John Larrysson Column: Many British Englishes: The Midlands and the North

Last week I surveyed some of the many southern varieties of British English. This week it is the turn of the Midlands and northern varieties. There are a great many exotic varieties of English in the central and northern areas of the UK including Brummie, Yorkshire, Geordie and Scots.

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Brummie or Birmingham English is a Midlands variety. Interestingly, it preserves some older English words (although their use is declining now). The word wench means woman. In Brummie 'you' may be pronounced 'yow'. Thou (pronounced tha in Brummie) and thee were fairly common in some areas until relatively recently. Thou is the old singular of the word 'you'. Thee is the old form of the word 'you' used when it is the object of the sentence. There are many pronunciation differences in this variety found across the area, so Brummie is more of a set of mini-varieties than a variety of its own. People who speak Brummie are often wrongly stereotyped as uneducated.

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Yorkshire English speakers do not pronounce their 'r's, except where all accents do. That is initially in 'red' etc and between vowels in 'very' etc. They would certainly not do so at the end of words as in 'car' or before another consonant as in 'cart'. The word 'the' is often shortened to t'. The letter h is often silent at the beginning of a word. As in Brummie, 'thou' (also pronounced tha) and 'thee' are still used. The older words 'aught' and 'naught' (with a silent gh) are used for the words 'anything' and 'nothing'.

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Geordie is the dialect of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It is related to other varieties of northeast England. The ou/ow sound is pronounced as a long-oo. Geordie, and other northern dialects, use some words that are uncommon elsewhere, bairn means child, netty means toilet and aye means yes. The name 'Geordie' is thought to be from the early 18th century, when Newcastle people fought for the English kings George I and II and against most of the rest of northern England.

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Scottish English is a number of varieties related to Old Scots, a language derived from Northumbrian Old English. Several vowel sounds are pronounced differently. Long-o sounds are often pronounced as long-a sounds. The ou/ow sound is pronounced as a long-oo. Sometimes in the present tense, all forms use the third person singular, 'they is' is used instead of 'they were'. (However this structure would not be used by the educated in major cities!) There are many non-standard words in use, lass means girl, bonny means good and cam means come. The words this and that have plural forms thir and thae. Scotland probably has more local English varieties than England, but they are generally related. Variations between Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Highlands, the Hebrides etc. are considerable.

Space and ink (metaphorically) prohibits a more detailed description of how each variety differs from the others, or even a full list of the many varieties. In England, if you have a good ear for pronunciation, it is possible to tell in great detail where different people come from.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.