Being a Geordie has always been important to me because it gives me a place to be from. I went to uni in the South and never moved home after that, and for the past 10 years I’ve been living abroad. About 7 years ago, I noticed that my accent was becoming softer; my strong “o” became a mopey “eu”, my decisive “-n” became a whiny “-ing”. Nobody actually seemed to care or notice, but in the process of becoming more like them I was feeling less like me.
I began to look down on people who had softened their accents. I saw it as a weakness in character and a mark of vulnerability. I was indignant that I should need to give up my identity to be understood, and I judged myself for bending unconsciously.
My solution was to become bi-dialectal. From one day to the next I decided only to speak Geordie with other Geordies, and to speak a generic Estuary English with everyone else. This way I’m always in control. I made myself conscious of every difference between Geordie and standard English, and drawing this clear line quickly reversed all of the damage done to my original accent. When I speak Geordie now, it’s with a full sense of pride in that core identity. It means that wherever I am, I’m still from somewhere.
Because of all of this I live with two areas of linguistic discrimination. I still can’t help judging people with weakened regional accents as if they’re trying to snub their roots. Ironically enough, though, there are also the people who find out I’m a Geordie but hear my posh accent and assume that THAT’S an attempt to snub my roots, rather than a way of protecting them.
This was a long time ago, but I’m now realising the prejudice at the heart of my experience. From the outset, it’s worth saying, I am originally from Newcastle and at the time had a much stronger Geordie accent than I do now.
When I was training to become an English teacher in Cumbria, I was delivering a lesson on Thomas Hardy’s poetry to an A Level Literature class. I was being observed by my subject mentor. During the lesson I had read out one of Hardy’s poems from the set text. In the follow up discussion the teacher questioned my reading the poem and said with a polite (not polite) laugh, “Geordies don’t do poetry do they?” She had also written these words on my lesson observation form. To be clear, she was specifically referring to the sound of Hardy’s words coming out of my mouth rather than my analysis of the poem.
Only one year later, during my first Year 9 parents evening, two parents on separate occasions made similar jibes about the irony of “Geordies teaching English”. Perhaps this is why my accent is not as strong as it used to be, something my family enjoy pointing out whenever I go home.
When I was growing up I was told by family that I sounded stupid because of my Geordie accent. Because I said aye instead of yes I somehow was just absolutely stupid. So even though I lived in Newcastle I tried to avoid letting my accent show no matter what. Growing up watching TV, Geordies with strong accents were always stupid on it even on children’s shows. I want to go to a local uni because I’m scared of ridicule for my accent.
I’m a Geordie living in London working in a fun industry where joking around at work is the norm. Unfortunately that means my Geordie vowels eg ‘oo’ in book, and my glottal stops, are ridiculed daily! My colleague answers the phone to me with ‘why aye’. Luckily it’s an accent people love and see as friendly!
As a young academic I once had a student come up to me after a linguistics lecture and tell me they thought it disgraceful that someone with an accent like mine could teach at a university (I’m a Geordie for the record).