20 November 2012
eh, those lovable Geordies!
Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:
Sit-coms are wonderful vehicles for celebrating regional speech. Gavin and Stacey, for instance, is a brilliantly affectionate deconstruction of stereotypical - but nonetheless recognisable - cultural and linguistic differences between Barry and Billericay. The new BBC series, Hebburn, follows in the same tradition by lovingly capturing one of our most distinctive British dialects, Geordie, albeit with principal cast members drawn from across the North East of England from Darlington to South Shields. The highlight of every episode for me is counting the number of times female characters use that iconic Geordie exclamation - 'eh!' - each example surpassing the previous in terms of length and bewilderingly high pitch.
An entry in The New Geordie Dictionary (Graham 1979) describes 'ee' as 'an expression of delight', but makes no reference to the fact it is, I would suggest, considerably more common in female speech. I associate it with female speakers across the whole of the North East and sense it's used to convey an even greater range of emotions - from disappointment, despair and dismay to surprise, amusement or excitement. I also think its geographical boundary once extended much further south as I can definitely remember my grandmother (b. 1907 in Altoft, West Yorkshire) using it, particularly when prefacing a comment about her own or someone else's perceived 'daft' behaviour. This recording of a young female speaker from Hartlepool captures an authentic example in the phrase "I thought, 'eh God!'" at 0 mins. 44 secs.