Test your Northumbrian “burr”
By Clive Dalton
If you were brought up speaking with the Northumbrian “burr”, the chances are that it has faded over the years, especially if you lived out of the area. So without doubt your vocal chords, salivary glands and tonsils will badly need a work-out. If you have never spoken with a burr and only heard it from the “owld foke”, then it’s time you practised to preserve this very important part of Northumberland’s linguistic history (see Roland Bibby’s story), even if you just use it as a “party piece”.
Here are some exercises: Start off with this classical English tongue twister that most “foreigners” from south of the river Tyne will recognise in English:
English: Around the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Northumbrian: A Hrroond the hrrugged hrrock, the hrragged hrrascal hrran
Now try some Northumbrian farming comments:
English: Right then Ronnie, I’ll be around soon
Northumbrian: Hrright then Hrronnie, Aall be hrroond i’ the hrreckly.
English: Hey man go around and rope the right side of the stack.
Northumbrian: Hey man gan ahrroond and hrrope the hrrite side ‘o the stack
English: Keep right back to let the terriers worry the rats.
Northd. Keep hrright back and let the hterriors hworry the hrrats.
English: Throw the rotten rows into the dyke back.
Northumbrian: Hoy the hrrotten hrraas inte the dyke back.
English: That’s a right royal mess.
Northumbrian: That’s a hrrigth hrroyal hrrive-up.
English: Make sure you rake between the rows and around the ends.
Northumbrian: Mek sure ye hrrake atween the hrraas and hrroond the ends.
English: Reach up and dress the stack down.
Northumbrian: Hrreach up and hdrress the stack doon.
English: Reach around and hand me the right end.
Northumbrian: Hrreach hrroond and hand me the hrright end.
English: Make a tidy job of the raking the rakings in to a row.
Northumbrian: Mek a tidy job ‘o the hrrakin the hrrakins intiv a hrraa.
English: It’s no good ranting and raving.
Northumbrian: It’s nee gud hrrantin and hrravin.
English: There’s a right way and a wrong way to ruck in rugby.
Northumbrian: Thor’s a hrrright way and a hrrang way te hrruck in hrrugby.
English: I regularly drove Robbie’s David Brown tractor across the railway crossing at Redesmouth.
Northumbrian: Aa hrregularly drrove Hrrobies David Brroon trractor hacrross the hrrailway hcrrossin at Rredesmooth.
English: I’m trying to resist reading rewritten recipes.
Northumbrian: Aam htrryin te hrresist hrreedin hrrerritten hrrecipes.
English: Hey, I’ll dare you to ask Rita Brown up for the Redesdale Rant.
Northumbrian: Hey, Aall dar ye te ask Rrita Brroon up for the Rreedesdae Rrant.
English: Have you heard Ronny Ronald whistling like a restless thrush?
Northumbrian: Hev ye hord Hrrony Hrronald whistling like a hrrestless hthrrush?
English: By lad if you keep riving on like that you’ll go and rax yourself.
Northumbrian: By lad if ye keep hrrivin on like that, yil gan and hrrax yoursel.
My great Northumbrian friend Ernest Kirkby visited the late Will Elliot at Greystead, Tarset up the North Tyne. Will worked in Kielder forest, though he hailed from the Holm (Newcastleton). He gave us some wonderful copper-plate hand-written copies of songs such as “Bellingham Show” that he used to sing. They were discussing handwriting and how it had gone to the pack in recent times. Will knew the cause – he told Ernest that “Bhirros wor the hrruination ‘o hrritin”. He could weell hev been “hrright”!
Nancy McLauchlan remembers John Henderson telling her a true a story of a little boy who lived in Kirkwhelpington. His name was Norman Burns and he had a real Northumbrian burr. One day he was playing in the village and the Minister came along and stopped to talk to him. He asked him his name and Norman replied "Norrghman Burrgns." The minister couldn't make this into anything so he asked him again, and again, and AGAIN! By this time Norman was fair frustrated and he answered, "Norrghman Burrgns ya bugger, are ye deef?"