English of Northumbria

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Native toEngland
RegionNorthumbria (Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Location of the historic counties of Northumberland and Durham within England

Northumbria English is a dialect of Northern English ("Northumbrian Language" typically only refers to broadly spoken Northumbrian whereas Northumbrian English may just refer to Standard English as spoken in Northumbria [1] and featuring various Northumbrian words and forms[2]) linguistically closest to Lowland Scots.[citation needed] Northumbrian is made up of several dialects, with the Geordie dialect (Tyneside) being perhaps the most famous dialect spoken in Northumbria.[2] The other dialects are Northern (spoken north of the River Coquet), Southern or Pitmatic (typically spoken in mining towns), Mackem (spoken in Wearside) and arguably Smoggie (Teesside).[3] It is spoken mainly if not exclusively in the modern day counties of Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was much more extensive than this, covering Yorkshire and some parts of Lancashire and Scotland.



  • Traditionally, [ɹ] is uvularised to [ʀ], a feature known as the Northumbrian burr. Once widespread across Northumberland, Tyneside and Northern Durham, this feature is now largely confined to older residents in rural areas in Northumberland and northern County Durham.
  • Verbs ending in [t] are often rhotacised, becoming [ɹ]/[ʀ], especially if the following word begins with a vowel. Therefore, the phrase "get away" becomes "gerr away" in Northumbrian.
Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d t͡ʃ d͡ʒ k ɡ
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ x ʁ h
Approximant r j ʍ w
Lateral l


  • The vowel [ɜː] typically becomes [ɔː] ,and so work would rhyme with fork in Northumbrian. For instance, certainly becomes sortainly [sɔːtn̩li] and surge becomes sorge [sɔːd͡ʒ] etc.
  • The letter "i" in words like find, blind or pint is pronounced as [ɪ], as opposed to [aɪ], and so would rhyme with wind (noun) or stint
  • Words ending in [ŋ] (like in the gerund "-ing") are often pronounced as [n], and so the word shopping becomes shoppin or shopp'n
  • The vowel sound [ɔː] as in call becomes [aː] (represented by aa). And so call, walk and talk become caal, waak and taak in Northumbrian.
    • This creates some minimal pairs based upon phonemic vowel length, such as tack /tak/ vs. taak /taːky
  • The diphthong [aʊ̯] in words such as down and town is usually pronounced as the long vowel [uː] or [yː] (written as "oo"), therefore becoming in "doon" and "toon" in Northumbrian. However, [aʊ̯] is shortened to [ʊ] when followed by [nd], so "pound" and "found" become "pund" and "fund".
  • The diphthong [eɪ] corresponds to [jɛ] in dialectal Northumbrian speech, such as tyek (take) and fyess (face), but is often pronounced typically as [e̞ː] as in Northumbrian Standard English.
  • Long vowel [uː] or in words such as book and cook, a featured shared with other Northern English dialects. In traditional Northumbrian dialect, it may correspond to other sounds, such as [ju] (eu) in the Geordie word skeul (school), or [ʉə] in the Mackem skewel.
  • Words such as strut, cut, blood, lunch usually take [ʊ], as in other Northern English varieties.
  • Words with the Received Pronunciation diphthong [əʊ], as in goat, usually have the monophthong [oː] instead. This corresponds to [jɛ] in some words in traditional Northumbrian dialect, such as byeth and hyem for both and home
Monophthongs of Northumbrian (Geordie)
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long
Close ɪ ʊ
Close-mid øː ə
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ɔː
Open a ɒ ɒː


Diphthongs of Northumbrian (Geordie)
Front Central Back
Start point Front ai æu
Back oe

Subdialectal differences[edit]

The major Northumbrian dialects today are Geordie, Northern Northumbrian, Western Northumbrian, Southern Northumbrian or Pitmatic, Mackem, and arguably Smoggie, which is transitional between Northumbrian and Yorkshire English. To an outsider's ear the similarities between the dialects far outweigh the differences between the dialects.

One of the main differences between Northern Northumbrian and the Geordie dialect of Newcastle is the more frequent elongating of vowels in Northern Northumbrian than in Geordie, the seaside town of Amble is most famous for this occurrence. Therefore, words like "mam" (mother) are pronounced as "mairm" and can and tab become "cairn" and "tairb" etc. Sometimes, however, this vowel change is shorter, and becomes in effect like the letter "e" as in "to have a wesh" for "to have a wash". In addition, this is true with "o", words like doorknob and no become doorknerb and ner thus adopting an "err" sound.

Comparison with Scots language[edit]

Northumbrian has a very close relationship with the Scots language[4] and both are sometimes considered as the same Anglic language or as distinct but close relatives,[2] with the two being essentially the same language, albeit with minor differences. This is not commonly or formally recognised, however, due to sensitivities on both side of the border.[5]

However, both Scots and Northumbrian are not universally regarded as a separate languages from English, but as groups of dialects.[6]


Northumbrian includes some strong plurals such as ee/een (eye/eyes), hoose/hoosen (house/houses), pee/pesen (pea/peas), coo/kye (cow/cows) and shough/shoon (shoe/shoes) that survived from Old English into Northumbrian but have become weak plurals in Standard Modern English [7]– ox/oxen and child/children being exceptions

Northumbrian uses the singular second-person pronouns thoo and thee. This is a T form in the T–V distinction.


Some Northumbrian words include:[8][9]

  • aa / aw - I
  • aboot - about
  • aalreet (/'a:lɹi:t/) - a variation on "alright" or "hello" (often used in the phrase "aalreet mate")
  • aye - yes
  • bairn/grandbairn - child/grandchild
  • bari - "good" or "lovely"
  • banter - chat/gossip
  • belta - "really good", used in the film Purely Belter
  • bess - "please ya bess" for "please yourself"
  • te boule - to roll, however te boule aboot means to "mess around"
  • cannit or canna - cannot
  • canny - "pleasant", or like in Scots "quite" (therefore something could be described as "canny canny")
  • chud - chewing gum
  • clart or clarts - "mud" as in "thar's clarts on yor beuts"
  • craic - pronounced "crack", meaning "good time" or "banter"
  • cuddy - a small horse or a pony
  • te dee - do
  • deeks - "look" as in "Gi’z a deeks" - "Gimme a look"
  • divvent, dinnit or dinna - "don't"
  • divvie - an insult, referring to a stupid person
  • doon - down,
  • ee - oh, an exclamation of shock
  • fitha, faatha or fadder - "father"
  • te gaan or gaannin - to go
  • gadgie - man
  • git awesh - "go away"
  • geet, varry - very
  • gi'z- "Give me", compare "Gimme"
  • haad - "hold" example: keep a haad means "keep a hold" or "luck after", and haad yor gob means "keep quiet".]
  • hev or hae - have
  • hacky - "dirty"
  • haddaway - "get away"[25]
  • hairn (or hen) - similar to "hinny", see below
  • hinny a term of endearment - "Honey"[24]
  • hoose - house
  • ho'wair, ho'way or ha'way - "come on"
  • te hoy - to throw [24]
  • hyem - "home"
  • uz- me, for example Pass uz the gully meaning "Pass me the knife"
  • ket - sweets
  • te knaa - know
  • lekky - electricity, or electric
  • te lend - often used for borrow, (lend uz a bi meaning "Can I borrow a pen?")
  • like - used in many sentences; usually every other word, e.g. like, is he on aboot me or like, summat, like?
  • ma for "my
  • mair for "more" (compare with German "mehr")
  • mam/maa a variation of Mother
  • man - often used as a generic term of address, as in "Giv uz it heor noo man" or "haway man"
  • marra - Friend. Used like "mate" - aalreet marra meaning "hello friend")
  • me - my (compare: myself > meself or mesel)
  • mollycoddle - overprotect, "wrap in cotton wool"
  • muckle - similar to "canny", in the sense of meaning "quite". It can also mean "big", for instance "Yon hoose hez a muckle windae" means "that house has a big window"
  • ner, na or nar - no
  • neb - nose (nebby = nosey)
  • neet - night
  • nettie - toilet
  • nivvor - never
  • noo - now,
  • nowt - nothing [24]
  • owt - anything
  • pet - a term of address or endearment towards a woman or a child
  • plodge - to stomp about or wade through something ungracefully
  • radge or radgie - crazy
  • sel - "self" as in mesel = myself, yersel = yourself, hesel = himself, horsel = herself, waselves, thaselves
  • shuttin for "shooting" thus simply shortening the "oo" vowel sound
  • snek - nose
  • stot - to bounce. A well-known local bread bun called a 'stottie cake' receives its name from the fact the dough is 'stotted' about when being made.
  • summat or summick - something
  • tab - cigarette
  • tiv or te - to. The former is usually used when the following word begins with a vowel. Thar's nowt tiv it - "there's nothing to it"
  • thae - they as in "What are thae deein?" meaning "What are they doing?"
  • toon - town (or specifically Newcastle)
  • wa - "our". used in a more general sense unlike "wor" below as in "Divvint touch wa bags" means "Don't touch our bags"
  • willent, winnit - "won't"
  • wor - our, Used primarily to denote a family member, such as "wor bairn"
  • wu- "us" as in What ye deein te wu? means "What are you doing to us?"
  • ye or 'ee for you as in What are 'ee deein meaning "What are you doing?"
  • yor, thee - your

Northumbrian Language Society[edit]

The Northumbrian Language Society, founded in 1983, exists to research, preserve and promote the Northumbrian language.

The Society considers Northumbrian to be a distinct Anglic language and encourages bilingualism amongst Northumbrians.[10]


  1. ^ http://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/northumbria. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "The Northumbrian Language Society". Northumbriana.org.uk. Archived from the original on 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  3. ^ "North East dialect origins and the meaning of 'Geordie'". Northeastengland.talktalk.net. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  4. ^ "Newcastle English (Geordie)". Hawaii.edu. 2000-05-06. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  5. ^ Riley. Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource Book for North East English Dialect. CreateSpace. p. 10.
  6. ^ "Can Scots be English? - BadLinguistics". Badlinguistics.posterous.com. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  7. ^ Ridley, Brendan (2016). Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource book for North East English dialect. p. 81.
  8. ^ "Northumbrian Language Dictionary". geordiedictionary.tripod.com.
  9. ^ MorpethNet. "Northumbrian Language Society". www.northumbriana.org.uk.
  10. ^ "Peter Arnold speaks up for the Northumbrian dialect".

Further reading[edit]

  • Bill Griffiths, A Dictionary of North East Dialect, 2005

External links[edit]