The Geordie Dialect. On Language Identity and the Social Perception of Tyneside English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2017

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Intodruction

2. Theoretical Part
2.1 Terminology - Speaking Geordie vs. Being a Geordie
2.2 Historical background
2.3 Dialect contact on Tyneside
2.4 Dialect levelling and diffusion

3. Linguistic Main Part
3.1 Phonetic features of Tyneside English
3.2 Case study by Watt: “levelling in the Tyneside vowel system”
3.2.1. Results of the study

4. Geordie nowadays - a beloved underdog among British accents?

5. Conclusion


1. Intodruction

There is some question whether Geordies are really English at all. [...] This region has a semi-colonial relationship with England. It wasn't just the Scots and the Irish who were conquered, it was also the North-East.”

(John Tomaney in: The Economist, 25th March 1999)

Being located at the fringes of England, at the course of the Scottish border, the North-East is often perceived as distinct from other English regions. Thus, this region has developed its unique local identity which is essentially borne by the distinctiveness of the spoken traditional dialect - Geordie. Despite its wide regional prevalence, the dialect’s identifiability aspects are especially rooted in the urban area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Here, influencing factors such as football, a strong communal spirit, and recent media presentations have shaped the local patriotism as well as the identification with the spoken Tyneside English[1] . However, the intense local language identification as an authentic “Geordie from the toon” has also been accompanied by a proceeding dialect levelling in the same area. These ambiguous circumstances arouse a sociolinguistic interest in a closer examination of the development, identification and perception of the Geordie dialect. How does the dialect contribute to the local identity? And does the local dialect levelling correlate with a changed attitude towards Geordie?

In order to provide a suitable approach to the raised issue, the outline of this work is structured as follows: The theoretical part will discuss i.a. a brief classification of the terminology “Geordie” (2.1), its historical background (2.2) as well as the phonological features of Tyneside English (3.1). Subsequently, the third chapter will focus on dialect levelling and diffusion in the area of Newcastle. Dominic Watt’s empirical study on FACE and GOAT vowels serves as an illustration for contact-induced levelling in the Tyneside vowel system (3.2). Hereby, further aspects such as gender and social class will extend the reflection of a “Geordie identity”. Taking these points into account, the current status of Geordie, its reputation in the United Kingdom (4.) as well as an outlook on the future of the dialect are presented towards a final conclusion (5.).

2. Theoretical Part

2.1 Terminology - Speaking Geordie vs. Being a Geordie

The term “Geordie” is characterised by various facets which all revolve around a similar substantial subject. However, the meaning of the term has to be differentiated since content boundaries exist. Therefore, the term’s facets will be pointed out in this chapter.

On the linguistic level, the term “Geordie”, or also “Tyneside English”, refers to an accent and dialect which is spoken in the North-East region of England (Wells, 1992: 374). In their definition, Bieswanger & Becker (2010:174) clearly formulate a distinction between an “accent” and a “dialect” of language. A dialect on the one hand “[…] refers to differences between “kinds of language” in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, whereas accent applies exclusively to differences in pronunciation” (ibid. 2010: 174). Since Geordie provides its own unique vocabulary and grammar structures, it rather has to be considered as a dialect. As a result, Geordie lines up within the traditional dialect region of North English. Typical for this dialect region are i.a. the absence of the trap-bath split and the absence of the foot-strut split (Hughes et. al. 2012: 153).

Due to its extensive prevalence across the area of north-eastern England, the dialect is often taken as an umbrella term or synonym for other language varieties in the same region (Wales 2006: 205). This might be reducible to the fact that Geordie grants a description of both language and local inhabitants. Consequently, Geordie as a social marker serves as a name for people from the Tyneside region in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The self-identification of “Being a Geordie” is linked with an intense patriotism for the local area of Newcastle as the region’s capital. However, the boundaries of self-identification as Geordie run stringently. Hence, people from Sunderland or Middlesbrough would heavily refuse being called a Geordie. In spite of belonging to the same dialect group, they identify themselves as “Mackems” and “Smoggies” (Beal 2004:37). This brief overview has illustrated the terminology facets of Geordie - linguistically and socio-culturally. In order to comprehend these mentioned boundaries of the linked local identifications, the next chapter will examine the dialects historical background.

2.2 Historical background

In order to understand the development and character traits of Tyneside English, one cannot ignore its close relation to the genesis of Northern England and its language. When the Romans had left Britain in the early 5th century, they left behind a tripartite regional system: Britannia Superior, Britannia Inferior and Britannia Barbara (Beal 2008: 125). Still today, this system forms the basis for Britain’s cultural North-South division with own dialectic areas (ibid 2008: 125).

Although there is no clear evidence for the etymology of “Geordie” the most plausible explanation attempt dates back from the 18th century when George II of Britain was on the throne. The anti-Hanoverian sentiment of James Stuart’s supporters in Scotland also affected large parts of Northumbria. Whereas most towns of the region joined the revolt of dethronement by the Jacobites, only Newcastle refused to participate in the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. Being so committed to King George II, the rejected Jacobites began to refer to Newcastle’s inhabitants as “Geordies” (Szechi 1994: 35f.). This historical event already emphasises Newcastle’s distinct local identity and peculiarity in early history.

However, probably no other era in history has ever had a higher impact on the life in Britain than the industrialisation. The cities of the North East quickly established as urban centres for “burgeoning coal, iron, shipbuilding and chemical industries” (Watt 2002: 50). At this point, another short theory for the etymology of “Geordie” can be referred to. The miners of Newcastle used lately invented safety lamps by George Stephenson. This technological innovation proved to be so popular so that the miners began to call it after his innovator - “the Geordie lamp”. In mutual perspective, the Newcastle miners who have worn the lamp wear called “Geordies”. At this point, it is important to indicate that the neighbouring Sunderland used to be a centre of shipbuilding. Consequently, the same etymology and identification pattern cannot be applied here (Newell 2004: 4).

Due to the dramatic change in course of industrialisation, a multitude of workers from all over the Kingdom established themselves in the area of Newcastle in search of better working possibilities. It may be argued that this was the cradle of a working-class-coined North-East. At this time the linguistic situation on the Tyneside was characterised by an abundance of different dialects of English. A large number of migrants from the Scottish Lowlands and Ireland lead to a spoken language mix in the area. Because of North-East England’s increasing multi-ethnic population structure during the Industrial Revolution, one can conclude a link to the “mixed stock” of Tynesiders today (ibid. 1999: 42). Each speaker used to speak his own dialect/accent and integrated it into the local language. However, Watt (2002:50) also states that Tyneside English is “ethnically relatively uniform [due to it has never received - SN] much immigration from beyond the British Isles”. The next chapter will be based on Watt’s statement and examine the dialect contact on Tyneside.

2.3 Dialect contact on Tyneside

To non-dialect speakers, Geordie often sounds unfamiliar and very distinct from the southern dialects or Received Pronunciation of English. This traces back to the development history of the local language of Newcastle during the late 18th century. After having previously mentioned the historical impact of migration on Tyneside English, this chapter will focus more closely on the dialect contact between the region of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Scottish Lowlands.

The obvious main reason for the language contact on the Tyneside as well as for the linked connotation of Geordie as working class dialect has to be seen in the growth of industry in the 18th century. In regard to this, Griffiths (1999: 15-16) points out:

The growth of mining in the 18th century [...] must have brought together into the vicinity of Newcastle many workers from outlying areas whose speech clearly was not the modified Standard English of town and certainly nothing like the pure written Standard English of the educated townsfolk.

Furthermore, he argues that in comparison to RP, the spoken language in Newcastle has become a “modified semi-standard” (ibid. 1999: 16). “RP was historically the pronunciation of people from families in the south of England who had been educated at public schools such as Eaton or Harrow” (Barber 2011: 5). However, towards the end of the 18th century, Tyneside English underwent a change in grammar and then nearly approached the same level as the standard grammar of RP. Reasons for this may be found in a contact induced dialect levelling due to a high influx of workers during the industrialisation.

Although the omnipresent Irish community in Newcastle has been the 4th largest in the Victorian England, its influence on the spoken language remained relatively limited (Mac Ralid 1999: 42). At this time Irish immigrants had to face a negative stigma concerning their origin and language as they were considered mentally and physically underdeveloped. Therefore, Irish immigrants were often ghettoised (ibid. 1999: 43). This also explains the minor dialect contact between Irish migrants and original Tyneside residents. Hence, the striking influence on language has to be linked to another ethnic group - the Scottish. Joan Beal (1993 in: Watt 2017: 143) highlights the dialect contact between the Tyneside and Scotland as the following:

The strongest influence on the Tyneside and Northumberland is undoubtedly from Lowland Scots, but this can hardly be called an outside influence given the common origin of these dialects; it must rather be said that the continuing close relationship between Scots and Northumbrians has served to maintain and reinforce the linguistic similarities between their dialects.

The physical proximity to the Scottish border is one of most striking reasons why a large number of immigrants on the Tyneside is of Scottish decent. A first sight on the map of Britain already visualises the country’s dimensions and distances. Taking into account that London is almost 3 times more apart from Newcastle than the Scottish cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow, one can understand easily the closer relationship of Northumbria to the neighbouring Scotland. Additional to the factor of physical proximity, local disparities between the industrialised English North and the rural Scottish South have fostered the southwards migration of Scots.

In conclusion, the close physical, social and cultural relationship as well as the resulting linguistic convergence between the Scottish Lowland and the Tyneside region has to be pointed out. In order to create a transition to Watt’s empirical study (3.2), the next chapter will cover the issue of dialect levelling and diffusion.

2.4 Dialect levelling and diffusion

“In situations where speakers of different varieties come into contact, levelling occurs as a result of a process known as accommodation” (Beal 2010: 74). Here, Beal clearly summarises what has happened to the Tyneside region regarding its dialectic variation. As already shown in the previous chapters, migration to urban centres is considered as one of the most striking forces in the process of dialect levelling. Thus, the regional levelling on the Tyneside will be explained as a basis for the main variations of the FACE and GOAT vowels in the third chapter.

Paul Kerswill states that levelling means that certain differences between regional varieties are reduced and distinctive variety features disappear (2002: 187). Additionally, geographical diffusion which is described as “the process by which linguistic features spread out from a populous and economically and culturally dominant centre” (Trudgill 1983 in: Kerswill 2002: 187), has to be regarded in the same context. Considering the mechanism of diffusion, Beal testifies that “changes involving diffusion have an identifiable historical starting-point and geographical trajectory: ‘new’ variants can be seen to have spread or to be spreading, displacing ‘old’ variants indigenous to the places affected” (2010: 73).On the other hand, dialect levelling also describes the “reduction or attrition of marked variants” (Trudgill 1986: 98) and “requires a dialect contact within a locality” (Beal 2010: 78).

Obviously, these two terms reinforce each other concerning a change in language. Additionally, Beal supports Trudgill’s theory on diffusion: “[…] diffusion needs not necessarily involve long-term contact: a variant can spread as a result of casual contact, which can involve travelling to a larger town or city for leisure, shopping or commuting” (Beal 2010: 78). Hence, the main difference between levelling and diffusion lies in the origin of the change. Diffusion involves the “spread of an innovating feature from a specific locality” (ibid. 2010: 78). Furthermore, Beal claims “that traditional dialects are being replaced by more modern, urban vernaculars, and that, within certain regions, the dialect of influential towns and cities is spreading” (2008: 129).


[1] urban form of the Geordie dialect spoken in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne; here used equivalently

Excerpt out of 20 pages


The Geordie Dialect. On Language Identity and the Social Perception of Tyneside English
University of Potsdam
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Geordie, Dialect, Tyneside English, Newcastle, Accent, Language Identity
Quote paper
Sebastian Nickel (Author), 2017, The Geordie Dialect. On Language Identity and the Social Perception of Tyneside English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Geordie Dialect. On Language Identity and the Social Perception of Tyneside English

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free