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Words from 1916 still sound great today.

Byline: TONY HENDERSON HERITAGE

THE rich North East accent of Arthur Roper rolls down the years as he reads the Biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Remarkably, the recording was made in 1916 in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, where 22-year-old soldier Arthur and two other North Easterners were a captive audience for a study by a Berlin professor into different styles of speech across various countries.

These are the earliest known collection of sound recordings of ordinary speakers and today, through digitisation, we can listen to Arthur - who spent his first six years in Durham and then moved to Newcastle - peppering his rendition with words such as "fatha" and "hyem."

The PoW recordings will feature in a free talk on Saturday in Morpeth Town Hall by Jonnie Robinson, lead curator of spoken English at the British Library and responsible for its extensive archive of sound recordings of British accents and dialects.

Jonnie's 2pm talk, "Sounds Familiar? North East Voices in the British Library Sound Archives", is one of two in the Northumbrian Language Society's 2017 Roland Bibby memorial lectures event in the town hall in Morpeth Market Place.

The other, at 3.30pm, is The Forgotten Years: WWII Experiences in the Forgotten Army in Burma, by Ian Wilson, 9th Border Regiment researcher.

The talks mark the centenary of the birth of Morpeth's Roland Bibby, who served as a captain in Burma with the 9th as part of the Gurkha 17th Indian Division, whose nickname was The Black Cats.

Roland Bibby played a key role in the formation of the Morpeth Antiquarian Society, of which he served as chairman for many years and in the foundation of the Northumberland periodical 'Northumbriana'.

He also helped found the Northumbrian Language Society and was awarded an honorary MA. by Newcastle University. He died in 1997.

Jonnie Robinson has worked on two nationwide surveys of regional speech, and in 2010 co-curated the world's first major exhibition on the English Language, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices.

His most recent publication is Evolving English WordBank: a glossary of present-day English dialect and slang, which features two North East specialities on the cover - mortal and skinchies. The British Museum sound archive contains hundreds of North East voices, recorded over the years.

There is also a strong regional link to the major Survey of English Dialects, which was carried out at 313 locations between 1950 and 1961, including six in County Durham and nine in Northumberland, under the direction of Professor of English Harold Orton.

The aim was to collect the full range of speech in England and Wales as it was feared that local differences were disappearing through the standardisation of English with the post-war increase in social mobility and the spread of the mass media.

Prof Orton was born in Byers Green in County Durham and was educated at King James I Grammar School in Bishop Auckland and Durham University.

He was severely wounded while serving with the Durham Light Infantry in the First World War but went on to pursue an academic career which included a lectureship at King's College, Newcastle.

The Survey of English Dialects was the first comprehensive nationwide study of regional speech in the country and in the archive is the voice of George Sparks, recorded at Byerhope Farm above Allenheads in Northumberland in 1955. He explains how numerous former smallholdings under individual ownership have been merged into single farms, and he laments the subsequent loss of traditional practices. The Millennium Memory Bank (1999-2000) project includes the voice of Mark Jones, recorded in Byker in Newcastle, while the BBC Voices (2004-05) venture recorded groups across the North East.

The Evolving English: VoiceBank (2010-11) project recorded visitors to the British Library and the City Library in Newcastle, with people discussing the meaning of words such as canny and plodge.

Jonnie says: "The North East is an interesting dialect area. People in the region still use many of the language features you hear in the recordings, such as hoose, oot and toon.

"Dialect changes have been more dramatic in the south of England, but there is a strong sense of identity in the North East, which promotes dialect stability.

"The North East accent is one of the most distinctive and most recognised by people outside of the region."

In the last 20 years, dialect and regional identity has been increasingly exploited as a commodity.

"It is used to promote goods like mugs and T-shirts, which carry Geordie words and phrases," said Jonnie.

Ian Wilson was born Carlisle in 1947, and his varied career has included running a pub in Cumbria.

His interest in the 9th Battalion the Border regiment began when members held reunions in the pub, where he met Roland Bibby.

The 9th Battalion was raised at Workington in Cumbria in 1940, and also conscripted young men from Tyneside and Northumberland.

The battalion was billeted at various Northumberland locations, including Belford Hall, Barmoor Castle, Haggerston Castle, Lowick and Ashington with the battalion HQ in Morpeth.

A 23-year-old Roland Bibby joined the battalion at Newbiggin by the Sea. In May 1942 the battalion left Ashington bound for India.

It fought the Japanese in the Chin Hills of Northern Burma, where Roland began writing his "Chin Hill Rants" poetry, and on the plains of Imphal.

The British Museum sound archive contains hundreds of North East voices, recorded over the years

CAPTION(S):

The talks mark the centenary of the birth of Roland Bibby, pictured at Newcastle University when he received an Honorary MA for his dialect work in the 1980s

Jonnie Robinson, the British Library's lead curator for spoken English, will talk about the recordings on Saturday
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 11, 2017
Words:945
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