HE’S the former leader of Newcastle City Council and one time Lord Mayor who is still driven by his passion for democracy.

Nowadays, however, it is manifesting itself in a rather different form. Put simply, he wants us all to fight for our identities by ‘taakin propa like’.

For Peter Arnold is chairman of the Northumbrian Language Society and as such, champion of the dialect he says defines us.

Three weeks ago he returned triumphant from Cornwall, having won one of the categories in the annual National Dialect Festival.

It was the sixth year in a row the Northumbrian Language Society had won an award, a record among the nation’s dialect groups.

A Tynesider by birth, eight years ago Peter retired to Hexham and the Northumberland that is in his genes.

Dialect is inextricably linked with the county’s history, he says.

“Dialect, certainly, in this part of the world is also part of the identity of the people who live here.

“It has always been very much involved with our major industries – fishing, farming, mining, ship building and heavy engineering – and as those industries have declined, the use of dialect words related to them have gradually become unknown too.

“Few people now speak dialect naturally in their every day language, but in the Northumbrian Language Society, we believe in linguistic diversity.

“Our policy is that everybody should be bilingual, speaking standard English in working life, but at home at least speaking the dialect that keeps our identity intact.”

Above all else, the man and woman on the street needed to stand strong in the face of the dreaded homogenisation promoted by the BBC and the national education curriculum alike, he says.

“It’s an artificial, class-based approach that indicates those people believe themselves to be better than the rest of us.”.

“I’m very much opposed to that kind of linguistic apartheid.”

Peter has come across many examples of people being told in the work place to get rid of their dialect and their accents if they wanted to succeed.

“What they are trying to do is get everybody to speak the same across the British Isles, and that discriminates against people who speak in dialect.”

During his time as a magistrate in Newcastle, he has seen many examples of that in action and had cause on one occasion to pull up one of his fellow members of the bench.

The magistrate had criticised a defendant who, in answer to the question ‘is your name ...’, had answered ‘aye’.

Peter says: “I had to have a quiet word afterwards to say that person wasn’t being disrespectful, that’s their language.”

Sparring with another colleague, this time the ennobled Baron Jeremy Beecham, legendary leader of Newcastle City Council and the first chairman of the Local Government Association, provided another example.

Peter said: “We were discussing some celebration coming up and he stood up in the council chamber and said with a bit of an accent ‘it’s about time we had a great Geordie gathering’, and so I launched into dialect in reply.

“Thing is, I could see no-one else understood what the two of us were talking about.”

On a similar note, he had never been able to work out why it was regarded as acceptable to have a strong Scottish, Welsh or Irish accent, but not Geordie.

“BBC Look North would rather have someone with an Australian accent than someone with a strong local accent,” he says.

The Northumbrian Language Society was founded in 1983 by the late Roland Bibby, a history teacher in Morpeth.

Today, it is heavily involved in the annual Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, which for the past 50 years has been celebrating the literature, language, music, dance and crafts at the heart of this border land.

This year, in honour of the centenary of Bibby’s birth, two memorial lectures were held rather than the usual one.

Jonnie Robinson, lead curator of spoken English at the British library – and chief archivist therefore of sound recordings of accents and dialects – gave the first of them.

The thrust of his presentation was that far from dying out, dialects were simply adapting and changing with times, as all languages do – and never quicker than in this atmosphere of social media.

The second speaker did point out though that the Northumbrian accent, as is often the case with other accents admittedly, is frequently the butt of comedy.

“Dialect is often used in context with humorous characters,” says Peter.

“You don’t take them seriously.

“The speaker said ‘Why do you never see dialect being used to discuss philosophical issues? Can’t it cope with serious issues?’

“Of course it can!”

With that in mind, and the fact the vast majority of dialect writers and performers are male, Peter chose to read an extract from The Wund an the Wetter, written by poet and Northumbrian Language Society president Katrina Porteous, at the National Dialect Festival.

The poem mulls over the idiom lost in tandem with decline of north Northumberland’s fishing industry.

He said: “This year’s competition was really tough, and I didn’t think I would do very well against some of the veteran performers from the other counties, so I was absolutely delighted when I won.

“I chose to read from Katrina’s poem because, one, she’s a female working in the field and, two, it demonstrates that dialect really can deal with serious subjects.”