I believe that virtue shows quite as well in rags and patches as she does in purple and fine linen,… even if Gargery and Boffin did not speak like gentlemen, they were gentlemen.
Last week I read a newspaper article about the banning in France of discrimination against those with regional accents. It now stands alongside racism, sexism, and other bigotry.
I have an accent, and so does anyone reading this. Even the ‘Queens English’ or Received Pronunciation, to use its proper name, is an accent.
My north-eastern accent has softened over the years. Not because of some deliberate act on my part. I’ve never felt stigmatised by having a ‘regional’ accent. However, on first moving to London, my accent, coupled with the north-eastern dialect, made me difficult to understand at times.
I quickly learned that to order a Coke in a pub meant spelling out the full name of Coca Cola. Otherwise, I received a quizzical look and a, “why did you want a cork?”
The dialect was the first thing that faded. Telling someone, “you’ll get wrong”, rather than “you’ll be told off” just raised confusion. As did the use of such words as netty (toilet), tab (cigarette), bogey (cart), bait (food), chutty (chewing gum) and spelk (splinter) etc.
There are some words from my youth that I still use — Howay, for instance.
Howay the Lads! — play up Newcastle!
Howay man — get a move on
But this mustn’t be confused with Hadaway — stop pulling my leg.
These days I might say good morning or hello when out for a stroll, but I do miss the call of “alreet?” That’s offered in the northeast. The answer varying from “aye, champion” (very well thanks), or “canny” (more on that one later)
Of course, while my use of dialect has almost disappeared, my accent is still noticeable for some words. When younger, my children took great delight in asking me how I said a particular word in “your language”. Even now I receive a gentle leg-pull from family members when I pronounce moor (emphasis very much on the oo), or boat, goat etc. (bow-at, go-at). Even the simple word, no can raise a smile (Noah), and I’ve already mentioned Coke.
Interestingly when I become agitated or return to the northeast, both my accent broadens and use of dialect returns — an unconscious act on my part.
You’ll note I’ve not used Geordie to describe my dialect/accent as, like Cockney, it’s a prescriptive term. A true Geordie would need to be born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. When I was young, the definition was even narrower than that. A true cockney is one born within the sound of the bells of Mary-le-Bow church. Likewise, Geordies were those born within reach of Armstrong’s factory whistle. Armstrong was a 19th Century industrialist born and bred in Newcastle.
To my ear, the Tyneside accent is quite different from say a Wearside or Teesside accent. I describe the first as ‘sing-song’ in contrast to the flatter sounds of the other two. And no, that’s not my bias of black and white over red and white. If anything, what’s left of my accent is closer to that of Sunderland than Newcastle. If someone hails from Sunderland, they carry the term ‘Mackem’, not Geordie. Teessiders are Smoggies and in times past pit-yakkers was the term for people from mining towns (that would be me) and Sandancers, were those who hail exclusively from South Shields.
Have I a favourite dialect/accent? Well, the lilt of the southern Irish brogue is gentle on the ear. Although not heard as much as one would think I like the sound of a true cockney (often confused with estuary English). My favourite, and it may come as a surprise, is Glaswegian. I think there’s a purity to that accent and in general, I love the Scots pronunciation of such words as ‘tortoise’.
While on favourite words. Do you have one? Many favour serendipity. One of mine is loquacious (I would like that one, wouldn’t I?) But going back to my native northeast, my favourite word from there is ‘canny’. Not for its sound but because of its flexibility of use.
It’s a canny shank — it’s quite a long walk.
She/he’s a canny bairn — she/he is a lovely baby.
She/he’s a canny Lass / Lad — She/he is a caring individual.
Gan canny now — take care.
Its canny oot — the weather isn’t bad.
Aye, I’m feeling canny — I’m well.
In fact, the only meaning canny doesn’t have in the northeast is to be shrewd or crafty.
In the mid-seventies, I happened to be in a pub in a Kent village when my ear picked up words that I recognised from the northeast, spoken between a group of men. Yet the pronunciation was not that of the northeast. The words were marra and kidda the northeast equivalent of ‘mate’. I couldn’t help but ask about the use of these words. The men explained that some of their grandparents ’emigrated’ from the northeast after the discovery of coal in Kent. Most of the vocabulary they brought with them had disappeared, but these two words still proliferated. Words of endearment between friends.
Gan canny everyone!