Alnwick and District Local History Society, February meeting

LOCAL LANGUAGE: The Alnwick and District Local History Society welcomed Kim Bibby-Wilson to its February meeting to talk about Northumbrian dialect and language.

She is the secretary of the Northumbrian Language Society, which aims to research, preserve and promote the Northumberland dialect.

She started in a delightful way by singing a Borders song, Bonny at Morn, and included a lot of interesting and humorous examples to illustrate the sounds she described.

The language differs in a number of ways from that of the rest of the country.

The main features are: Vowel sounds which do not occur in standard English; vowels which intrude between letters (herd is pronounced herod); and the Northumbrian burr, an ‘rr’ sound produced in the throat, and not rolled like the Scottish ‘rr’ – this last was a North German/Danish sound which developed from the aspirated ‘hr’ of Old English.

The early spelling of wheel, for example, was hweel, but Caxton’s printers turned this round, and the ‘h’ sound was lost in standard English.

The other major difference is in the vocabulary. There are a large number of words of Old English derivation.

Before compulsory education, when standard English was introduced to the county, these comprised about 80 per cent of the words used.

In other parts of the country around 24 per cent of words were derived from Old English.

A dictionary, compiled by Thomas Moody who was born in 1901, has been published by the Northumbrian Language Society.

With these ancient origins, Northumbrian can truly be described as the grandmother of Standard English.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Tuesday, March 27, at 7.30pm. This will be the AGM and the speaker is Marjorie Brown on The Tenantry Column.