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English people asked to name a
famous Geordie would probably choose a soccer player such
as Alan Shearer, until recently England's captain, or
Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne, the tabloid reporter's dream with
a sublime footballing talent only matched by a penchant
for self-destruction. We Geordies (or should I say "us
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
('cigarettes'). The word tab has even gained
currency recently among student populations in the rest
of the country, who also favour the occasional "Newkie
Brown" (Newcastle Brown Ale). This latter name would
actually sound very strange to natives of the North-east,
who usually refer to their iconic drink more succinctly
as dog or simply Broon. A rather
unflattering Geordie stereotype is amusingly caricatured
by Reg Smythe's cartoon strip character, the outrageously
politically incorrect but likable rogue, Andy Capp (You
can check out the latest strip at http://www.comics.com/creators/andycapp/.)
The word "Geordie" is said to
date from the early 18th century, when Newcastle people
declared support for the English kings George I and II,
in opposition to the rest of the population of
Northumberland, who supported the Scottish Jacobite
rebellions. Although the name is localised to the
Newcastle area, the dialect here merges gradually into
the Northumbrian and Scottish dialects to the north and
to a lesser extent into Durham and Yorkshire varieties to
the south. The variety described here includes that of
the region immediately surrounding the city of Newcastle
and the villages of East Northumberland to the north that
I am more familiar with. These villages, until recently
depending largely on the coal industry, are home to many
of the broader dialect speakers.
Visitors from the south of
England are typically nonplussed by a broad Geordie
speaker, which has prompted some to claim that Geordie
could even be considered a separate language. A broad
accent is certainly not intelligible to many other native
English-speakers at a first listening. Peter Beardsley,
another soccer player and Geordie icon, even suffered the
indignity of having English sub-titles on all his
television interviews. This unintelligibility is due to a
combination of variations on standard sounds, especially
vowels, and the use of various distinctive words and
grammatical structures. In recent years, the problem of
mis-communication has diminished to a degree. Not only
have Newcastle residents accommodated somewhat to the
norms of Standard English, but the Geordie accent has
become better known to the rest of the country through
television series such as "The Likely Lads" and "Auf
Wiedersehen, Pet" and the cult movie "Get Carter." Others
from the entertainment industry associated with Newcastle
include the rock bands The Animals and Dire Straits, the
singer and environmental activist Sting and singer, actor
and hard-man Jimmy Nail.
The relationship between the
local dialect and standard English, like in other parts
of Britain, has not always been comfortable. Nonstandard
pronunciation and grammatical forms have been widely
proscribed in school classes, and speakers of the dialect
themselves will often express a view that their language
is substandard or bad. Until very recently, there has
been no educated role model on radio or television, and
many people from the area feel that they are
discriminated against on the basis of the way they
This is not unique to people
from the Newcastle region, of course, but publicity over
a couple of recent events has highlighted these problems.
The failure of an exceptionally well-qualified applicant
from a Tyneside comprehensive school to negotiate an
interview for Oxford University received wide publicity,
including accusations of elitism from the Chancellor
Gordon Brown, and other ministers in the labour
government. Similarly, the rustication of a Geordie
female officer cadet from the British Army's Royal
Military Academy at Sandhurst renewed suspicion that
accent may still be a cause of discrimination, although
this was strongly denied by the Sandhurst administration.
The officer cadet in question claimed that fellow cadets
taunted her with shouts of Whey aye, man! and she
was told by her instructor that use of the word
knackered ('exhausted') should be replaced by the
more genteel "pooped". She also alleges that she was
warned that Geordie speech patterns such as
sentence-final "like" were not becoming of an officer and
should be eliminated from her speech. As she put it,
"Because I spoke differently they thought I was thick"
(The Times, May 6th 2000).
Nowadays, many educated
Geordies, especially in the urban area, have a wider
degree of competence in both standard and nonstandard
speech so that, depending on context, they have a range
of forms at their disposal. Generally, the more informal
the context, the greater the number of dialect features.
There are also signs of a growing pride in the
distinctive nature of the dialect, with Geordie
dictionaries, versions of bible stories and so on,
appearing on the market, even if somewhat
self-deprecating in tone. There are also bumper stickers
with humorous messages such as Divn't dunsh us, I'm a
Geordie! (= 'Don't bump into me').
(For more background
information, check out the following websites:
dunchus, We'r Geordies:
People in the North-east will
often tell you that a lot of Geordie words come from
"Scandinavian." To be a bit more specific, there does
seem to be a strong link with the language of the
Anglo-Saxon immigrants of the first millennium,
particularly those from the Angle areas of what is now
southern Denmark. Words such as lop 'louse or its
egg', bowk 'belch', hoppings 'fairground',
ket 'rubbish' and worm 'monster' have been
suggested as Anglo-Saxon survivals. Invaders from further
north, known popularly as "Vikings", probably had a
greater influence on the language further south in Durham
and Yorkshire. Geordie language is, in fact, quite
closely allied to Lowland Scottish, although the exact
etymology of many words of the area is still not fully
The following words, typically
used around Tyneside and Northumberland, do appear to
have currency further north into the Scottish
howay 'come on'
donnered ' stupid'
clarts, clarty 'mud, muddy'
gulley 'large knife'
sackless 'stupid, useless'
sneck 'door latch, nose'
dottle 'cigarette ash, droppings'
cushat 'wood pigeon'
hadaway 'go away, you're kidding'
The common word galluses
meaning 'braces to hold up the trousers', seems to have
reached not only Scotland but parts of the US as
Other typical Geordie words are
also found further south, and appear to be part of a
general Northern English lexicon:
give over 'stop it'
wisht 'be quiet'
nigh on 'nearly'
What, then, can be considered
truly Geordie words? The following do seem typical of the
area, although it may well turn out that they are known
outside the area as well.
stanners 'stony river margin'
lonnen 'a lane'
chare 'a lane'
pet 'term of address for females' (e.g.
mairk 'maggot, pest'
gowk 'apple core'
dunsh 'push, bump'
deek 'see, look at'
lop 'flea, louse or their eggs'
marra 'friend, mate'
proggy mat 'kind of woven or patchwork
bool 'wheel (e.g. pram)'
ten o'clock 'morning snack'
cree '(bird) cage'
kiff 'very good (see folk-singer Ian
Anderson's song "Muckle kiff")'
get 'stupid person'
The word canny is widely
used in Geordie with a variety of meanings, including
adverbial 'very'. Varnigh is in common use,
meaning 'almost', or 'very nearly'. Other dialect words
such as penker 'marble' and plodge 'wade
through mud' may have an onomatopoeic element, while a
Romani origin has been suggested for some words such as
gadgie 'chap' and baari 'excellent'. I have
also seen references to an alleged Romani borrowing
jugal 'dog', although I have never heard the word
used in speech. Some indigenous terms are well known from
local songs or legends, but may not often be heard in
conversation today. Examples are singing hinny 'a
kind of pancake', worm 'monster', mazer 'an
eccentric', girdle cake 'another
(For more on Geordie
Most consonant sounds are
similar to those of Standard English. The most notable
exception is the famous "burr" or uvular r sound,
roughly similar to the French pronunciation of "r". This
is by no means universal on Tyneside, but more common in
mining communities further north. It has received a lot
of interest from linguists, although its use appears to
be declining today. Unlike many English dialects, initial
"h" is not dropped from the beginning words, but
word-final -ing is usually pronounced as
The most notable feature of the
consonants occurs in the sounds in the middle of words
like "bottle" "dapper" and "chicken". In Cockney, the
t sound in "bottle", for example, is replaced by
what linguists call a "glottal stop". This is what occurs
in the middle of "uh-oh", where the air flow is cut off
way down in the larynx (or Adam's apple). So in Cockney,
the word "bottle" is pronounced something like "bo-ull".
But in Geordie, the t sound is not replaced
completely as it is in Cockney. Rather, it is half
replaced so that there's a glottal stop and the t
pronounced at the same time.
There may also be a "v" sound
inserted in some sequences, such as "give it tiv
us" ('give it to me') or "A sez tiv im" ('I
said to him').
It is the vowel sounds that
really give Geordie speech its distinctive character.
Like other northern dialects, the u vowels tend to
be short, so that the vowel sounds in the words "foot"
and "bus" are the same. Final vowels are usually given
rather greater stress than in standard English, so that
words like "fighter" and "mother" sound like faita
and mutha. Some vowels involve the combination of
two different vowels, such as those in "eight" and
"throat" which sound more like "ee-ut" and
"throw-ut" (In technical linguistic terms, these
vowels are "heavily diphthongised".) These are the real
shibboleths of Geordie speakers and tend to persist even
where other features of the accent are lost. I remember
in school English lessons our class having to repeat the
sequence "boating lakes" in a (usually unsuccessful)
attempt to master the standard sounds. There are some
more extreme variants too, for example, "take" may be
pronounced tek and "face" fyes.
The vowel in "town" is
typically pronounced "toon." Fanatical followers of
Newcastle United Football Club are well known as the
Toon Army. Similarly, "brown", "about", "pound"
and so on are pronounced broon, aboot and
The position of the vowels as
in the standard English "shore" and "bird" is rather more
complex. There are two separate Geordie vowels equivalent
to the "shore" vowel in standard English. Words spelled
with an "l" such as "walk" are pronounced with a
distinctive lengthened a sound usually written
"waak" in dialect writing. Those without "l" such
as "board" are roughly the same as standard English. The
standard "bird" vowel is usually rendered as the sound in
"chalk", so that "heard" becomes indistinguishable from
"hoard" and "bird" from "board". This sound confusion is
the basis for a well-known Geordie joke:
doctor: "Me leg's bad, man, can ye give us a sick
Doctor: Can you
Workman: Work? Y'a kiddin'
man, A cannet even waak!
Also in Geordie, "blow" becomes
blaa and "cold" cowld, but in other words
such as "flow" and "slow" the vowels are not changed in
the same way.
A number of words are said to
have pronunciation indicating a possible survival from
earlier periods of English, such as gan 'go',
lang 'long', aks 'ask' and deed
'dead'. The word "can't" is usually pronounced
Intonation patterns in Geordie
are quite distinctive, with a rising intonation at the
end of declarative sentences (statements), but the issue
is complex and no definitive studies have been
Probably the most
noticeable feature of Geordie grammar is a confusing
difference in pronoun forms. The term us is used
to indicate a singular "me", while the plural form for
"us" is wu or even wuz. So give us
it means 'give me it' and give wu it means
'give us it'.
"Our" is pronounced wor.
Typical members of the family thus include:
wor kid 'younger brother'
wor fatha 'father', etc.
The plural form yous is
also in use, and possibly arose due to influence from the
large influx of Irish people to Tyneside in the second
half of the nineteenth century.
The negative form of the verb
"to do" is divvent instead of "don't" and there
are distinctive past tense forms of verbs such as tell
(telt), forget (forgetten) and put
A broad speaker might say, for
I telt you to give
us a one, but you've forgetten. If you divvent give us
it noo, I'm gannin yearm.
('I told you to give me one,
but you've forgotten. If you don't give me it now, I'm
The above example also shows
the common combination a one as in "give us a
In many cases, what is the
simple past form in standard English is also used as a
participle in the Geordie variety. For example, in
standard English you say "I took" but "I have taken" and
"I went", but "I have gone". However, in broad Geordie,
I've took one and He's never went there may
be used. The well respected Sir Bobby Charlton,
commentating recently on a football match observed:
"He did well to score from a penalty considering he's
never took one before." This feature has long been
stigmatised as "bad English" but it is actually a
consistent part of the grammar.
Another notable grammatical
feature is a combination of certain words such as "might"
and "could" which are not allowed together in most
standard varieties. It is possible to say, for example:
"He might could come tomorrow." Often, quantity
expressions such as five year and ten pound
are used without a plural -s.
A common discourse feature is
the use of the word man to indicate rather more
than reference to a male person. For example, in "ye
cannet, man" ('you really can't'), the word
man acts as a final particle emphasising the
impossibility of the action. Another final particle
mar has a similar function of emphasis, as in
"it's cowld the day, mar" ('it is really cold
today'), while sentence final like as in "who
says, like?" or "it's not my fault, like" may
request or provide exemplification.
Another difference from
standard English in the grammar is that but can
occur at the end of a sentence -- for example:
It'll be dark,
You might could lose it, but
Also, the object pronoun
can be used at the end of a sentence for
I really love chips
I cannet understand it, me
PHRASES AND REFERENCES
Finally, visitors to
Newcastle might like to try out a few greetings or
phrases commonly heard aboot toon:
gannin? 'How are you?'
Hoo's ya fettle? 'How are you?'
Y'areet, hinny? 'Are you all right, kid?'
Champion. 'Very good, very well'
Bonny day the day. 'It's nice
Cowld the day, mar. 'It's cold
Whey aye, man. 'that's right'
Give ower, y'a kiddin. 'Come on, you're
Hadaway man. 'I'm still not
Ya taakin shite. 'I really disagree with
Ootside! 'Let's settle this outside'
Hoo's the Toon gannin? 'How is the
Newcastle United match progressing?'
Tara now, pet. 'Goodbye (to female)'
Wee's yon slapper? 'Who's the young
Beal, Joan (1993). The grammar
of Tyneside and Northumbrian English. In J. and L. Milroy
(Eds.), Real English: The grammar of English dialects
in the British Isles. London: Longman.
Dobson, Scott. (1969). Larn
Yersel' Geordie. Newcastle: Frank Graham
Elliott, Andrew (1986). The
Geordie Bible. Rothbury: Butler
Geeson, Cecil (1969). A
Northumberland and Durham Word Book. Harold
Graham, Frank (1987). The
New Geordie Dictionary. Rothbury: Butler
Hughes, Arthur & Trudgill,
Peter. (1996). English accents and dialects: An
introduction to social and regional varieties of English
in the British Isles (3rd edition). London:
McDonald, Christine. (1981).
Variation in the use of modal verbs, with special
reference to Tyneside English. University of Newcastle:
Unpublished PhD thesis.
Simpson, David. (1999). The
Millennium History of North East England. Sunderland:
Watt, Dominic & Milroy,
Lesley. (1999). Patterns of variation and change in three
Newcastle vowels: is this dialect levelling? In Paul
Foulkes and Gerard Docherty, Urban Voices: Accent
Studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold. pp.