Geordie and other dialects of north-east England

by Adam Mearns.

Dr Mearns is a Lecturer in the History of the English Language at the University of Newcastle, and is involved with the Diachronic Electronic Corpus of Tyneside English.

Introduction

The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entry for pitmatic—the language of the miners and pit villages of the north-east of England—is taken from the Times of 21 August 1885, in which a bewildered writer reports on a visit to a colliery foreman’s office

‘thronged with men talking an unintelligible language known, I was informed, as Pitmatic’.

The confusion felt by this reporter when confronted with a north-east dialect is evidently a reaction that survives into the twenty-first century. In fictional comedy, for example, it finds expression in ‘Clive the Geordie’, a character created by British comedian Paul Whitehouse, who is kept as a pet by southerners who fail to understand a word he says. In real life, it is found in reports of a company recruiting Geordie ‘translators’, to act as interpreters for baffled visitors, both foreign and domestic.

The persistence of this idea that the dialect, or rather dialects, of the north-east of England are among the most distinctive, and therefore potentially impenetrable, in the UK has a sound foundation. It reflects the particular developments that have shaped the region over many centuries, with the migration of different groups of people and the dominance of specific industries, for example, naturally leaving their mark on various aspects of local dialects, including vocabulary.

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