I couldn't sleep a few nights ago and watched a truly horrific programme called 'The Call Centre'. It's a 'structured reality' programme, which basically means getting real people to provide cheap, low quality, soap opera type entertainment. It's set in a call centre in Swansea and most of the young call centre workers have very strong Swansea accents. It's a really distinctive accent so I began to enjoy the programme for its linguistic appeal, if nothing else.
Accent is the thing we notice most about the way people from other areas of the country speak, but dialect is not only a matter of accent. Accent is only the sounds: things like what vowel you use in 'bath' or whether you tend to use a fully aspirated /k/ sound in the middle of 'chicken'. Dialect is 'accent plus'. It includes lexis (words), morphology (whether you say 'I've gone' or 'I've went'), and syntax (whether you can say 'Hasn't she not?' or just 'Hasn't she?').
The Swansea accent is great, but what struck me was a matter of syntax. I don't know if it really is a feature of the Swansea dialect, but what I heard was what sounded like an invariant question tag 'inne' (not sure how to spell that, but it sounds like 'innie').
A tag question is one that ends in a tag, like 'isn't it', 'wasn't she', 'aren't they' and so on. These tags vary to match the subject and verb of the main clause, so you get 'That's nice, isn't it?', 'She was good, wasn't she?', and 'The students are keen, aren't they?' Invariant tags, as the name implies, don't vary. We see ones like 'right', 'yeah' and 'no', but we also see ones that look like they should vary. 'Innit' is the famous one: 'He's a good worker, innit?' (rather than 'isn't he').
This 'inne' that I heard, twice in one episode, sounds like a reduced form of 'isn't he'. If you're going to have an invariant tag, then you just pick one of the available tags, and 'isn't he' is just as good as 'isn't it' (well, I would have a preference for 'it', but preference has never had much to do with language).
The thing is, I only heard it twice in that one episode. I watched another one (for research...) and didn't hear it again. Any Welsh readers know if it's widely used?