Northumbrian dialect

Jump to navigation Jump to search
Native toEngland
RegionNorthumberland and County Durham
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Location of the historic counties of Northumberland and Durham within England

The Northumbrian dialect refers to any of several English language varieties spoken in the historic English region of Northumbria, the northernmost section of present-day North East England. This may include such varieties as:

This article focuses only on the final variety, most commonly known in academic literature as Northumbrian English or Northumbrian dialect.



  • Traditionally, [ɹ] is uvularised to [ʁ] or perhaps even [ʀ], a feature known as the Northumbrian burr. Once widespread across Northumberland, Tyneside and northern County 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.
  • Words ending in [ŋ] (like in the gerund "-ing") are often pronounced as [n], and so the word "shopping" becomes shoppin or "walking" becomes waakin
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 "find" would rhyme with wind (noun) or stint.
  • Occurring throughout much of north & west Northumberland, the vowel "oʊ" in words like "phone" and "tone" moves closer to a "ɜ" sound, so "phone" would be pronounced the same as the word "fern". Amongst those with stronger accents, the same process can happen to the "ɒ" sound, so "cod" would be pronounced as "curd".
  • The vowel sound [ɔː] as in call corresponds to [aː] (represented by aa). And so call, walk and talk are caal, waak and taak in Northumbrian.
    • This creates some minimal pairs based upon phonemic vowel length, such as te tak /tak/ ("to take" in some dialects, such as those of Wearside) vs. te taak /taːk/
  • The diphthong [aʊ̯] in words such as down and town corresponds to the long vowel [uː] (written as "oo"), therefore down and town are "doon" and "toon" in Northumbrian. However, it is shortened to [ʊ] when followed by [nd], so "pound" and "found" are "pund" and "fund".
  • The diphthong [eɪ] often corresponds to [jɛ] in dialectal Northumbrian speech, such as te tyek (to take) and fyess (face), but may also correspond to [(j)a] in some Northumbrian dialects such as te tak or fyass.
  • Long vowel [uː] in words such as book and cook typically corresponds to other sounds, such as [jʉː] or [ʉ.ə], as in the word skeul (school).
  • Lack of foot-strut split, as in other Northern English varieties.
  • Words with the Received Pronunciation diphthong [əʊ] usually corresponds to [jɛ] in some words in traditional Northumbrian dialect, such as byeth and hyem for "both" and "home". However, older forms such as baith and hame, which are shared with Scots, survive in some Northumbrian dialects.[4]
Monophthongs of Northumbrian (Tyneside)
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 (Tyneside)
Front Central Back
Start point Front ai æu
Back oe


Berwick-upon-Tweed is unique within Northumberland. The local speech has characteristics of the rural Northumberland dialect and due to its geographical location, has characteristics of the East Central Scots dialect as well.[5]

This Dialect has several distinguishing features from the Geordie dialect and features of this dialect include the "Northumbrian burr", a distinct pronunciation of the letter R and elongation of vowels although this feature is not just specific to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

A sociological study of the Anglo-Scottish border region conducted in the year 2000 found that locals of Alnwick, 30 miles (48 km) south of Berwick, associated the Berwick accent with Scottish influence. Conversely, those from Eyemouth, Scotland, 9 miles (14 km) north of Berwick, firmly classed Berwick speech as English, identifying it as Northumbrian.

Classification in relation to English and Scots[edit]

The Northumbrian Language Society, founded in 1983 to research, preserve and promote the Northumbrian language variety, considers it as divergent enough to be not a dialect of Modern Standard English but, rather, a separate English (Anglic) language of its own, since it is largely not comprehensible by standard English speakers.[1] Northumbrian has perhaps an even closer relationship with the Scots language,[6] and both are sometimes considered as distinct languages derived from Old English but close relatives,[1] or as essentially the same language, albeit with minor differences; however, this similarity is not commonly or formally recognised due to sensitivities on both side of the border.[7] The status of Scots and Northumbrian as either languages or dialects therefore continues to be open to debate.[8]



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 – ox/oxen and child/children being exceptions. Regular Northumbrian plurals which correspond to irregular in Standard English include loafs (loaves), wifes (wives) and shelfs (shelves)[9]


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


Some Northumbrian words include:[10][11]

  • aa / aw - I
  • aboot - about
  • aalreet (/'a:lɹi:t/) - a variation on "alright" or "hello" (often used in the phrase "aalreet mate"). The "l" sound is also often dropped, meaning it is pronounced as "aa'reet"
  • 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"
  • bray - to overpower or defeat someone, usually in a physical sense
  • 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"
  • 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
  • spelk - a splinter
  • 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?"
  • yark - verb meaning to hit or move abrasively. Believed to be a corruption of "jerk"
  • ye or 'ee for you as in What are 'ee deein meaning "What are you doing?"
  • yor, thee - your

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Northumbrian Language Society". Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  2. ^ "North East dialect origins and the meaning of 'Geordie'". Archived from the original on 2008-02-24. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  3. ^ Riley. Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource Book for North East English Dialect. CreateSpace. p. 9.
  4. ^ Bill Griffiths: A Dictionary of North East Dialect, 2004, Northumbria University Press, ISBN 1-904794-16-5, p. 79
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Newcastle English (Geordie)". 2000-05-06. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  7. ^ Riley. Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource Book for North East English Dialect. CreateSpace. p. 10.
  8. ^ "Can Scots be English? - BadLinguistics". Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  9. ^ Ridley, Brendan (2016). Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource book for North East English dialect. p. 81.
  10. ^ "Northumbrian Language Dictionary".
  11. ^ MorpethNet. "Northumbrian Language Society".

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]