Pronoun exchange in the North East of England: Localised patterns in production and perception
2022-04-14, 12:30–13:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 3

The North East of England is a distinctive UK dialect area. ‘Geordie’, the variety spoken in Newcastle upon Tyne and surrounding areas, is particularly recognisable due to its representation in the media and the city’s influence both within the region and beyond (Beal 1999). However, there are other distinctive local identities within the North East, such that ‘anybody mistaking a person from Sunderland or Middlesbrough for a Geordie has made an unforgivable social gaffe’ (Beal 1999: 34). Sunderland and Middlesbrough, for example, have their own identity labels/dialects: ‘Mackem’ (Sunderland) and ‘Smoggie’ (Middlesbrough). These differences in local identity map onto linguistic variation in these areas (Beal et al. 2012; TUULS 2016-19). However, the grammatical differences are less well understood than the accent variation, as there have been fewer quantitative, comparative studies of communities within single regions, and the North East is no exception to that pattern.

This paper presents findings from our British Academy/Leverhulme Trust project ‘‘Geordie’? ‘Mackem’? ‘Smoggie’?: Dialect differences in the North East of England’ which, in order to identify dialect continua within the North East, investigates the extent to which traditional, localised variants are becoming levelled and newer linguistic features are diffusing across the region. Taking a comparative sociolinguistic approach, we analyse production and perception data (recordings and questionnaires) collected in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. The recordings are sociolinguistic interviews that were collected for the ESRC-funded project ‘The Use and Utility of Localised Speech Forms in Determining Identity’ (TUULS 2016-19). The perception data was collected via a questionnaire which asked participants to indicate if they would hear particular sentence types where they lived. This paper focuses on pronoun exchange – a feature of North East English that reportedly varies geographically within the region (Beal et al. 2012), but little is known about its frequency/constraints on use. The three main types of pronoun exchange in the region are:

(1) ‘us’ for 1SG object ‘me’, e.g. give us it (“give me it”)
(2) ‘we’ for 1PL object ‘us’, e.g. give we it (“give us it”)
(3) ‘wor’ for 1PL possessive ‘our’, e.g. that’s wor car (“that’s our car”)

Results of our perceptual study show that (1) was recognised as a common dialect feature in all three communities, whereas (2) was recognised only by Newcastle participants. Type (3) was recognised by all of the Newcastle respondents but far fewer in Middlesbrough (27.3%) and Sunderland (8.3%), which is consistent with Beal et al.’s (2012: 53) suggestion that Sunderland speakers consider it to be a ‘Geordie’ feature. By comparing these results with production data, we examine whether this truly is a ‘Geordie’ phenomenon or whether Sunderland speakers do use it but avoid claiming it as a local feature, potentially as a way of distinguishing themselves from their local rivals, Newcastle. Our results provide new insights into the relationship between perception and production and the internal constraints on an understudied phenomenon that displays community-specific tendencies.


Beal, Joan. (1999). “Geordie Nation”: Language and regional identity in the northeast of England. Lore and Language 17. 33-48.

Beal, Joan, Lourdes Burbano-Elizondo & Carmen Llamas. (2012). Urban North-Eastern English: Tyneside to Teesside. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, University of York