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Teesdale Dialect Project

August 20, 2012

A Shepherd's Score e-book    I recently recorded the Teesdale shepherd’s score that I inherited from my maternal grandmother in order to promote Radio Teesdale’s dialect project. The interview can be heard at

I first started researching and collecting such scores for my poetry pamphlet Dances with Sheep published with United Press in 2009, and soon became fascinated by the similarities between scores around the country. For example the Teesdale count begins:

yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pip,

ceasar, lazor, cattera, cone, dick

Swaledale and Wensleydale have:

yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pimp,

sethera, lethera, hovera, dovera, dik

and Lincolnshire:

yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp,

sethera, lethera, hovera, covera, dik

Some people believe that the sounds are akin to the Celtic or Welsh numbers while others say that they evolve from Scandinavian languages and were transmitted by the Vikings who may also have been responsible for the American Indian system recorded in Massachussets in 1890 which begins:

een, teen, tuther, futher, fipps,

suther, luther, uther, duther, dix

The numbers run from 1 – 20 with 11-20 being made up of 10+1 etc. as in modern European counting systems. I recently read that they may have been used by knitters to count their rows.

Radio Teesdale is a community radio station operating in the Teesdale area. They are keen to record speakers of the Teesdale dialect to create an audio archive for future generations and are holding regular listener competitions to guess the meaning of local words. Run by volunteers, they are also offering to train individuals in recording and editing for broadcast.

Copies of Dances with Sheep are available by e-mailing  A Shepherd’s Score is available for download at



From → Poetry

  1. Having seen and heard the Estonian and Scandinavian row counting poetry I can think that this must be from that area as the knitting patterns common in Shetland and Faroe also appear in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.Design and dialect travelled hand in hand and even as girl I learnt the Gansey poems to be able to do the patterns passed down by word of mouth.Nothing was written in those days.

    • Hi Chrissie. Sounds like a fascinating way of learning patterns. Would you like to share one of the Gansey poems here? I read recently that the North Pennines wool group have designed a gansey pattern for Teesdale. As your own work is well known and admired in the field I wonder if you had a hand in creating the Teesdale gansey pattern. It may be worth contacting Radio Teesdale about sharing your knowledge on this also.

  2. Reading the Teesdale count took me back instantly to my grandmother who was Welsh and who tried to teach us to count in Welsh – so many similarities there.

    • The connection between the sounds is uncanny. A member of the audience at a recent reading of a poem, which includes the first five numbers from the Teesdale score, stopped me afterwards to say how surprised he’d been when I suddenly started speaking in what to him was Welsh. He said the poem took him back to his childhood days and thanked me for sharing sounds that for him were most evocative.

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