Pitmatic (originally: "Pitmatical", colloquially known as "Yakka") is a group of traditional Northern English dialects spoken in rural areas of the Northumberland and Durham Coalfield in England.

The separating dialectal development from other Northumbrian dialects, such as Geordie, is due to mineworkers' jargon used in local coal pits. In Tyneside and Northumberland, Cuddy is an abbreviation of the name Cuthbert but in Durham Pitmatic cuddy denotes a horse, specifically a pit pony.[1] In Lowland Scots, cuddie usually refers to a donkey or ass but may also denote a short, thick, strong horse.[2]

According to the British Library, "Locals insist there are significant differences between Geordie [spoken in Newcastle upon Tyne] and several other local dialects, such as Pitmatic and Mackem. Pitmatic is the dialect of the former mining areas in County Durham and around Ashington to the north of Newcastle upon Tyne, while Mackem is used locally to refer to the dialect of the city of Sunderland and the surrounding urban area of Wearside".[3]

Traditionally the dialect as spoken in Northumberland, with rural Northumbrian communities including Rothbury, used the Northumbrian burr. This is now less frequently heard; since the closure of the area's deep mines, younger people speak in local ways that do not usually include this characteristic.[citation needed] The guttural r sound can, however, still sometimes be detected amongst elderly populations in rural areas. The variety spoken in Durham is non-rhotic but traditionally still subject to the Nurse-north merger in words like forst 'first' and bord 'bird',[4] which came about as a result of burr modification.


While in theory Pitmatic was spoken throughout the Great Northern Coalfield, from Ashington in Northumberland to Fishburn in County Durham, early references apply specifically to its use by miners especially from the Durham district (1873) [5] and to its use in County Durham (1930).[citation needed] In spite of the shared linguonym, Pitmatic is not a homogenous entity varies between and within the two counties. The Durham coafield is grouped linguistically with Wearside under the 'Central Urban North-Eastern English' dialect region while Northumberland Coalfield is grouped with Tyenside as part of the 'Northern Urban North-Eastern English' area.[6]

Dialect words in Northumberland and Tyneside, including many specific to the coal-mining industry, were collected in the two volumes of Northumberland Words by Oliver Heslop in 1892 and 1894.[7][8] A dictionary of East Durham Pitmatic as spoken in Hetton-le-Hole was compiled by Palgrave in 1896. A dictionary, including analysis of the origin of words was also compiled in 2007 by Bill Griffiths.[9]

Although he did not use the term Pitmatic, Alexander J. Ellis's work on the language of miners "between rivers Tyne and Wansbeck" has been studied as an early transcription of Pitmatic, which used informants from Earsdon and Backworth.[10] In the 1950s, the Survey of English Dialects included Earsdon as a site and many of the forms recorded matched the transcriptions in Ellis's early work, although some appeared to have modified under pressure from other forms of English.[10]

Harold Orton compiled a database of dialect forms for 35 locations in Northumberland and northern Durham, known as the Orton Corpus.[10]

In 1973, a book Pit Talk in County Durham was written by a local miner named David John Douglass, who later moved to South Yorkshire and published a series of socialist books.

In media

Melvyn Bragg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 about pitmatic as part of a series on regional dialects.[11] Pitmatic has rarely featured in entertainment. One of the few cases is the second episode of Ken Loach's series Days of Hope, which was filmed around Esh Winning in Durham with mostly local actors, although the lead Paul Copley has a Yorkshire accent.

British comedian Bobby Thompson was famous for his broad Pitmatic accent, and was popular across North East England.

Related forms of English

Other Northern English dialects include


  1. ^ "Durham Cathedral sermon discussing pitmatic". Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  2. ^ "cuddy". Dictionary of the Scots Language.
  3. ^ Geordie: A regional dialect of English
  4. ^ Palgrave, Francis Milnes Temple (1896). Hetton-Le-Hole Pitmatic Talk 100 Years Ago A Dialect Dictionary of 1896. Johnstone Carr.
  5. ^ "World Wide Words: Pitmatic".
  6. ^ 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)
  7. ^ Volume 1
  8. ^ Volume 2
  9. ^ Wainwright, Martin (30 July 2007). "Lost language of Pitmatic gets its lexicon". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  10. ^ a b c An Atlas of Alexander J. Ellis's The Existing Phonology of English Dialects, http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/EllisAtlas/Index.html, has further details.
  11. ^ Melvyn Bragg explores Pitmatic in a BBC Radio 4 programme