Why do we call Newcastle the Toon?
The answer to the question may seem obvious: we call our town the Toon because that’s how Geordies pronounce the word.
We were keen to find out how long the people of Newcastle have been referring to their homeland as the Toon, and where the pronunciation comes from.
And it turns out, next time a southerner ‘corrects’ you on how you to pronounce the words “down”, “town”, “right” and “night” you can point out that it’s them who has been getting it wrang for years.
That’s because, in Old English, the word “tun” which evolved to become town, was pronounced “toon”
Dr Adams Means, a lecturer in the History of the English Language at Newcastle University, explains: “Old English (the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons, 500 AD up to the Norman conquest) had a word, tun. This meant ‘enclosure, estate, farm, village’. It’s the origin of our present-day English word, town, and survives also as an element in place names like Darlington. In Old English, this word would have been pronounced like “Toon”.
So there you have it, towns have been toons for 1,500 years.
Video will play in
Scouse v Geordie
So why does the rest of England say “town”?
It’s all down to the “Great Vowel Shift”, which is when most of England decided to start mispronouncing words.
Dr Means explains: “Between the 14th and 17th centuries there was a gradual but very significant shift in the pronunciation of vowels in English. This is called the Great Vowel Shift. One effect of this shift was that many words that had previously been pronounced with an ‘oo’ sound came to be pronounced with the ‘ow’ sound we hear in present-day house, now, cow and town.
“Although the Great Vowel Shift affected most accents of English, some areas remained unaffected. In Scotland, for example, and in the north of England many people would still have been saying ‘hoose’ for house and ‘toon’ for town.”
How come we have changed some words but not others?
The old, “unshifted” pronunciation became rooted as a feature of traditional or broad accents in the North East.
Although some similar words did change, and people may not always pronounce words like “frown” as “froon”, many terms are still frequently said in the same way they used to be. Geordies, Mackems, Northumbrians, Sanddancers et all are rightly proud of their heritage, and show it through the unique way they talk.
While many seem to interchange the two “ow/oo” pronunciations, others still stick to the old or new way. But even for the most Queen’s English of North Easterners, the “Toon” is the one Old English word they hang on to, even if it is just to refer to Newcastle as a city or its football team.
Why does Toon specifically mean Newcastle?
It doesn’t have to – obviously you could be talking about any town, but it’s clear that to most the “Toon” primarily refers to the city on the Tyne’s north bank, or Newcastle United.
Again, it’s probably to do with identity. Due to the football team, and Newcastle’s place as the North East’s key city, the word “Toon” is synonymous with Newcastle.
Dr Means said: “Although the accent has changed, and many people on Tyneside now wouldn’t pronounce house as “hoose”, or now as “noo” – or even town as “toon” when talking about towns in other parts of the country – the traditional pronunciation of town as “toon” has become so strongly linked with the city that it has become a synonym for the city itself – so, Newcastle is the Toon.”
Source : Chroniclelive