Tyneside English, otherwise known as ‘Geordie’, is one of the most distinctive and unique accents of the United Kingdom. This essay focuses on the phonology, lexis and grammar of this particular dialect, and the historical, social and geographical factors which have influenced its distinctive features. Phonologically, the features analysed are TH-fronting, glottalisation and centring diphthongs, grammatically I have looked at second person pronouns and double modals and the final feature I have analysed is a lexical feature, the term ‘netty’. Several academic sources have been used in this essay and thus a brief evaluation of the reliability of them have been discussed.
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Firstly, looking at the phonology of Tyneside English, a striking feature is TH-fronting, which historically, is a merger that occurs in several dialects, including Cockney and Liberian English. The labiodental fricatives /f/ and /v/ are merged with the Early Modern English dental fricatives /Î¸/ and /Ã°/, for instance the adjective ‘three’ is pronounced as the adjective ‘free’. A geographical factor which may have influenced TH-fronting in Newcastle is a pattern of “wave or contagion diffusion” (Beal 2010:81). TH-fronting is an “established feature of London speech” and the feature is “spreading westwards and northwards from London” and thus is “only just beginning to be adopted in Newcastle”. As Kerswill claims, TH-fronting is “adopted later the further North you go” (Beal 2010:81).
A social factor which may have influenced the spread of TH-fronting to areas like Newcastle from London is the popularity of the media, which have made people less oblivious than previous generations of a large range of accent features. Current evidence suggests individuals and communities imitate people when they meet them and thus adopt new forms of pronunciation, which appear to be extremely “stigmatised features” (BBC Voices). In addition, prejudice and stereotyping may be another social factor, as “labiodental variants have traditionally been socially stigmatised and therefore tend to be avoided by middle-class speakers” (Schneider 2004:192).
Another phonological feature of Tyneside English is that of glottalisation, for instance the voiced alveolar plosive /p/ is accompanied by a glottal stop /Ê”/ in between vowels. An example of this is /hæÊ”pi:/, as opposed to the Standard English /hæpi/. Beal (2010) states a geographical factor which may have influenced this: the diffusion of Estuary English from London to urban areas much further North, such as Newcastle. However, an alternative view concerning the origin of glottalisation is that it was first observed in the “west of Scotland as early as 1860” and didn’t occur in London until the “beginning of the twentieth century” (Pérez-Guerra 2007:39).
A social factor which may have influenced the distribution of glottalisation is the fact that Estuary English has been described as an “accent of prestige” (Anonymous 2006:2) as it is associated with Standard English. The imposed norm hypothesis states “the standard variety has come to be regarded as superior” due to “social pressures” (Long 2002:14), therefore arguably Estuary English has spread because it is perceived as desirable. Historically, “the feature seems to have diffused to urban centres outside the south-east within the last 30-40 years (Kerswill 2003:11). In addition, Beal suggests another geographical factor which may have affected the distribution of glottalisation: diffusion of the “urban hierarchal type” whereby the variant starts in larger cities and then spreads out into the smaller towns (Beal 2010:80).
In terms such as ‘gate’, which is categorised as a ‘face vowel’ in John Well’s Lexical Sets (1982), speakers of the Geordie accent use the centring diphthongs /IÉ™/ or /eÉ™/, rather than the Standard English /eI/. Watt and Milroy (1999) discovered only older, working class males used the diphthong /IÉ™/, whereas younger Tynesiders used the monophthong /e:/ (Watson 2006:56). Watt and Milroy suggest a social factor which may have influenced this: younger Tynesiders are signalling that they don’t wish to identify with their ‘old-fashioned fathers’, but “still wish to be identified as Northerners” (Beal 2010:19). A historical factor which may have affected this is the influence of Middle English. The diphthongs [É›Éª] and [ÉªÉ™] were a result of syllable lengthening, as the monophthong /i:/, derived from the Middle English /É›/, was lengthened.
A morphosyntactic feature of Tyneside English is the distinction between the singular and plural second person pronouns. In Standard English, no distinction is made, as ‘you’ can refer to one person or a group of people. On the contrary, speakers of Tyneside English use ‘you’ in the singular tense and ‘youse’ in the plural tense. This is often perceived as ‘bad grammar’ by speakers of Standard English. However Katie Wales (2006), suggests a social factor which influences the distinction is “many dialect speakers have felt the loss of a singular-plural distinction in Standard English to be a disadvantage and so have initiated more plurals” (Wales 1996:19). This is a valid argument, as the loss of the distinction does appear to be more “problematic” (Beal 2010:40), as no distinction can sometimes be troublesome, as it is not always clear to whom one is referring to. A historical factor which influenced the distinction is possibly the influence from the large influx of Irish people to Tyneside between 1850-1900. Geographically, Kortmann (2008) describes the term ‘youse’ as “Northern” (Beal 2010:40).
According to Standard English, only one modal verb can appear in each verb phrase as they lack an infinitive and therefore the phrase ‘he might could do it’ is ungrammatical. However, in Tyneside English, this does not apply, as long as the second modal verb is ‘can’ or ‘could’ and thus the previous construction is perfectly acceptable. Forms such as ‘he might could do it’ are not only quite common, but also serve “specific pragmatic purposes” (Fisiak 1997:1514). Montgomery and Nagle (1993) suggest a historical factor which may have influenced double modals could be the American and British varieties developing in tandem from some incipient grammatical structure in seventeenth century Scots, as the earliest recorded instances of today’s double modals are in Scotland and Southern American English. (Fisiak 1997:1514). Sometimes, the meaning of double modals is different in Tyneside English than in Standard English. For example, the Standard English phrase ‘The lift can’t be working’ can also mean ‘The lift mustn’t be working’ in Tyneside English, meaning “misunderstandings are almost guaranteed” (Keuchler 2007:19).
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Moving on to lexical features, a common term used in Tyneside lexis is ‘netty’, meaning an ‘outside toilet’ (British Library). A historical factor which may have influenced this is the influence of loanwords, although this is uncertain. It is highly probable that the term comes from a Modern Romanic Italian form of the word ‘gabinetti’, meaning ‘toilet’. However, John Trotter Brockett (1829), connects the Geordie word ‘netty’ to the Modern English adjective ‘needy’. On the BBC Voices website, Yaron Matras points out that “many local dialects in Northumbria have incorporated words of Romani origin into the local slang”. Similarly, the British Library website suggests a geographical factor which influences the distribution of the term, claiming “There has been a Roma presence for centuries in the Borders area and so it is not surprising this has influenced speech in the North East”.
Whilst producing this essay, the most helpful and reliable source available was the British Library Sounds Familiar? website. With several audio clips provided to investigate the Geordie Dialect and a case-study specifically on Geordie, the website gives an in-depth study on Tyneside English. Not only does the website allow the user to listen to voice recordings, it also gives the Standard English equivalent and a detailed explanation of the feature. On the contrary, a website which was less useful, was the BBC Voices website. Although the author of the website is the BBC which is an academic institution, the website used anecdotal evidence to support its claims. Furthermore, the information on the Geordie accent was limited and specialist terminology isn’t used.
Another website looked at was the Sounds Comparison’s website. On one hand, this was a reliable source, as it had a whole section dedicated to Tyneside English and allows the user to listen to every vowel and consonant in the Geordie dialect. In contrast, there was no linguistic explanation to compliment the sound recordings, which meant it wasn’t helpful when analysing the historical, geographical and social aspects of the variables. Finally, another source included in my research was the British Library Archival Sound Recordings website, which was the least reliable of the four. Despite the fact it allows the user to listen to local people speaking the Geordie dialect, the only explanation given is the topic of conversation, rather than a linguistic analysis. Overall, with the exception of the British Library Sounds Familiar? website, academic books were more informative and reliable, in particular Joan Beal’s An Introduction to Regional Englishes (2010).
In conclusion, the Geordie accent has been described as a proud badge of cultural identity, as invasions of the North-East meant Newcastle was “linguistically isolated” from other developments in Northumbria. Moreover, the River Tweed is a significant “Northern barrier” against the influence of the Scots, meaning Newcastle has resisted “centralising tendencies” (British Library Sounds Familiar?) of Edinburgh. Tyneside English appears to have resisted ‘dialect levelling’ which leads to a “loss of distinctiveness in dialects” (Beal 2010:2) as there are “significant differences” (British Library Sounds Familiar?) between Geordie and other local dialects such as Pitmatic.
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