Northumbrian Language Society


Differences between Northumbrian and Standard English 

1. Grammar:-
* the standard English verb “to be able” persists in Northumbrian in its older form “te can” (from Old English cunnan, “to know”), so that we can say:- Ye’ll he te c’n speak French if ye gan te France  (You’ll have to be able to speak French if you go to France)
Aa’ll not c’n cum the morre (I’ll not be able to come tomorrow )
Aa used te cud sing (I used to be able to sing )

Except in the present and past tenses (can and could) standard English has to use to be able to form the other tenses and the infinitive.
* Northumbrian forms the present participle by adding in or just n to the root of the verb (cummin an gannin) never ing.

2. Sounds:-
* Northumbrian uses vowels which do not occur in Standard English:-
ae(caep/cap), aa (waalk/walk), ai (bait/bait), oe (toe/toe), u (uncle/uncle)
* similarly with diphthongs, we have ey (meyl/mile), iy (siy/see), uw (cuw/cow)
* and among consonants, you can still hear the magnificent Northumbrian burr in words like rruff (rough) and rroond (round)

3. Pronunciation:-
* where Northumbrian and Standard English words are the same, we usually say them differently:-
ee cum ti the Toon an bowt a new short  (he came to Newcastle and bought a new shirt )
whe telt ye te dee yon?  (who told you to do that? )

4. Vocabulary:-
* Northumbrian has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of words which are different from the Standard English equivalent. Here are a handful of the better-known ones:-

Gan = go
Clarts = mud
Hacky = dirty
Fema = fragile
Clag(gy) = stick(y)
Boody = china
Bonny = attractive
Wairsh = weak
Pollis = police officer
Gadgy = man
Mell = hammer
Tab = cigarette
Netty = toilet
Dunsh = bump into
Oxter = armpit

* we have some words which just cannot be properly translated into Standard English. For instance, what word can express all the meanings of our favourite word canny, as in:-

What fettle the day hinny? Wey, canny, noo.
Hoo far ist? It’s a canny waalk.
She’s a canny lass.
Es’s a canny crack.

And what single Standard English word or phrase can be better than upaheight?

5. Tone:-
* our system of tones is different. Have a go at these:-
Asking a question – Can ye lend is a pund kiddah?  (Can you lend me a pound old chap?)
Giving a dismissive reply – Hadaway ye hippy worky-ticket!  (Be off with you, you lazy good-for-nothing! )

Now, you can take any one of these differences (and others which haven’t been mentioned) in isolation, and say “Well, that doesn’t really amount to much of a difference from Standard English.” But put them all together in everyday speech, and the cumulative effect is to make Northumbrian a different language, as different from English as Norwegian is from Swedish, or as Catalan is from Castilian, or as Urdu is from Hindi. Our language is a unique part of our unique Northumbrian culture and heritage, and it is very well worth preserving.


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