Geordie Accent and Tyneside English
On the Language and the Dialect Spoken in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 23 Pages
Table of Contents
II. Historical Aspects of Tyneside English
III. Tyneside Grammar
III.1 Introductory Comment
111.2 Verb Phrases
111.4 Noun Phrases
111.5 Sentence-final Elements
IV. Tyneside Phonology
IV.1 General Overview
IV.2 Newcastle Vowels
V. Geordie Lexis
VII. Literature Consulted
What is a Geordie? Where does a Geordie live? And how does a Geordie speak and write? There have been countless debates about the definition of the term ‘Geordie’. Oftentimes it has been applied to people all across the Northeast of England. In contrast to this, recent studies consider the term rather inappropriate for people living elsewhere than in Newcastle and its direct surroundings, i.e. the so- called Tyneside. Wells claims the term is to be applied to “anyone who comes from Tyneside” (Wells 1982: p. 374). However, there is hardly any evidence for either theory. The name ‘Geordie’ is obviously derived from the early 18th century, when the inhabitants of Newcastle supported the English kings George I and George II. Thus they had formed an opposition to Northumberland, where it was obligatory to support the Scottish Jacobite rebellions (cf. Smith 2007).
What can be said without a doubt is that people living in Sunderland, not more than twenty miles south of Newcastle, would probably feel offended when being called a Geordie. They prefer the term ‘Mackem’ in spite of quite a number of similarities to the Geordies with regard to language. According to Andrea Simmelbauer, Tyneside English, spoken in and around Newcastle, is a dialect which is “restricted to an area which stretches some 10-12 kilometres to the north and to the south of the river Tyne”(Simmelbauer 2000: p. 27). Nonetheless, the task of a final definition of the term ‘Geordie’ remains and will probably remain unsolved. So what can this paper do?
At least it can give an overview of the linguistic features which characterize the accent that is commonly used in Newcastle and its surroundings. This topic has been covered by a wide range of linguists not only in academic papers, but also in popular, commercial literature: Scott Dobson humorously made the suggestion to “Larn Yersel’ Geordie”1 and Dick Irwin even published a book which contains “100 Geordie Jokes.’2
If so, why not start off with such a joke right from the beginning. It goes as follows: A Geordie in a wheelchair visits a medical doctor. The doctor says: “You’ve made good progress and it’s time to try to walk again.” The Geordie replies: “Work? Why man, Aa cannet even waak!” The joke only works under a certain condition. The listener or reader needs to be aware of particular Geordie pronunciations which are rudimentarily reflected in the semi-phonetic spellings of the words ‘I’ as Aa, cannot as cannet and walk as waak. In this case, it is the word ‘walk’ which provokes the misunderstanding between the doctor and the Geordie. The doctor pronounces it as /wo:k/. Because of his own dialect, the Geordie misinterprets the doctor’s pronunciation as the word ‘work’. On the other hand, the Geordie’s pronunciation of the word walk could be transcribed this way: /wa:k/. The joke demonstrates the extent to which the Geordie accent differs not only from Received Pronunciation, but also from other northern dialects. There are also certain stereotypes, at times even stigmas, which come with speaking differently than others. As for the characterization of the Geordies, “the inhabitants of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its surrounding area are often perceived by the rest of the country as friendly, somewhat unsophisticated folks, usually fanatical football supporters who like their beer and tabs,” the latter being a local term for cigarettes (Smith 2007). They are famous for their local beer brand Newcastle Brown Ale, which they mostly simply refer to as Broon (/bru:n/) and for their local football team Newcastle United FC, fondly called Toon (/tu:n/) by its supporters. The way people in this area use language is to be seen as an important factor which defines their local identity. Besides, it also coins the general image and associations others have when they think of the area of Newcastle. So this paper will show what is striking enough about the Newcastle accent to be mentioned in academic contexts.
II. Historical Aspects of Tyneside English
The short distance between the North-East of England, i.e. Tyneside and the bordering region of Northumberland, and Scotland has been influencing the language in that area to an enormous extent. Of course this is especially true for the similarity between Northumbrian English, which can be located north of Tyneside, and the Lowland Scots dialects. This is to be seen as a result of the early kingdom of Northumbria, which originally comprised the region between Doncaster in the South and the River Forth in the North. In these times, the River Tees served as a borderline between the Northern sector Bernicia and the Southern sector Deira. As a consequence, the same dialect of Old English was spoken all around the Eastern part of today’s Scottish border. Since the Danish invasions in the 8th and 9th centuries did not affect the Northern part, Bernicia, too much, there was not much of an impact on the dialect either. However, there was a great Scandinavian influence on the dialect south of the River Tees, i.e. today’s Yorkshire, Humberside and Cleveland. The dialect of today’s Northumberland and Tyneside remained more or less untouched. Speaking in terms of linguistics, still today, the River Tees is to be seen as an important geographical spot, insofar as north of it, the definite article is not realised as a glottal stop and, until today, the Л-dropping has not made it past Sunderland yet. In fact, it is a recent development that the h is no longer pronounced north of Darlington. After the battle of Carham in 1018, Lothian was separated from Northumbria and annexed to Scotland. Finally, the Scottish kings even adopted the Anglian dialect because the region where it was spoken had become the most influential one. Northumbria now comprised the area between the Tees and the Tweed. It kept its independence under the Earls of Northumberland for a long time and was eventually added to the British kingdom in 1242. However, there was little influence on the Northumbrian dialect, be it Celtic, Scandinavian or French. Because of its geographical location, the standardisation of the English language, which had been spreading from London since the 15th century, did not really succeed in Northumbria. However, there are reasons why nowadays the traditional dialect is rather spoken in the mining districts of mid-Northumberland than in Newcastle: In 1851, Newcastle was the most modern city in the North-East and approximately 10 percent of the population was Irish. This was due to the high demand for labour in Newcastle after 1840 when industry and technology were rapidly developing and rising. At the same time, Ireland had suffered from a lack of potatoes. Although immigration decreased at the end of the 19th century, the Irish formed a large community in Newcastle. But in contrast to other cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester where this had also been the case, the Irish were even well integrated there. Furthermore, there have been many Scottish people moving to Newcastle even until today. Accordingly, it is also the Lowland Scots dialect which has been influencing the dialect of Northumbria and Tyneside the most. The Irish influence is rather a minor one but cannot be denied either, taking into consideration that Tyneside English and Irish dialects share the pronoun yous for the second person plural. In the 20th century, the whole North-East has lost much of its status and belongs to the poorest areas of England because the industries typical of this region (steel, shipbuilding, coalmining) are constantly declining. Today, Tyneside speakers are proud of their dialect but well aware that it is mostly considered bad English, often even by the Tynesiders themselves. So the assimilation of the dialect with Standard English has become popular. (cf. Beal 1993: 187-190)
III. Tyneside Grammar
III.1 Introductory Comment
The following is meant to briefly summarise the most significant grammatical differences between Standard English and the Geordie Accent, or to be more precise, the dialect of Newcastle and its surroundings (Tyneside). All in all, many of the following grammatical features can also be found in other non-standard dialects of the English language; some are, however, to be described as truly unique features of Tyneside English. According to Beal, it will show that this dialect “is as much a complex rule-based linguistic system as Standard English” (Beal 1993: 212). However, he insists there is certainly nobody “who will use all of these features all of the time” (Beal 1993: 191). By doing so, he refers back to the sociolinguists Labov and Trudgill who have already pointed out that non-standard features are subject to variation. Additionally, Beal comments that the exact geographical distribution of the features described is often unknown so that some of the features depicted in the following chapters might not always actually correspond to Tyneside English, but sometimes merely to certain parts of Northumbria.
III.2 Verb Phrases
Although some irregularities of Tyneside verb forms are dying out, some have remained, such as the ending in -en of the participle forms of forget (forgetten), get (getten) and put (putten). As another irregularity, Tynesiders would use tret as the past tense form of treat. Moreover, they replace the verb go with gan. Frequently they also use divvent as the negation of do, at least in sentences like: “I do all the work, divvent I?” It is also striking that Tynesiders add the inflectional suffix -s not only to verbs with a third person singular subject (he, she, it), but also to those with a third person plural subject. Conclusively, they treat certain plural subjects as singular subjects, at least if they are nouns, not pronouns; e.g.: “Things has changed.” But they would also use the form was instead of were in the context of third person plural pronouns, i.e. “they was”.
As far as modal verbs are concerned, may and shall are hardly used by Tynesiders. They are basically considered extra-polite and unnecessary substitutes for can and might. People in Tyneside would even formulate questions like “Will I do it?” instead of “Shall I do it?”
1 cf. Dobson 1986
2 cf. Irwin 1981
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- Dialect phonology syntax semantics morphology accent newcastle newcastle-upon-tyne england linguistics variety vernacular geordie geordies mackem mackems