Mackems speak properly: it’s official, because we say so

At some point in life, a North-Easterner will probably be told by someone that they “can’t understand a word you say”.

Saturday, 18th January 2020, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 3:17 am
These call centre workers are all from Witherwack and therefore have the best possible accent for their, or any profession.

Or more accurately, “carn unnerstend a word you sye”, because the accusation has, in my experience, only ever come from Londoners, or near-Londoners. Recommended responses include: “Sorry, would you mind repeating that in English” and “Why? What’s wrong with you?”

I’ve never encountered this problem conversing with someone from outside the south-east of England. Only those who think that Eastenders has a standard of enunciation and diction fit for public broadcast seem to have a problem. Worse still are the Uncle Toms.

When I was at junior school (skyul?), we were berated during hymn practice (the highlight of the week, unless we could lure a dog into the schoolyard) by a teacher who was Sunderland born and bred.

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During an admittedly limpid version of There is a Green Hill Far Away she stopped to tell us that we were: “Saved by his precious blad - not blud”.

We were too young to ask: “Says who?” and it’s a question I have yet to hear satisfactorily answered.

For some reason she seemed to resent a mob of snotty Sunderland seven year-olds for their inability to speak like David Niven: in a fillum she’d seen.

Other contentious pronunciations include “book” and “cook”, which Mackems tend to pronounce as “pool” or “boot”.

Sunderland folk might be “corrected” here as it’s “supposed” to be pronounced “buk” and “cuk”.

Again, there are ready-made responses, including: “Then why didn’t the Beatles mention The Full on the Hill?” or “Does Steve Davis still play snucker?”

We’re not talking about slang or arcane dialect, both wonderful things. We’re talking about being told our pronunciation is somehow unacceptable.

Don’t misunderstand. Mocking other accents has been a source of amusement for as long as they’ve existed.

Hearing a Geordie belting out a karaoke version of Abba’s Soopah Troopah is a rare joy. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Brummie order crispy aromatic duck.

All good sport. But who are the arbiters of “correct” articulation? Well, there’s a thing called Received Pronunciation, invented by people who thought they knew best.

But again, received by whom? Our whole language is a mongrel from Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Latin, French and more.

In the 1920s a man called Daniel Jones became a phonetician. This enabled him to sit in judgement of all English speakers, while simultaneously recusing himself from getting a proper job.

Tellingly, Jonesy referred to RP as “the speech of the families of Southern English people who have been educated at the public schools”.

Oh dear. It probably never occurred to him that there are no such places as Parkistarn, Arfgarnistarn or Barth. Nor is there an actual Narnia, but at least he pronounced it correctly as it contains an R.

So I’ve just put myself in charge of how we should all speak. Why not? Daniel Jones did. He would have exploded had he ever visited Wearside.

Boo, hoo. The Sunderland accent is beautiful and never, ever “wrong”.