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Larnin` Tae Speak Propa

by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 29 January 2018
Word Count: 214
Summary: Moving from flash. I just wrote it for a bit of fun but I maybe see a serious theme in that I can't shove my granny off the bus. The rigmarole of life has brought me back. Perhaps that's what I'm getting at too.

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Larnin Tae Speak Propa
She sang
‘ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus’
then said I should be careful because
she could read my mind.
went tae gie me a skelpit lug when
 me marras from school said ‘howay, hinny
we’re gannin on the hoy’ and I replied ‘canny.’
At uni
I was shocked when someone called
me cock but they were all barmy in that place.
That’s just mancs for you.
couldn’t grasp the way I pronounced lasagne.
Or egg. I practised saying caw-fee the way
they do in the movies.
London colleagues
spoke many languages at home but
perfect English at work, so I learned
to talk proper for a while.
In Cumbria
everything went to bits and pieces,
but folk were always asking
 ‘are ye awlreet, eh’ – which was a comfort.
Now and again
I hear myself saying ‘boo-wk’ instead of book.
And there’s always a momentary confusion if someone suggests
I meet them in the lobby (a kind of stew in the Potteries).
Here in Bonnie Gallowa’
they can’t quite place my origins
but all agree I certainly
come from somewhere down south.
Nae doot
Granny would find that completely
hilarious with her living her whole life
in the next village and me being pure Gallovidian.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:11 on 29 January 2018  Report this post
Hi Jane – This poem is a fun piece, but there’s something to it that makes it more than that. Now that we have your poem and Oonah’s as well, I’ll study them both together and see what interesting threads we can follow and what questions need to be asked.


James Graham at 21:06 on 30 January 2018  Report this post
What makes this more than just a fun piece is the way your various stanzas highlight situations and issues that can arise because of language variations in different localities. In Brooklyn, for example, it’s not unfamiliar dialect words, just pronunciation. The words are standard English, but there’s a vowel shift – they’re given a different vowel sound. These variations can cause a surprising amount of confusion. (By the way, what is it about the pronunciation of ‘egg’? I know that chickens in New Zealand lay iggs, but what are they called in New York?)

On the other hand, in Stanza 7 we have confusion because a word (lobby) which may be pronounced much the same is used with a different meaning.

We have more than mere confusion in Stanza 3, where ‘cock’ gives offence and prompts the speaker to deride the Mancunians. I don’t know if Mancunians like to be called ‘mancs’ but suspect that’s what Scousers call them and it’s not complimentary.

I understand what you’re getting at in Stanza 2, which is a case of dialect causing extreme irritation. However, I don’t understand what it is that gets Mither angry. As far as I can see, the schoolmates said ‘we’re going out drinking’ and she said, ‘No, I can’t’. In my experience, if kids of school age were going drinking it would be in some hideout, under a bridge somewhere or in a little private corner of the park. She seems to be refusing, so why does Mammy get angry? I must have misunderstood.

And we also have the theme of talking proper, or ‘propa’. Some of the Londoners would speak not only dialects but foreign languages, but everyone would set aside their home language or dialect and speak Standard English – and communication would be unimpaired. Does that mean we should learn to drop our regional dialects and all speak the same inter-regional common language? Of course not. What a loss that would be! Variety is infinitely preferable to sameness.

Now, I’m not sure whether to suggest that you rework this poem to bring out those language issues even more. It’s both amusing and interesting just as it is, and it’s tempting just to leave it alone. Still, I can vaguely imagine a different poem, using some of the same ideas and adding more, each stanza bringing out a different embarrassing, or annoying, or hilarious consequence of a misunderstanding between regional languages. What do you think? Would you like to take it further, in any direction?



1. Consonants tend to stay the same, but vowels change. This is because we make consonant sounds by means of solid contact in the mouth - tongue and palate, lips etc - but vowels are formed in an open space, narrower or wider as the case may be, but the space is more variable.

2. Frivolous, but I think this is not a bad joke. ‘Is that a cream cookie or a meringue?’ ‘No, you’re quite right.’ Incomprehensible unless you're au fait with Lowland Scots speech.

Cliff Hanger at 19:13 on 31 January 2018  Report this post
Thanks James,

Interesting. In Geordie 'canny' means great or lovely or fantastic (actually its a bit more nuanced than that). You can use it to say 'she's a canny lass' - she's a nice person or as here 'that's great.' Your confusion kind of underlines the point.

I think I was a bit harsh on mancunians. I had a great time there. I might think of something else. 

I need to clarify the egg because what really happened was every day I'd go to one of those american delis. Now this was back when you didn't get many choices over here so it was a big culture shock having to know what you wanted and order it in that decisive way. I used to cop out and ask for 'an e special' (I think it was provolone cheese and ham and lots of lovely things) and what I used to get every time was an egg salad. Hah, hah. It didn't take me long to become accustomed to it but it was difficult.

I can think of lots of instances when I misunderstood things (mainly foodstuffs what does that say about me? e.g. my expectations of what a Staffordshire oatcake was were quite wrong, although they are delicious.) 

I think you're right. I could definitely go further with it and I'll give it a go.


James Graham at 20:12 on 01 February 2018  Report this post
Hi Jane – I hope you won’t change ‘canny’. It has nothing to do with the Lowland Scots ‘cannae’ meaning ‘cannot’, which should not be spelt ‘canny’ anyway. In both my English and Scots dictionaries ‘canny’ has a range of meanings, all complimentary to a person, e.g. gentle, good-humoured, or simply ‘nice’. It’s also listed as ‘a general term of approbation’. Of course it’s perfectly apt in the poem, and I misunderstood only because I didn’t give it enough thought.

Maybe something other than ‘egg’ would be understood by more readers.

Yes, you could take the idea further. Best to leave this poem as it is, because it has a personal touch: it’s really a series of episodes from your life, ending back on native soil. (So I understand it anyway.) This gives the poem a framework that you shouldn’t lose. A new poem consisting of  short narratives of incidents in which language differences caused frustration, embarrassment, hilarity etc could be very interesting. Not all of it would have to be authentic recollections; you could make up some of the situations, so long as they stayed true to your knowledge of each particular dialect.

I hope the idea works for you, and look forward to reading the new poem whenever it’s ready. (Some poems get written very quickly, others take time.)


James Graham at 20:24 on 02 February 2018  Report this post
Jane, in case you missed it, I replied a bit late to your comment under Oonah's poem 'Quare gid advice...' - just to thank you for recommending Northwords Now and the Wigtown competition, both of which I will investigate. If you're interested, there's a little more at http://www.writewords.org.uk/archive/33555.asp.


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