Samstag, 12. April 2014

The Geordie accent

I’m sorry for my longer absence but the last month was quite hard for me because of some incident. But anyway, now I’m back and I’ll try to post more. 

As most of you know, I have spent my exchange year in the Northeast of England and to be more specific, my school was located in the near of Newcastle… and Sunderland. So on my first days, I got confronted with the Geordie Accent which was an interesting experience. For everyone who have never heard of the word Geordie: It can refer to a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and also to the speech of the inhabitants of that city.  It is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to the speech of the whole of the North East of England.

Strictly speaking, however, Geordie should only refer to the speech of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surrounding urban area of Tyneside. My friends always insisted that there are significant differences between Geordie and several other local dialects, such as Pitmatic and Makkem. Pitmatic is the dialect of the former mining areas in County Durham and around Ashington to the north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, while Makkem is used locally to refer to the dialect of the city of Sunderland and the surrounding urban area of Wearside. Although only 10 miles apart, the difference between Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne is extremely important locally, not least because of the rivalry between supporters of the two football clubs.

So that was a little introduction of the term and during my exchange year I wrote for my English Language coursework a guide about this topic. I hope you enjoy it :)

How to survive a Geordie-speaking area

Staying your exchange year in a Geordie-speaking area? Mai-Anh Ma can sympathise. Here are her tips for making it through unscathed.

You wanted to do an exchange year to improve your English skills? You got into a Geordie-speaking area and now feel like your 6 years of English lesson are useless? At first, do not panic and just pretend that you will get used to it. Sounds easier than it actually is and I know that it is quite tough at the beginning.

When I got to know from my exchange organisation that I’ll be placed in the near of Newcastle and Durham, I didn’t waste any thought about the Geordie dialect. I was just happy. Even when I met my host family the first time, I was quite confident with my English. I understood them quite well, they understood me. Of course, they slowed down a little bit while speaking, used easy vocabulary and standard-language for me, but still I felt prepared for university and my host mother also told me that my English was quite good. This confidence didn’t last long, because when I went to university, I was confronted with the Geordie accent.

Like every exchange student, we were told that the students at university would speak quite fast and used non-standard language and that we just should ask them to slow down or ask when we don’t understand a word.  Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? So I went to university and the first thing I was asked was “Are ya alreet?” My confusing and perplexed face made maybe my classmate realise that he used his Geordie dialect because he started laughing and then asked if I’m alright. Words like Cheers, mint, mental, Aye, etc.. just appeared. And it’s just one of many examples of misunderstanding in the following days and weeks.

Classmate: “You’re bonny”                                                             

Me: “No, my name is Mai-Anh”

Classmate: “Hahaha, no.. You’re BONNY”

Me: “Erm.. no, Mai-Anh..”

Classmate: “Do you want a bullet?”

Me: “Pardon..? A what?”

Classmate: “A bullet”

Me: “Erm.. a bullet? Do you want to kill me?”

Classmate: “Hahaha.. No , a bullet.. Erm.. a sweet”

And also when one of my teachers said to me “Thank you, pet”, I thought I couldn’t hear right.. Did she just call me a pet? Like a dog or a cat?  It is sometimes really confusing when some words stand for something completely different.

I even had to concentrate myself for small talks with classmates, not to mention the lessons. As results, I was tired, exhausted and a little bit desperate in the first days.  And after all, I just could follow the half of the most conversations and even if I asked for the meaning of a Geordie word, I then got an explanation in Geordie. Cheers, mate.

At some point, I realised that there is no possibility than just keep asking for every single Geordie word the people around me are using. Even though I felt really stupid and lost, I just kept asking and tried to persuade people to talk with me in Standard-English. And that is my point. I know that as an exchange student, you are not always confident enough to ask because then you feel kind of “stupid” and the most classmates won’t understand how somebody cannot know such an “easy” word in their point of view. I remember that some of my classmates just started laughing and made jokes when I pronounced a word wrong or when I asked what something means. They just cannot imagine how something for them natural and normal can be complete strange for somebody from abroad. These reactions scared me at the beginning and I felt like the “stupid exchange student”, but then I remembered what this year should be about. I wanted to improve my English and get to know a new culture, so I just kept asking for the meaning of Geordie words and ignored the laughters and jokes. And  day after day, I developed a bag of tricks for surviving in a Geordie speaking area. Here they are.

1. Never be afraid to ask! People may react strangely and made fun about your accent or your pronunciation, but don’t let this make you upset. Just keep asking and be confident about your English. You are here to improve your English, to learn a new culture. Take your chance.

2. Start to collect Geordie words and try to find the structure in the dialect. For example:

·         /æ/ specifically in the words had, have, has and having is pronounced as [ɛ]

·         Geordie speakers do not pronounce /r/ unless it is followed by a vowel sound in that same phrase or prosodic unit

3. When you cannot understand the Geordie at all and really try it, then just ask the people in your environment to speak slower and to use standard-language. They will understand it and give their best.

4. And the most important tip I can give you is: Just be patient! With the time, you’ll get used to Geordie and understand. English is not your first language and it just needs time till you understand a strong dialect as Geordie.

The slogan of my exchange organisation is: “It’s not wrong. It’s not right. It is just different.” And that is exactly what an exchange year is about. Maybe it seems at the beginning wrong to learn Geordie, because your aim was to improve your English skills and to learn standard-English. But it’s just different. You have to give it a chance. An exchange year is not only about improving language skills, it is also about getting to know a new culture. Just take the chance to learn Geordie!

A little video so you can get a video how the Geordie accent sounds :)

All in all, I just can recommend you to visit the Northeast when you are in England. It is really nice there and the people are friendly as well :)

Have a nice weekend :)

                                     Love, Mai x

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