; it was important to select a style of writing which would avoid an incongruous contrast between the two ways of presenting a single type of datum, for such a contrast would have not only interrupted the flow of the narrative, but have suggested a separation, even a barrier, between reporter and reported, a separation which for me is minimal if it exists at all.

(An attempt to describe my relationships with the players recorded here would itself constitute a thesis for a psychologist; suffice it to say that it has certainly not been the conventional one of 'collector' and 'collected', and the satisfying culmination of many a visit has been the playing of duets.)

The informal style used in the account which follows should in no way be taken to suggest that the approach towards the material or its collection was similarly casual: on the contrary, it is adopted as the most faithful means of representing the essential flavour of the original oral expression, which is such a vital part of any dulcimer culture. Scholarliness is not itself a goal, but a path, the characteristics of which are objectivity, thoroughness, accuracy and the like, and it is understanding and knowledge which are the goal; a literary style is valuable when it illuminates the scholarly path to that goal: but the present case is a rare one in which an informal style is actually a better illumination, being organically related to material presented.

Such an apologia will hardly be necessary for those readers familiar with the Renaissance idea of 'decorum', the notion of style being appropriate to subject, occasion and genre (52).