Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Love, Life and Language

Welcome to the first of my blog posts celebrating all things vintage, historical and retro, as well as love, life and language and everything in-between!
Ah, the things you do for love! Five years ago when I got married (to a Manchester-born Karachiite), not only did I suffer the culture shock of sharing a bathroom with someone else, I was torn from my native Suffolk to live in Newcastle upon Tyne. A fine city, but one so far removed, geographically and linguistically, from the gentle undulations of Suffolk, that it took me the best part of a year to fully interact with the natives.
Words and phrases such as “bairns”, “way-eye” and “howay” are well known outside of the north east, but imagine my confusion one afternoon at work when one of my colleagues piped up, ‘Eeeeh, I fancy some ket’. Now I knew that the Geordies partied hard but ketamine at work? Then I found out that “ket” meant sweets. I went on to discover that “bait” meant packed lunch, “wagons” were lorries, a “hoppings” is a fair, such as the one held on the Toon Moor every Joon, and “twisty” was fractious (which I recently found out can be used in the verb form, for example, ‘Don’t twist!’). So why not assimilate some of these superb phrases into my everyday language—after all, it’s second nature after you’ve been living somewhere for a month or two.
And it was only when I heard myself say to my son in Blaydon precinct the other day, ‘Howay, beta, heck up,’ (‘Come on [Geordie]’, / ‘son [Urdu]’, / ‘hurry up [Suffolk],’) that I stopped to think how far linguistically I, and the rest of my family, have come in the last half-decade.
It seems that a brand new version of English has evolved to respond to the varying linguistic needs of our household—one adult almost trilingual in English, Urdu and Punjabi, another whose mother tongue is English and with a couple of other neglected European languages, a smaller person who is learning to speak and the smallest who only communicates in cries and coos.
But what is it— a pidgin? No, you get one of those when two or more groups don’t share a single language to start with. A creole? Don’t think so —this would be a language in its own right that springs up from a pidgin or combination of other languages. It’s just natural evolution. Just think, all but the most isolated languages are rich in loan words (even French, however much the L’Académie Française objects). Where would English be without bungalow, jodhpurs and chutney (Hindi), alcohol, alcove and algebra (Arabic) or the myriad of Italian words used to reference classical music?
And if a word sounds better in another language, use it, I say. So in our house Geordie now jostles alongside some selected (because they’re more expressive than plain English) words and phrases from Suffolk and from the Urdu language that I have come across over the years—so here’s the beginning of a dictionary I’m putting together for visitors to the Vintage Script household:
bait                                         packed lunch (Geordie)
bili                                          cat (Urdu)
chi chi                                    dirty (Urdu)                         
couldahell/couldaheck       well I never (Suffolk)
did you wanna oughta?      should you? (Suffolk)
jelly                                        toad (Suffolk)                      
ket                                          sweets (Geordie)
load of old squit                   load of rubbish (Suffolk)
moti/mota                            fat (Urdu)
shew                                      showed (Suffolk)
twisty                                     fractious (Geordie)
the…wallah                           the [insert here any word denoting job or position] man, for example, ‘The bin wallah’s not coming in the morning because it’s Bank Holiday.’
Add the finishing touches of the truly Suffolk habits of epenthesis—making more sounds in a word than there’s supposed to be (so shoes become “shoo-wuz”, magazine becomes “magazeeun” and cream becomes “cree-um”)—and the lack of verbal conjugation (‘He say he want to go to the toilet, don’t he?’), and there you have what I can only describe as a glorious fusion of three beautiful languages, each offering its own unique flavour.
It may be a long way from Suffolk to Newcastle (especially if you go via Karachi) but why not enjoy the journey and embrace the enrichment that linguistic difference brings?
Tell me about the linguistic peculiarities in your household—the quirkier the better!