21. Was it something I said?

See yiz layta” the girl shouted to her departing friends in the middle of my north-east high street, to which they replied “laytaz” as they walked off ‘fag’ in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I doubt whether I would have said that when I was her age but what would I have said? Perhaps “ta-rah” or “bye” or “bye-now”, but “later” would never have crossed my mind unless I intended seeing them the same day!

Much is talked about the misuse of language or the demise of dialect, but although it is changing, it’s alive and well and living round here. When we were young we learned to speak by listening to our parents and other people within earshot. I remember my father having one way of speaking to friends and another for talking to ‘more educated’ folk. I once queried as to why he had been speaking ‘posh‘ to someone, but I was probably  too young at that time to understand his reason, even if he knew why, or even that, he had done it. I recall having to adapt “bath” to “barth” and “glass” to “glarse” when I first moved south, and although I didn’t want-to, it made life easier.

When I had been ‘living away’ for some time, I could pin a Geordie to within a few miles of their roots; something I never thought of when I lived here. The reason I could discern the locale of a Geordie accent/dialect was really that there was no such thing. Instead there were many dialects which grew up in locations where most people worked in the same colliery, shipyard or farm and there was, of course  no radio, TV or ‘fillums’ to corrupt what was already there. A Northumbrian speaks differently from a Tynesider and a pitman from a hill-farmer. Indeed there is an area, where the majority of the coal-mines were, that spoke a dialect known locally as ‘pitmatic’ that was barely understood outside that area and modified traces of it live on.

A while ago one of my many grandchildren pointed out that “The Mailman” was here; a portent of the language of children raised by US TV I fear, but part of the language changes that have and will always happen: who knew what a pizza was, not so many years ago?

For those, like me, who confuse dialect with accent; doon and down is the same word in a different accent where ‘hoy’ and ‘chuck’ both mean throw in different dialects. I’m sure you can think of many for yourselves, but I include a link to a Geordie dictionary at the end of the blog. There are some words there that you never hear anymore and some like ‘howay’ that refuse to die. My mother used to send me out to ‘get the messages’ a term also used north of the border to mean ‘get some shopping’.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable is the public use of swearwords although I know there is no logic to this. As a child I never heard my father swear, although I’m fairly sure he must have done. An uncle of mine never swore at home, but in the public (men only) bar of his local, his language was liberally peppered with b’s and f’s. Having worked manually I know that the use of ‘bad language’ is the norm in the workplace, yet even now in my local pub anyone effin’ and blindin’ is soon told to mind their language (ladies present!) by staff and customers alike. It would be interesting to hear a true rendering of the language in the trenches of WW1 and the beaches of WW2. I doubt it would bear any relation to what we hear in the black and white films shown on TV.

Where to next? Nowhere special, I suspect, as not much has changed in my 70 odd years, although what I probably mean is that a lot has changed, but so slowly that I barely noticed. There was a threat that text-speak might do away with vowels, but social media like Facebook and Twitter does not seem to bear that out, and many children (and adults) are writing and reading more than they would have done without this. The foreign words brought back from The Empire are now part of our language as are many of the words brought in by recent immigrants.

As for ‘Geordie’ ah diven’t think or perhaps that should be “Ah dain’t think” we have much to worry about for a while yet. After all how many of you remember how many pennies made a shilling or how many chains made a furlong?

The dictionary: http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/GeordieDictionary.html

The translator: http://www.geordie.org.uk/

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