Northumbrian dialect
Native toEngland
RegionNorthumberland and Durham (Northumbria)
Native speakers
At max ~307k (2001)[1]
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Location of the historic counties of Northumberland and Durham in England
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Northumbrian dialect refers to any one of several traditional English dialects spoken in the historic counties of Northumberland and County Durham. The term 'Northumbrian' can refer to the region of Northumbria but can also refer specifically to the county of Northumberland.[2] This article focuses on the former definition and thus includes varieties from throughout the wider region, including Durham as well as Northumberland.

The traditional Northumbrian dialect is the moribund older form of the dialect spoken in the area.[3] It is closely related to Scots and Cumbrian and shares with them a common origin in Old Northumbrian.[4]

The traditional dialect has spawned multiple modern varieties, and Northumbrian dialect can also be used to broadly include all of them:

Dialect divisions

19th century

Alexander John Ellis, a 19th century linguist and philologist, divided Northumberland and Durham into three main dialect groups based on their linguistic features. Ellis considered the bulk of Northumberland and northern County Durham as belonging to the 'North Northern' dialect group. This group was deemed to be a transitional variety between other Northern dialects (those north of the Humber-Lune Line) and Scots, but overall still considered a form of Northern English. However, a small portion of northwestern Northumberland around the Cheviot hills was deemed to be Scots-speaking and therefore categorised as a variety of the Scots language. The southern part of County Durham was considered part of the 'West Northern' dialect group, which was deemed to be more closely related to Richmondshire and Cumbrian dialects, especially that of the Vale of Eden.[6] Like Cumbrian, the dialect of south Durham was subject to greater Scandinavian influence than the rest of Durham and Northumberland.[7] Scandinavian influence is evident in the naming of streams in south Durham, which are typically named ‘becks’ (from the Old Norse ‘bekkr’). In contrast, 'burns' (from the Old English ‘burna’) are found in north Durham and Northumberland.

21st century

Urban North East English dialects are a group of English dialects spoken in urban areas of the North East of England, including major cities such as Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough. These dialects have emerged as a result of the region's rapid urbanization during the 19th and 20th centuries, which brought about significant social and demographic changes. In comparison to traditional dialects, urban North East English dialects have undergone a greater degree of dialect levelling. A tripartite division is recognised among modern urban dialects in the North East of England, which distinguishes between the northern, central, and southern urban dialects: [8]

Central and northern urban dialects retain a decidedly Northumbrian base, but have been shaped by a standard English superstrate, resulting in hybrid dialects that incorporate elements of both traditional dialects and more standardised forms of English.[9] On the other hand, the southern urban dialects have been subject to more significant dialect restructuring, resulting in a dialect which, while still North Eastern in character, lacks more marked Northumbrian forms such as 'gan' (to go) and 'divvent' or 'dinnet' (don't) that survive in Tyneside, Wearside and Durham.[10]



A 19th century dialect map of Northumberland and north Durham. The limit of the Northumbrian burr is shown by the outline.
Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d t͡ʃ d͡ʒ k ɡ ʔ
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʁ h
Approximant (ɹ) j ʍ w
Lateral l


Monophthongs of Northumbrian (Tyneside)
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Short Long Short Long
Close ɪ ʊ
Close-mid øː ə
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ɔː
Open a ɒ ɒː


Diphthongs of Northumbrian (Tyneside)
Front Central Back
Start point Front ai æu
Back oe


Berwick-upon-Tweed is unique within Northumberland. The local speech has characteristics of the North Northumbrian dialect and due to its geographical location, has characteristics of the East Central Scots dialect as well.[15]

A sociological study of the Anglo-Scottish border region conducted in the year 2000 found that locals of Alnwick, 30 miles (48 km) south of Berwick, associated the Berwick accent with Scottish influence. Conversely, those from Eyemouth, Scotland, 9 miles (14 km) north of Berwick, firmly classed Berwick speech as English, identifying it as Northumbrian.

Classification in relation to English and Scots

The Northumbrian Language Society (NLS), founded in 1983 to research, preserve and promote the Northumbrian language variety, considers it divergent enough to be not a dialect of Modern Standard English but, rather, a related but separate Anglic language of its own, since it is largely not comprehensible by standard English speakers.[3][16] Northumbrian has perhaps an even closer relationship with Modern Scots,[17] and both the NLS regard as distinct languages derived from Old English but close relatives;[3] however, mainstream scholarly sources regard them as essentially the same language, albeit with minor differences. The similarities are not commonly or formally recognised possibly due to sensitivities on both sides of the border.[18] The status of Scots and Northumbrian as either languages or dialects therefore remains open to debate.[19]



In 1883 Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte was granted a civil list pension for his work on English dialects. His dialect studies draw upon both written texts and the results of field work, which consisted of the direct interrogation of native speakers. In 1862 he published a compilation of 24 dialectal translations of the Old Testament passage, The Song of Solomon, which he commissioned from local dialectologists from throughout England and southern Scotland. According to a register of his known works, six Biblical translations were commissioned in the Northumbrian dialects, four of which appear in The Song of Solomon.[25][26]

Northumberland Whe's yon it cums ower the moor like pillors o reek, saented wi marrh an wiv aa the poothurs o the maerchint?
Weardale Whe's this at cums out ud wilderness leyke pillers uv reek, sented wih myrrh an wih ōh powders ud merchant?
Newcastle Whe's this that cums oot o the wildorness like pillors o reek, sçainted wi myrrh an wiv aa pouthers o the maerchant?
Scots Wha's yon cumin oot o the wilderness like til lunts o reek, smellin o myrrh an wi aa the pouthers o the mairchan?
English Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and with all powders of the merchant?


Some Northumbrian words include:[27][28]

See also


  1. ^ "Germanic and Other Languages".
  2. ^ a b Riley, Brendan (2016). Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource book for North East English dialect. p. 81.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Northumbrian Language Society".
  4. ^ Riley. Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource Book for North East English Dialect. CreateSpace. p. 9.
  5. ^ "North East dialect origins and the meaning of 'Geordie'". Archived from the original on 24 February 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b page 39 of On Early English Pronunciation, Part V. The existing phonology of English dialects compared with that of West Saxon speech, A.J. Ellis, Truebner & Co, London, 1889 [1]
  7. ^ Beal, Joan C. (2012). Urban North-eastern English: Tyneside to Teesside (Dialects of English). Edinburgh University Press.
  8. ^ Beal, Joan, C.; Burbano-Elizondo, Lourdes; Llamas, Carmen (2012). Urban North-eastern English: Tyneside to Teesside (Dialects of English). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ a b Griffiths, Bill (2002). North East Dialect: Survey and Word List. Centre for Northern Studies. p. 48. ISBN 0951147285.
  10. ^ Kerswill, Paul (23 July 2018). "Dialect formation and dialect change in the Industrial Revolution: British vernacular English in the nineteenth century". In Wright, Laura (ed.). Southern English Varieties Then and Now. De Gruyter. pp. 8–38. ISBN 9783110577549.
  11. ^ Heslop, Oliver (1893–1894). Northumberland words. A glossary of words used in the County of Northumberland and on the Tyneside. Volume II. Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ a b Upton, C.; Parry, D.; Widdowson, J. D. A. (1994). Survey of English dialects: The dictionary and grammar. London: Routledge.
  13. ^ Heslop, Oliver (1893–1894). Northumberland words. A glossary of words used in the County of Northumberland and on the Tyneside. Volume II. Oxford University Press.
  14. ^ Bill Griffiths: A Dictionary of North East Dialect, 2004, Northumbria University Press, ISBN 1-904794-16-5, p. 79
  15. ^ "Visit Berwick | Holidays in Berwick-upon-Tweed UK | Official Tourist Information Website". Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  16. ^ "Home". Northumbrian Language Society. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  17. ^ "Newcastle English (Geordie)". 6 May 2000. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  18. ^ Riley. Geordie and Northumbria Dialect: Resource Book for North East English Dialect. CreateSpace. p. 10.
  19. ^ "Can Scots be English? - BadLinguistics". 7 June 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  20. ^ Pietsch, Lukas (2008). Agreement, Gender, Relative Clauses. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 136.
  21. ^ Orton, Harold (1933). The phonology of a south Durham dialect: Descriptive, Historical, and Comparative. London: Keagan Paul Trench Trubner. p. 18.
  22. ^ Transactions of the Philological Society. 1870–72: 86. 1872. ((cite journal)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^
  24. ^ Palgrave, Francis Milnes Temple; English Dialect Society (1997). Hetton-Le-Hole Pitmatic Talk 100 Years Ago A Dialect Dictionary of 1896. Johnstone-Carr. p. 9.
  25. ^ "Mapping English". Northumbrian Words Project. Retrieved 5 June 2023.
  26. ^ Song Of Solomon, In Twenty-Four English Dialects. 1862. ISBN 1166258874.
  27. ^ "Northumbrian Language Dictionary".
  28. ^ Northumbrian Language Society. "Northumbrian Language Society".

Further reading