Flummoxed beyond words

Following on from my earlier post on accents (and if you haven’t read that, this might not make much sense)…

Reginald Hill has his Yorkshire detective Dalziel saying ‘thyself’ from time to time, but I’m willing to bet that that character would pronounce it, in his own phonetic rendering, as ‘thissenn’ (that’s how I say it), so why the standard English spelling? The assumption here would be that most people don’t use the word so wouldn’t recognise it in disguise and wouldn’t understand what he was getting at. At least there was a standard English spelling to fall back on; most dialect words are rarely written down because (unless you’re north of the border, where Scots is championed as a separate language) we’re all taught to use standard English when we write, no matter what words we use when we speak (and at my school and probably many others we were taught not to speak dialect in public in case anyone thought we were thick…). Sadly, fewer people seem to be speaking them, too.

Previously I gave OneMonkey’s example of “going home” becoming “gan’n yem” (in my standard rendering into well-spoken Yorkshire. Which probably differs widely across the county, but never mind). You could see that as a stretching of the standard English words by a strong accent, but if you’re interested in languages like OneMonkey, and possess a 1919 textbook on Anglo-Saxon as he does (I know, not that likely, but stay with me) you’ll notice that what’s actually going on is that Geordies have a better grasp of Anglo-Saxon than the rest of us. So just as the Yorkshire use of thee, thou and thy (however you want to pronounce them) harks back to a bygone age in the national tongue, the Geordie use of a whole long list of words reaches even further back: in Anglo-Saxon gan=go, ham=home (OneMonkey points out that “yem” as I’ve written it could have had “h” before it), bearn=child, wif=woman. The more you look, the more similarities you find. And in fact OneMonkey has just pointed me at this informative webpage on the origins of Geordie.

I don’t think I’d write dialect in any story, partly because I wouldn’t know how to spell it (because I’m unlikely to have seen it written down, and because of that difficulty I mentioned last time about phonetic spellings) and partly because I’ve been conditioned to write in ‘proper’ English. Both OneMonkey and I are concerned about the loss of accents and dialect though, and our accents have slowly begun to meld together (presumably they’ll meet at Middlesborough in a couple of years): dialect is the key to our distinct vocal identities. Though we both feel slightly self-conscious using dialect aloud after years of suppression for the sake of communication with outsiders, we’re trying to reclaim it in a small way; at least with no children we don’t have to decide on those important things like whether a stream is really a beck or a burn.



  1. How interesting. I still don’t understand what gan’n yem means even with the translation…and I know what a Numnah is, so you think I’d be ahead of the game O.o

    Beck? Burn? You’ve totally lost me.

    1. Beck as far as I know is both the Yorkshire and the Cumbrian word for ‘stream’ whereas burn is the Geordie and Scots word. But I’m guessing there are local exceptions.

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