The oldest living English language

Today’s post isn’t one that I wrote.   I’ve been on the internet way before there was a world-wide web.  When it was all Gophers and FTPs in the early 1990’s and even in the late 1980’s on local Bulletin Boards or BBS.   In some ways the internet of old was a bit better than today; there was less on it and it was at least until the late 1990’s, harder to navigate but it was niche and in some ways had a higher ratio of useful information and much less junk and no advertising.

Today’s post is related to the English language.  I’ve written previously on Do Accents Hold You Back?  Was it something I said? – Accents and dialects of the world and Great Britain   Britain and America – Two countries separated by a common language  and the related Words we still use from Shakespeare!   which takes us onto U and Non-U  and the eternally popular History of social classes and does class matter?   so in this socially isolated days I thought I would add this to the mix.

I come from Newcastle or Newcastle Upon Tyne to give the full name and people from there do have a strong accent and a sense of independence and unique culture that you don’t find in many places in the U.K. and the accent is both said to be the friendliest in the country and perhaps along with Glaswegian, the hardest to understand.  People from the region are often talked down to or made fun of in various way including how they speak.  Much of my school life living near London was just one long tease about my accent and just last year was sneered at in a discussion my betters from the home-counties because I have a brain and and different life experiences and correspondingly voted differently.

It’s that old trap of making the mistake of thinking someone is stupid or inferior based solely on their origins or use of language and most countries have areas that are dismissed as such.  In the UK it is generally the West-country, Birmingham, Liverpool, ‘The North’ which is basically anywhere above London, Essex and industrial Scottish cities, particularly Glasgow.  There are states in America that have the same reputation and we all know of entire countries that are labelled similarly even though if you happen to have a friend or family from them they are of course different and not included.

One of the things I used to enjoy doing at University and to a degree still do is confound expectations and not be like what people think I am or do what people think I do.  On the commuter trains there was a pecking order of reading material.  The Times and Financial Times readers would look down on the Guardian and Mail readers and they in turn would look down on the tabloid readers who would look down on this shabbily dressed African and Asian History and Politics student until I’d pull out my Aristotle, Milton, Hobbes, Rousseau type works which made them go back behind their newspapers or indeed shuffle nervously if I would laugh out loud or say things like “Hmmm, it’s so simple really” which would normally have them squirming away and wishing they’d never started this round of intellectual apartheid.

Anyway, it’s something I always knew but the real roots of Anglo-Saxon Britain and England in particular are best preserved in the Northeast of England.  We don’t speak English incorrectly, we speak it as it originally was meant to be whereas those further south and particularly in London have gone way off-piste.

The Angles and Saxons brought with them to Britain a language which was the forerunner of modern English and indeed it was the Angles of Denmark that gave England its name – meaning the Angle land. Over the centuries the old Anglo Saxon language changed beyond recognition with the gradual introduction of Latin, Norman-French and other foreign influences.

Today the only part of England where the original Anglo-Saxon language has survived to any great extent is of course the North East. Here the old language survives in a number of varieties, the most notable of which are Northumbrian and Geordie. It is from the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian language of the Angles that the unique local dialects of Northumberland, Durham and Tyneside, all primarily owe their origins.


Distinctively Geordie (someone who comes from Newcastle) and Northumbrian words are more than 80 % Angle in origin, compared to standard English, where the figure is less than 30 %. Modern English words by comparison are predominantly of Latin origin because modern English derives from the dialects of southern England which were continuously influenced by the Latin and Norman French favoured by the educated classes of Oxford, Cambridge and London.

Geordie words should not therefore be seen as sloppy pronunciation or a poor use of language, as they are in fact of great antiquity. Indeed many old words and phrases commonly used in the old works of Chaucer and Shakespeare which are no longer used in other parts of Britain have survived as common usage in the North East.

Of course some Geordie words are of more recent origin or are corruptions or words borrowed from other regions, but often the similarities between Anglo-Saxon and Geordie can be quite surprising. For example Geordies in the same way as the Anglo-Saxons use the word `WIFE’ as term for a woman whether she is married or not, while the Anglo-Saxon word ALD (OLD) is similar to the Geordie (AAD). Thus in Anglo-Saxon ALD WIFE literally meant `Old Woman’ .

Sometimes a Geordie may appear to be using words incorrectly , but this may not always be the case. For example a Geordie may say Aaal Larn yer (meaning I’ll teach you) as in the Anglo Saxon Laeran which meant teach. Other Geordie words of Anglo Saxon origin include Axe (ask) from the Anglo-Saxon Acsian, Burn meaning stream, Hoppings meaning fayre and Gan which is the Geordie and Anglo-Saxon word meaning to go.

The unique way in which Geordies and Northumbrians pronounce certain words is also often Anglo-Saxon in origin. Thus Geordie words like Dede, Coo, Cloot, Hoos, Wrang, Strang and Lang are in fact the original Anglo-Saxon pronunciations for Dead, Cow, Clout, House, Wrong, Strong and Long.

These old words have survived in the North East for a number of reasons primarily associated with the region’s historical remoteness and isolation from southern England. The turbulent border history of this region was also a major factor in discouraging outside influence although some Viking words have crept into the local dialect from the neighbouring Viking settled areas of Yorkshire, South Durham and Cumbria.

This article was originally published on the  website which seems to have vanished or at least gone into a period of self-isolation.

To finish off today after deriding them earlier!!  Here is a great post about the somewhat mystifying to outsiders Cockney Rhyming Slang.

All About Cockneys & The 150 Top Cockney Rhyming Slang Phrases

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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20 Responses to The oldest living English language

  1. There is so much here to digest Stephen. I just read all of your links to older articles. I so agree accentism is a thing, it’s like a form of racism sadly. Living in Edinburgh I had a soft Scottish accent with a bit of Australian thrown in and working there I always got questions on where I was from, in towns it always alarmed people for some reason but not in a bad way luckily. I can’t believe you got bullied for your accent that is full on….what monsters, they certainly don’t deserve to know you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them all. Accentism definitely exists doesn’t it? People from the West Country are country bumpkins, Brummies are boring, Scousers are thieves etc In London last year many of the buses had advertising proclaiming “Visit America where your accent is an aphrodisiac”. It was a rough school and right in the middle of Thatcherism and as far as I know, only one other child moved in and he was only from Lincolnshire so not quite the same. It probably says a lot that I have no-one from my class on Facebook and only 3 people from the whole school of 1100 people at the time.


      • I had no idea about the accentism in the uk and stereotypes that go along with them, that is sad. It is like this to a lesser degree in Australia but you still have a cultured accent and a more harsh sounding broad Australian accent. I have changed naturally my accent over time but I went to a rough school and learned to speak slang. I got picked on too, mostly it was because I was a darker shade of skin and Maori, which they teased me for in Australia. Children and teenagers are horrible aren’t they. I don’t have any friends from my school days either, but thats because I find these people a bit dull and boring. WordPress seems to have more eclectic and interesting people on it

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s terrible what happened to you. I always refused to change how I spoke. WordPress has the most interesting people on it and I’ve met some very special people here and even in real-life. I remember for 18 months chatting away with the Syrian Free Army (the moderates at the time). It’s such a waste that most people use the internet to mix with like-minded people with similar lives when there is scope to do so much more.


  2. I had no idea about the Newcastle Anglosaxon original English thing either, that is very cool indeed! I love how the UK has such varied accents too. My personal fav is the Edinburgh soft Scottish accent and the Hebridean almost Norwegian/Gaelic sounding Scots accent…in terms of sex appeal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I think the accents are amazing. It’s such a rich part of our culture and I think for the geographic size in that regard we have the most diversity. I always get a bit sad when the home-counties lose their accents and all go a bit Estuary English. Edinburgh is always very near the top isn’t it when it comes to accents. A friend from Edinburgh was amazed when he found out that many of the words and slang that he thought were only Scottish or from around Edinburgh were actually equally used in Newcastle. I wonder if it comes from when there was no England or Scotland but huge chunks of both were Bernicia (Northumberland). I think Billy Connelly once did a great sketch on different Scottish accents from soft Edinburgh accents which he thought were a bit like Scottish Westminster accents and then through the highlands and islands and finishing off very different in Glasgow! I was in Edinburgh last year on a tour and I was a bit disappointed how many English accents were there, I guess similar to how London dominates SE England as it is a lovely accent in Edinburgh. I quite like Cornish accents but that may be as I like Demelza in Poldark 🙂


  3. Contractions of Fate says:

    Howay man, that’s a reet belta of an article that! Wey aye, man! Will ye gan yem one dee?

    But I always thought the sing-songy lyrical aspect was a derivative of Viking, much like the Aussie dialect is meant to be a derivative of cockney.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it is a very lyrical accent. Always full of energy. I didn’t know Aussie was descended from Cockney. I guess like American is from Cornwall. When I do tours around Westminster I tell Australians about Millhouse Prison and the court that was not far from Parliament. If you were found innocent they would let you go free but if you were guilty you’d go ‘down-under’ the road to the Thames and board a prison transport ship. Some Australians think that is the absolute highlight of their 1 month in London lol

      Liked by 2 people

      • Contractions of Fate says:

        Yes, there was a Radio 4 documentary claiming that the New England accent is closest to Shakespearean, and the Aussie from the huge number of deported people from London.

        But really!? That is where “Down Under” comes from? I always assumed it was because Australia is the other side of the world! I HAVE to tell my Aussie friends that! They’ll love that!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes that’s where I’ve heard “Down Under” comes from, not that it is physically or geographically down under from London but that the not-guilty were allowed out onto the road and the guilty were walked down-under it. It’s 99% been redeveloped since then as the land was too valuable for a giant prison but there are some earthworks left in gardens I will hunt them down but it was roughly where the Tate Britain gallery is today.

          Liked by 1 person

    • It would make sense Aussie slang descends from English cockney and Irish slang

      Liked by 2 people

  4. padresteve says:

    I really enjoyed this article because I am a fan and appreciative of dialects and colloquialisms in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. I think that they help us remember where we came from. I was born and grew up on the West Coast of the U.S. thanks to my father being in the Navy, and attended I University in Southern California. My parents lost almost. However, my parents were born in West Virginia, but my dad ended up living in Arizona for about 8 years of his youth. That being said, once in a while they would use colloquialisms from there. Whenever I visited as a child and stayed with my grandparents I would pick up the accent. I do that often wherever I live, which included Texas for 7 years. Texas was interesting because the West Texas dialect was so different form East, north, or southeast Texas, and despite the fact that they are barely 30 miles apart Dallas and Fort Worth have completely different languages. We lived in West Virginia for two years, my wife for almost 4, Pennsylvania for a year and a half, North Carolina for about 6 years, a brief stint in Northern Florida, four years in Germany, and a few months in New England. The funny thing, is that all of the places I have been not only have their regionals dialects, but even within a region there differences. I speak German fluently without an American accent, but speak with a mixture of the Hessen and Bavarian accents, which makes it hard for most Germans to fix where I am from. I loved my travels and stays with people across the UK in 1979, where as part of a singing group (I was the spotlight tech) we stayed in different parts of London, Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Tewksbury, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and a host of other and small cities and towns. I was amazed at the differences, and in Glasgow was told how to say my last name, correctly. I love watching British Comedies, as well as the BBC Scotland show “Still Game.”
    Despite my education I don’t that people who remain in the region where they were born and retain the dialect as inferior, or stupid. My wife loves studying the Appalachian dialects as due to my deployments she actually spent more time in West Virginia than me. She learned that to be understood she had to speak the dialect or be asked “where you from?” When she started speaking the dialect the same people ask “who are your people?” Since she wasn’t from there she told them all about my family. My paternal grandmother grew up in the country about 30 miles from Huntington. She was from what is called a hollow, or holler, in Putnam County. She spoke a rare dialect and it very possibly died with her.

    Thanks so much for sharing this article.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Steve, so nice to hear from you again. I totally agree with you. One of my first Professors was a man named ( and he was one of the two cleverest people I ever met. He could speak countless ancient languages from those in India through the Himalayas, through the Middle East and ending in the U.K. Many a time our classes overran as he would show us words or names were either linked or how they migrated. His surname is basically Russian for Five Mountains and he would always address us by our ethnic group and tell you where your name come from. He was fascinating and always right. I get quite a few tourists from Texas and they often tell me how the East and West are different there. I remember as a boy in the 70’s and 80’s there was a serial killer in the north of England called the Yorkshire Ripper and there was a hoaxer who for years sent fake audio cassettes to the police and likely cost a number of lives. The accents here are so local that language specialists could narrow it down to within a two street radius of where he lived. I think American accents are fascinating, especially in the Eastern side as it gives such clues to how the colonies and states grew and also how they are descended from various cities or counties of the U.K. Did they ever make audio recordings of your Grandmother? I know that’s what is happening now for accents or even languages when they are at risk of becoming extinct. I have another words related post in the works for a few weeks time. Many thanks, Stephen


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