English of Northumbria

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Native to England
Region Northumbria (Durham and Northumberland
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
Location of the modern day counties of Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear within England

The Northumbrian language or Northumbria English is an English language [1] or dialect of English ("Northumbrian Language" may only refer to the broadly spoken Northumbrian whereas Northumbrian English may just refer to the Standard English as spoken in Northumbria and featuring various Northumbrian words and forms[1]), and a variant of Northern English with the Geordie dialect being one of the subsets of Northumbrian[1] the others being Northern (north of the River Coquet), Western (from Allendale through Hexham up to Kielder), Southern or Pitmatic (the mining towns such as Ashington and much of Durham) Mackem (Wearside) and Smoggie (Teesside).[2] It is spoken mainly if not exclusively in the modern day counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Durham. The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was much more extensive than this, covering most parts of Yorkshire, and some parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and Scotland.


  • 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 the first syllable in "Kindergarten"
  • Verbs ending in [t] are often rhotacised, becoming [ɹ], 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 shopp'n
  • The vowel sound [ɔː] as in call becomes [aː] (represented by å or aa). And so call, walk and talk become caall, waak and taak in Northumbrian.
    • This creates some minimal pairs based upon phonemic vowel length, such as tack /tak/ vs. taak /taːk/
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • The diphthong [eɪ] typically becomes [e̞ː] in words such as lame and stain, but corresponds to [jɛ] in some Northumbrian words, such as tyek (take) and fyaes (face)
  • Long vowel [uː] or [yː] in words such as book and cook
  • 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

Subdialectal differences[edit]

One of the main differences between the dialects of rural Northumberland and Durham and the Geordie dialect of Newcastle is the more frequent elongating of vowels in rural 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[3] and both are sometimes considered as the same Anglian language or distinct but close relatives.[1] However, Scots is not universally regarded as a separate language from English but a group of dialects.[4]


Some Northumbrian words include:[5][6]

  • aa - 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"
  • boule - to roll, however "to 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 "theor's clarts on yer boots"
  • craic - pronounced "crack", meaning "good time" or "banter"
  • cuddy - a small horse or a pony
  • Dee - do
  • deeks - "look" as in "G'is a deeks" - "Gimme a look"
  • divvin or divvint - "don't"
  • divvie - an insult, referring to a stupid person
  • doon - down,
  • ee - oh, an exclamation of shock
  • fitha or faatha - "father"
  • gaan or gannin - going
  • gadgie - man
  • gan - "go" or "going"
  • get awesh - "go away"
  • geet - very
  • g'is - "Give me", compare "Gimme"
  • haad - "hold" example: 'keep a hadd' is 'keep a hold' and 'had yer gob' means 'keep quiet'.]
  • hev or ha - have
  • hacky - "dirty"
  • haddaway - "get away"[25]
  • hairn (or hen) - similar to "hinny", see below
  • hinny a term of endearment - "Honey"[24]
  • hoose - house
  • howair, howay or haway - "come on"
  • hoy - to throw [24]
  • hyairm/ yairm/ hyem - "home"
  • is - me ("Pass is the gully" meaning "Pass me the knife")
  • ket - sweets
  • knaa - know
  • lekky - electricity, or electric
  • Lend - often used for borrow, ("lend is a bi" meaning "Can I borrow a pen?")
  • like used in many sentences; usually every other word, e.g. "like, is he like, 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 is it heor now 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 hed a muckle winda" means "that house had 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
  • radge or radgie - crazy
  • sel - "self" as in mesel = myself, yersel = yourself, hesel = himself, horsel = herself, waselves, thaselves
  • shutting for "shooting" thus simply shortening the "oo" vowel sound
  • summat or summick - something
  • tab - cigarette
  • tiv or te - to. The former is usually used when the following word begins with a vowel ""Theor's nowt tiv it" meaning " there's nothing to it")
  • the - they as in "Waat aar the deein?" meaning "What are they doing?"
  • toon - town (or specifically Newcastle)
  • wa - "our". used in a more general sense unlike "wor" below as in "Divvin touch wa bags" means "Don't touch our bags"
  • willn't - "won't"
  • wor - our, Used primarily to denote a family member, such as "wor bairn"
  • wu f- "us" as in "Waat 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?"
  • yer - 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.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Northumbrian Language Society". Northumbriana.org.uk. Archived from the original on 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  2. ^ "North East dialect origins and the meaning of 'Geordie'". Northeastengland.talktalk.net. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  3. ^ "Newcastle English (Geordie)". Hawaii.edu. 2000-05-06. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  4. ^ "Can Scots be English? - BadLinguistics". Badlinguistics.posterous.com. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  5. ^ "Northumbrian Language Dictionary". geordiedictionary.tripod.com. 
  6. ^ MorpethNet. "Northumbrian Language Society". www.northumbriana.org.uk. 
  7. ^ "Peter Arnold speaks up for the Northumbrian dialect". 

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]