Dialects and Accents in England

British English

The abbreviation RP (Received Pronunciation) denotes the accent of educated people living in London and the southeast of England and of other people elsewhere who speak in this way. Because of its association with education rather than region, it is the only British accent that has no specific geographical correlate: it is not possible, on hearing someone speak RP, to know which part of the United Kingdom he or she comes from. RP is not intrinsically superior to other varieties of English; it is itself only one particular accent that has, through the accidents of history, achieved more prestige than others. Although acquiring its unique status without the aid of any established authority, it was fostered by the public schools (Winchester, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and so on) and the ancient universities (Oxford and Cambridge). Other varieties of English are well preserved in spite of the leveling influences of film, television, and radio. In several Northern accents, RP /a:/ (the first vowel sound in father) is still pronounced /æ/ (a sound like the a in fat) in words such as laugh, fast, and path; this pronunciation … (200 of 14,730 words)



A broader interpretation

Broadly understood, BrE is the English language as used in Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, depending on the use of British employed. In this sense, the term covers all varieties, STANDARD and NON-STANDARD, at all times, in all regions, and at all social levels. It is unlikely, however, to include the variety known as SCOTS, which in this context is usually treated, explicitly or implicitly, as a separate entity. In this interpretation, BrE is a heterogeneous range of ACCENTS and DIALECTS, including standard varieties used in several systems of education.

A narrower interpretation

Narrowly understood, BrE is the form of STANDARD ENGLISH used in Britain at large or more specifically in England, and more specifically still in south-eastern England. It is essentially the medium of the middle and upper classes. Although not confined to one accent, especially in recent decades, it has been associated since at least the late 19c with the accent known since the 1920s as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (RP), and with the phrases the QUEEN’S ENGLISH, OXFORD ENGLISH, and BBC ENGLISH. When BrE refers to a model of English taught to foreigners, it is an idealization of the south-eastern middle-class standard, as presented in dictionaries and other materials prepared for learners.

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UK accents: it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say

Accents define us the moment we meet others. They pass on information about our lives – where we are from, our age and even our parents’ histories – and they form an identity that gives us immediate membership to an oral tribe. Often this information we are transmitting does nothing other than inform the listener, but what if the way we speak really could change the path of our lives?

Recent research suggests that some judgments made by listeners to an accent are more than simply banter between the borders. Accents can affect how intelligent or attractive you are perceived to be, and can potentially affect results in exams, trials and job interviews.

The UK has a population of around 65 million, most of whom speak English as part of their daily life. For such a small, densely populated land mass full of people sharing a common language, the UK has a huge variety of distinct regional accents, often existing very close to each other – Brummie, Glaswegian, Scouse, Cockney, Multicultural London English (MLE) and Geordie, to name a very few. All of these accents are defined geographically, yet there is one accent that seems to represent us Brits internationally – Received Pronunciation or RP.

Research consistently shows us that RP or the ‘Queen’s English’ gives British speakers the best headstart in life – RP speakers can relax with the knowledge that they will probably earn a few brownie points in that exam/job interview/trial by sounding ‘a bit posh’.

Why? Given that RP has no discernible geography, how did it manage to become the most desired accent on our little group of islands? Well, it’s no secret that power attracts emulation, and it seems that over the last few centuries we have shifted from admiring those ruling the nation to trying to speak like them in the quest to climb the social ladder. As a strategy, this worked in the 1800s, and whilst so much has changed since, this particular mindset remains largely the same.

Accents create variety in speech and form part of our rich cultural heritage, like forms of history and diversity that we can hear. But they are also a form of history in the making. As younger generations discover all that speech has to offer, they claim its expressivity for their own, with new words being created in schools up and down the country.

To some, this just isn’t ‘proper’ speech, the same people who would have ‘standard speech’ – whatever that might be – taught across the UK, and internationally. Supporters of such ‘standard speech’ need to ask themselves this: do you really talk exactly like your parents spoke? Accents evolve across generations; trying to preserve speech is like trying to catch the proverbial wave: impossible.

The question remains for the UK – do we want to waste our energy preserving an accent standard that ultimately does little other than create additional hurdles for our regional, youth and immigrant populations?

Or shall we try to truly embrace the multiculturalism we claim to support and nurture, and start thinking instead about new standards of listening?



What is dialect?

It may be useful to begin by deciding what a dialect is. Dialect describes a language variety where a user’s regional or social background appears in his or her use of vocabulary and grammar. This description is a very open one, and there is continuing debate about its application to particular varieties. Before considering these, it may help to explain the related feature of accent. (Some linguists include accent, along with lexis and grammar, as a feature of dialect.)

Accent denotes the features of pronunciation (the speech sounds) that show regional or social identity (and arguably that of an individual, since one could have a personal and idiosyncratic accent).

This description of dialect lacks precision and coherence. We can see these as problems, but reflecting on the reasons for them brings more understanding of what dialect means, and of why an exact definition is an impossibility. That is, any dialect is a generalization from the individual language use of a wider population. It comes from observation and perhaps some objective study. But we will not, if we stand outside St. Mary-le-Bow church in London, hear everyone around us speaking a uniform variety of English that matches a description of “Cockney”. We will, however, if we speak to a hundred people who have lived there for more than ten years, observe some common features of lexis, grammar and phonology that we would not find commonly used if we repeated the observation in Aberdeen, Hull or Plymouth.

There is a more fundamental objection to the conventional description of dialect – and this is that all language is dialect, including Standard English. This was originally a regional dialect, but has become a prestige variety, favoured by the courts, government, the civil service, the officer class of the armed services and the elite universities. Moreover there is a prescriptive tradition in education and broadcasting that has formalised the status and prestige of both written and spoken standard English.

Of course, if we accept that all vernacular language varieties are in some sense dialects, then this is a truism or statement of the obvious. But it may help us stop thinking that dialect is something that other people do in big cities or remote dales, and that we are not dialect users, too. Some supposed dialects – especially urban ones – have attracted the attention of broadcasters or writers, in ways that have made them familiar to a wider public. That is we can put a name to their speakers, Cockneys and Scousers and Geordies. The effect of this can be unhelpful.

  • First, we do not really know about the authentic language of people in London and Liverpool or on Tyneside – so much as a simplified or popular representation, based on TV drama.
  • Second, rural varieties of English seem not to receive as much notice.
  • And third, we can forget that everyone lives in a region, that may have its own distinctive dialect forms – to a linguist, Staffordshire or Hertfordshire or Westmorland are no less worthy of study than London, Liverpool or Newcastle.

Are there language interactions where dialect forms work differently from Standard English? In the past some speakers might have known only to use a dialect, but today many are aware of both dialect and Standard equivalents – so may use one or the other more or less in different social contexts. This may for purposes of greater or less formality or intimacy; and it may be conscious or involuntary (as when a speaker assimilates his or her style to that of another).

It is worth considering how far dialect is determined by geography and historical accident, and how far it may be related to sociolinguistics. (For example, it may be that geography and historical isolation explains the origin of a dialect, but that social attitudes explain its survival.)

The primary social function of any dialect (or of all language) is communication, but there are also claims to status and identity that are bound up with the choices of variant forms. However, the emergence of a prestige variety of Standard English is largely a series of accidents. Had Alfred (king of the West Saxons) not defeated the Viking Guthrum at the Battle of Edington, then York might have been established as the capital of England, and the Standard English of today might have been an Anglo-Norse variety. Of course, that did not happen.

Without the notion of Standard English, we may find it hard to identify anything as a dialect at all – since the distinctiveness of a dialect consists in those things that are different from the Standard. (This does not mean that a dialect emerged from people who took Standard English and then changed it; it is more likely that the standard variety and the dialect variety developed from some common and some locally distinctive influences over time, or that the dialect forms are older, and have been more resistant to tendencies to converge towards a standard variety.)

There is a problem in identifying any dialect as the standard, since this implies that other dialects are inferior or wrong. In the case of spoken English, we have good evidence that such prejudice exists – so there is an exaggerated danger that, in referring to a standard, we will strengthen what is already a tyranny. It may help to note that Standard English, too, is a dialect – albeit one that is no longer found in any one region of Britain.

The “standard” is a human choice that could have been otherwise (like driving on the right or left). It is not in any intrinsic way better or worse than other dialects. Nor are the historic regional dialects corrupt variants. Indeed, in many cases they preserve far older lexis, meanings or grammar than the so-called standard.

In studying dialect forms, as they exist now, you should be aware of the history behind them. Regional varieties of English have historical causes that may go as far back as the Old English period. They may embody or reflect much of the history of the places where they are used.

Language is not a uniform and unchanging system of communication. It varies with place and changes over time. For example, human beings are capable (physically) of a wider range of speech sounds than any one speaker ever uses. Each language in its spoken standard forms has its own range of speech sounds, while regional varieties may leave out some of these and add others. Welsh has a distinctive sound represented in spelling by ll (voiceless unilateral l, common in place names). Some English speakers use post-vocalic r (rhoticization), though this is not common outside the north, Scotland and the south-west.

The social history of any region often explains the language variety that has arisen there. York was the heart of the Danelaw, the Viking kingdom in Britain. To this day, the lexicon of dialect speakers in the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire retains many words that derive from Old Norse. Scandinavian influence on the language does not stop with the end of the Danelaw, however: in the 19th and 20th centuries maritime trade and commerce in the North Sea and the Baltic brought many Danes, Norwegians and Swedes to ports like Hull and Newcastle.

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Dialect or accent?

A common mistake is to confuse a ‘dialect’ with an accent, muddling up the difference between words people use and the sounds they make, their pronunciation. If vocabulary and grammar are being considered alongside pronunciation, then ‘dialect’ is a reasonable term to use. But often, when claiming to discuss a dialect, someone will concentrate just on pronunciations. If what is being spoken about are sounds alone—that is, accent—then the area of language study is rather pronunciation, or phonology.

It will be obvious from this that accent, or pronunciation, is a special element of a dialect that needs separate attention to be properly understood. Arguably the best-known phonological distinction in England is the so-called ‘BATH vowel’, the quality of the a sound differing between north and south. Another, still more significant on the world stage, concerns the issue of rhoticity, relating to whether or not written r is sounded when it follows a vowel. Whilst most people in England and Wales do not pronounce the r (and are therefore non-rhotic), those in the English West Country and parts of Lancashire do. In this they are joined by most Scots and Irish speakers of English, and by the majority of North Americans. Although the English tend to regard rhoticity as an exotic aberration, it is in fact numerically and geographically the dominant form in world terms.

Where do dialects begin and end?

Another fundamental mistake is to think of the ‘standard’ variety of a language as the language, with dialects relegated to substandard status. By subscribing to the definition of ‘dialect’ as a distinct variety, we are agreeing that the standard variety itself is a dialect. Of course, that variety is special in that, for a space of time at least, it is regarded as a model for purposes that include language teaching and the general transmission of day-to-day information. But structurally there is nothing inherently superior in the make-up of a ‘standard dialect’: non-standard dialects have vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation which are equally detailed in structure, and indeed are often imbued with pedigrees far older than those of the standard variety of the day.

A good case of pedigree is that of while, which in West Yorkshire usage today (and well into the twentieth century in usage much further south) can mean ‘until’ in such expressions as ‘wait while five o’clock’. It would be easy to dismiss this as quaint or even wrong, but its documented history goes back at least to the fourteenth century, and it was doubtless in spoken use well before then. At the level of social dialect, young men are often vilified, not least by their female friends, for calling young women birds. That this is too easy a judgment becomes apparent when one notes that burd has a long history, and is defined as a poetic word for ‘woman, lady’.

Place and upbringing

Undoubtedly the most accessible part of a language that we can study is its vocabulary, or lexis. As we move from one part of a country to another we hear words that are entirely strange to us. Or the words might be ones we understand but do not use, i.e. words that are in our passive rather than active vocabulary. Depending on where a person comes from in England, they might use the word gully or entry, ten-foot or ginnel, snicket or twitten, or some other word, to refer to a narrow path between buildings. In parts of the Midlands and north of England people use pikelet to describe what most people, and all the supermarket retailers, call a crumpet. People might be criticized for ‘getting it wrong’ with this usage, but it is not in fact a mistake. Rather, it’s a good example of distinctively regional vocabulary, and most of us who have roots in one particular area have special words, or use well-known words in a special way, that we only discover are ‘strange’ to others when we travel away from home.

But distinctive vocabulary does not only mark us out as local to particular places. No matter where one comes from, one might eat pudding or dessert or sweet or afters, depending on a whole range of social factors, such as family, education and career, that influence the way a person talks. This brings us to another aspect of dialect that is sometimes forgotten. People with different upbringings or social backgrounds or aspirations often speak differently from one another, even though they live in the same community. So do people of different ages, with young people perhaps using words or phrases or pronunciations which older people do not, and which older people may disapprove of: minger used to describe a person judged to be unattractive is an excellent example. On occasions men may also speak differently from women, though this has less to do with their sex than with the roles that they play in society and the expectations placed on them. Differences like these are most definitely what we can call dialect, but it is social rather than regional dialect.

Dialects and grammar

Another area of language difference, besides phonology and lexis, has to do with the way in which words can be changed to slightly alter their meaning, making them plural for example, and the way in which they are linked together in longer units to create messages. This is all the area of grammar.

To take the first of these elements of grammar—the alteration of words—do you refer to two or more swimming creatures as fish, or fishes? Do you say ‘I came to town yesterday’, or ‘I come to town yesterday?’; ‘I was or I were?’; Themselves’ or theirselves? In each example, the differences are caused by our selecting respectively from various ways of making individual words: the plural of nouns, the past tense of verbs, and reflexive pronouns. Many categories of words undergo change like this, involving word endings or other alterations (or non-alterations) of form. This feature of grammar, ‘word-grammar’, is morphology. The second aspect of grammar, when words come together in various combinations so that they have collective meaning, is syntax. When asking for something to be given to them, most English speakers say ‘give me it’. But several million speakers of British English, largely but not only in the English West Midlands, are more likely to say ‘give it me’, which does not sound at all strange to them although it does sound strange, and even confusing, to many others. (There is, of course, the possibility of saying ‘give it to me’, using an alternative grammatical construction which neatly avoids this particular problem altogether.) Choices like this are not at all random, but depend a lot on where someone lives, or at least on where they lived when they learnt the language. Grammatical differences of syntax like this, and those of morphology, are all dialectal.

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Received pronunciation named Britain’s favourite accent in new survey

It is the unmistakable sound of the Queen and old BBC newsreels.

And despite being perceived as a little posh, received pronunciation (RP) is still our favourite accent.

For a survey has found that the Queen’s English is most associated with nine out of ten positive character traits, including attractiveness, intelligence, honesty, charm, sophistication and reliability.

The only category where it falls short is in humour where it came only eleventh with the Geordie lilt sounding most fun ahead of Liverpudlian, Irish, Cornish and Essex.

The eHarmony.co.uk experiment involving 750 participants listening to sound clips of men and women with 19 different international and regional accents and scoring what they believed of the person based on 10 character traits.

The poll also identified a phenomenon dubbed the ‘Cheryl Cole factor’ where celebrities shape our preconceptions about accents.

Despite the reputation of French and Italian men, RP is the real language of love – as well as many other things.

Edinburgh came second overall ahead of Australian, southern Irish, Yorkshire and American. They were followed by Geordie, Mancunian, Glaswegian and Welsh.

French was ranked only 16th for attractiveness and Italian came in only slightly higher at 13th. French performed better in the ‘romantic’ category but was still only placed third behind RP and Edinburgh.

More than one-in-five (22 per cent) admitted the allure of some accents is so strong they have actually gone on a date because of it – and seven percent have ‘played up’ how they speak because they believed it sounded attractive.

Professor Jane Setter, a phoneticist at Reading University, said: ‘RP speakers have been rated highly in terms of intelligence – and the accent itself as attractive – since studies like this began.

‘Actors with this accent – like Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I) – come over as urbane, charming, witty and educated and – well – wouldn’t everyone want that from a prospective romantic partner?

‘The Edinburgh accent is also associated with culture and intelligence – think Sean Connery or David Tennant and you’re already swept off your feet.

‘However, comedians are rarely RP speakers and so it is no surprise to see it rated less highly in that respect; Sarah Millican (Geordie) and John Bishop (Liverpool) spring to mind as wonderfully funny, articulate people.

‘Our preconceptions and love of certain lilts, drawls and tones when it comes to accents is mostly down to experience and stereotyping.

‘This helps to explain why RP scores so highly across all categories – it’s the accent we associate with trusted newsreaders plus it continues to be used as the model for teaching English as a foreign language.

‘In terms of other accents which were rated highly for attractiveness – again stereotyping is at play. Across the pond we see Americans as colourful and international so they’re ‘interesting’, Yorkshire folk are seen as down to earth and honest and the Irish have ‘kissed the Blarney stone’ and are celebrated as charming and quick witted.

‘In terms of French and Italian not faring so well this could simply be down to a lack of familiarity with their unique inflections.’

Jemima Wade, spokesperson for eHarmony.co.uk, said: ‘After spending time getting to know each other online the first time you meet and say ‘hello’ on a date is a special, exciting moment.

‘Yet while accents may be appealing at first – sparking initial interest and attraction – happy long-term relationships are about far more than that.’



You are what you speak: place of origin most important identity factor

My research took place in the West Midlands region of the UK and looked at variations in the use of English in creative spoken performance such as comedy, drama and poetry, as well as in written texts such as letters to local newspapers, stories and poems written in dialect.

The results suggest that people are increasingly and deliberately using English in a way that identifies them with a particular place. They do this by incorporating  into their speech a set of linguistic features drawn from a particular variety of English. In the West Midlands, for example, people may pronounce ‘you’ as ‘yow’, use ‘Brum’ for ‘Birmingham’ and ‘cor’ for ‘cannot’ or ‘can’t’. By using features in this way, people emphasise their place of origin over other factors such as age, gender, social class and ethnicity.

Is there a ‘correct’ variety of English?

The research highlights how dynamic, fragmented and mobile the English language has become. At the same time, the influence of traditional gatekeepers of ‘standard’ English, such as the BBC, is weakening.

We live in a world where English crosses national boundaries and migration brings people together from different backgrounds and cultures. Consequently, we are probably more aware than ever before of the different ways we draw upon language in relation to linguistic and socio-cultural contexts.

Even though English is used around the world for the purposes of trade, travel, medicine and so on, it is an interesting fact that the majority of the world’s population today is largely bilingual, if not multilingual, even in nations where English is the mother tongue. In parts of Birmingham in the UK, for example, there are primary and secondary schools where nearly 100 per cent of pupils speak English as an additional language; in many others, 40 per cent is the norm.

The implications of this for education policy is that we can no longer speak of the ‘superiority’ of one variety of English over all others. Instead we need to recognise the roles and functions that different varieties of English, including that of standard English, fulfil.

Which variety of English should we teach?

A common and long-held belief among many in the English teaching profession is that the best people to teach spoken English are ‘native’ speakers of the language, especially the teaching of pronunciation. But we know from research that linguistic variation is a characteristic of all languages, and all varieties have their own rules and systems. Often these leak from one variety to another. Once we accept that English comes in many varieties, such concerns become redundant.

Successful communication is more a question of understanding, and being able to engage successfully, in the contexts of use rather than whether one is a ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ speaker. This is as true of English taught in the UK as it is in other contexts around the world.



Geordie, Brummie, Cockney or Scouse: What are Britain’s best accents?

The Sith Lord had an important message for them: change your accent. When it was announced that the city would host the first of the auditions for the upcoming Star Wars film at the weekend, David Prowse, the actor who played Vader in the original movies, said local thesps from his hometown might want to alter how they speak if they hope to get a part.

When filming the original movies, Prowse’s voice was famously and hilariously used to record dialogue on set, before being swapped later in post-production by the more menacing tones of James Earl Jones.

Perhaps with his own experience in mind, Prowse advised young actors from Bristol seeking a role in Star Wars: Episode VII to ditch the local dialect. ‘You can’t go, “Oo-aar my dear, here’s my lightsaber”,’ he said.

Your accent is a large part of who you are, an integral oral ID comprising the place you grew up, your education and your social group. It is thought that most of us develop our accents in our teenage years when the voice is at its most malleable. Most accents are established by the time we reach our early 20s, yet people can also consciously change their accents as they get older and for different social situations.

In Britain, we’re blessed with a fantastic array of regional voices, but how do these accents develop and why does this small group of islands in the North Atlantic have such a rich tapestry of local twangs?

The English language as we know it has been on these islands since about the 5th century. With the arrival of invaders from northern Europe – modern day Germany, Denmark and Norway – their languages, which eventually became Anglo-Saxon, slowly replaced the various native Celtic tongues that had dominated the British Isles before them.  As these groups arrived in different parts of the mainland, they influenced the newly developed language in their own ways and regional accents and dialects began to develop.

Before the days of telephones, the internet and mechanised transport, there was little contact between various parts of Britain, so regional differences were preserved and accentuated. This helps to explain how areas within close proximity can have such different accents.

When the Industrial Revolution turned Liverpool into a major port and melting pot of cultures, migrant workers from Ireland and north Wales arrived and blended their accents to create what is a very iconic accent today.

Before this happened, it is thought the Liverpudlian accent sounded a lot more like today’s general Lancashire accent. But despite being such a recognisable drawl, Scouse is often an accent that is treated with disdain and caution.

A recent survey by the ITV Tonight programme showed that Britons think the Scouse accent sounds the least intelligent, with Brummie coming a close second.
For much of the last century, the accent of the upper-classes was seen as a mark of high education and prestige. Accent became a yardstick to judge someone by. If someone had a ‘posh’ accent, it was a sure sign of education and wealth.

This neutral/non-regional accent – exhibited by those educated at the top private schools and on the BBC for many years – is known as Received Pronunciation (or sometimes Queen’s English). As a result, people attribute this accent with voices of authority, seriousness and intelligence.

Before this happened, it is thought the Liverpudlian accent sounded a lot more like today’s general Lancashire accent. But despite being such a recognisable drawl, Scouse is often an accent that is treated with disdain and caution.

A recent survey by the ITV Tonight programme showed that Britons think the Scouse accent sounds the least intelligent, with Brummie coming a close second.
For much of the last century, the accent of the upper-classes was seen as a mark of high education and prestige. Accent became a yardstick to judge someone by. If someone had a ‘posh’ accent, it was a sure sign of education and wealth.

This neutral/non-regional accent – exhibited by those educated at the top private schools and on the BBC for many years – is known as Received Pronunciation (or sometimes Queen’s English). As a result, people attribute this accent with voices of authority, seriousness and intelligence.

In comparison, regional accents were traditionally seen differently, in the sense that they deviated from the RP standard. People are more likely to think of an accent like Geordie as friendly, Edinburger as intelligent and Brummie as unintelligent.

But voice coach and author Caroline Goyder, from The Gravitas Method, believes these judgments are based more on the social connotations we attribute to representations in popular culture than anything else.

‘It has a lot to do with the stereotypes we absorb from the media,’ she told Metro. ‘TV and film love to typecast ¬– the chirpy Scouser, the sharp Cockney, the dour Scotsman – it’s a stereotype for character and we can’t help but pigeonhole.

Although many government ministers still speak in that clipped accent of the upper-class, there are a far greater range of accents on television and in popular culture than ever before.

‘Social mobility and access to education in the latter part of the 20th century has meant that people with different accents are represented in all aspects of British life,’ said Jonnie Robinson, sociolinguistics curator at the British Library.

‘Education has improved, people go off to university and people can migrate to other cities and regions a lot more easily, so people are coming into contact with this diverse range of speakers.’

To some extent, there has even been a rebellion against RP – an accent that is now sometimes associated with undeserved privilege and inequality. Robinson said princes William and Harry have a slightly understated form of ‘posh’ when compared to the older generation of royal males – Charles and Philip.

Meanwhile, chancellor George Osborne has made attempts at toning down his polished twang, sometimes with comedic effect – most notably in his man of the people ‘mockney’ effort at a speech in a Morrisons supermarket warehouse.

Goyder thinks it’s more important to come across with confidence and clarity than to put on a posh accent. ‘An ability to become more formal in an accent to communicate beyond your immediate region is the key to success,’ she said. ‘So, keep the accent, but make sure you are clear to anyone – and understand the etiquette of formal speech. Ditch the mumbling and the slang in moments that matter.’

To trace the evolution of the accent, the British Library is putting together archives of recordings of the various British accents and their development in the last century, with the acknowledgment that this rich variety is something that should be celebrated.

It says that the speech of a particular region should be a ‘source of great pride and an important expression of cultural identity’.

With improvements in education and social mobility, with more accents blending and morphing together and a disassociation from privileged RP, is there a chance that we will see regional accents disappear altogether as we reach a bland middle-ground?

Robinson doesn’t believe we’ll ever get to a homogenous stage and cites the modern London accent as a prime example of the constant change.

London is one of the most diverse, multicultural cities in the world and the young Londoners of today sound very different to the cockney accent of a century ago.

The influences of migrants from the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent have brought their own twist on the modern London, accent in the same way that Irish and Welsh migrants changed Liverpool’s.

And Robinson believes that the accents of our great urban centres like London, Birmingham and Manchester will continue to develop and influence their rural hinterlands.

‘As Londoners have moved out into the country, they have taken their accents with them, replacing the older regional accents that would have been prevalent in the Home Counties before,’ he said.

So as long as our urban centres maintain their cosmopolitan identity, the rich variety of accents on our islands will continue to be as varied as ever.



Geordie’s still alreet

A FIERCE pride in one’s regional roots can be found throughout England. Increased mobility and the ubiquitousness of television and radio have done surprisingly little to homogenise the distinctive accents and dialects that characterise the different parts of the country. Some are spreading; some retreating. Some are mutating; some are even getting stronger. But, overall, the pronunciation and prosody of spoken English seems to vary as much as ever across the country of its birth.

Liverpool’s “Scouse” dialect has long fascinated linguists, with its throaty, guttural utterances that emerged from a mixture of Irish, Scots, Welsh and Lancashire accents in the late 19th century. For example, Liverpudlians tend to add a breathy “h” sound to words that end with a “t”, lending their distinctive intonation to “what”, “that” and “but”. According to Kevin Watson, who lectures in “sociophonetics” at the University of Lancaster, this is not lax articulation but rather a conscious effort to soften the uttered word through what he calls “plosive lenition”. Older Liverpudlians limit their use of it to words of a single syllable but younger ones have increased the individuality of the Scouse accent by extending it to “chocolate”, “certificate” and “aggregate”, he says.

Although some aspects of south-eastern “Estuary English” have infiltrated northern parts—replacing the “th” in “think” and “nothing” with an “f” sound, for example—regional accents have largely survived in northern cities, thanks to a relative lack of immigration combined with chirpy civic pride, reckons Paul Kerswill, a colleague of Mr Watson.

Nevertheless, Mr Kerswill’s research finds that the distribution of accents across the country is undergoing big changes. While Scouse’s Merseyside redoubt is static even as the accent grows stronger, variations of the north-eastern “Geordie” accent, articulated by Cheryl Cole—and cited as a reason for the pop singer’s recent removal as a judge on the American version of “The X Factor”, a talent show—are not only retaining their distinctiveness but conquering fresh territory (see map).

The Brummie accent, a nasal drone that suggests despondency to anyone outside Birmingham who is lucky enough to hear it, is also spreading as its speakers move west into Wales, where it threatens to snuff out the melodic local lilt. That is because the accents with which teenagers speak are most influenced by their peers, not parents, teachers, television or radio, says Mr Kerswill.

Nowhere is this truer than in the capital. The traditional Cockney accent is fading and is no longer so common even within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow church in east London, where by legend it was born. Mr Kerswill predicts that, by 2030, Cockney-influenced Estuary English will dominate most of the east and south-east, as Londoners move out. In the capital itself a new dialect, inspired by recent immigration, is emerging: “multicultural London English”, heavily influenced by Jamaican with undertones of west African and Indian. Mocked by Ali G, a comic character created by Sacha Baron Cohen, whose catchphrase was “Is it cos I is black?”, it is now spoken by teenagers of all hues, united by their pride in urban grime.



Where is the Cockney Dialect spoken?

The cockney dialect is the accent spoken by a Londoner, specifically belonging to the East-End of London. The term Cockney refers not only to the accent but also to the people who speak the Cockney dialect. The dialect is typically used by the working class Londoners. The Cockney dialect has its own distinct vocabulary and special usage. “Rhyming slang” is a characteristic feature of the original cockney culture. A good example of the Cockney dialect would be the language spoken by Eliza Doolittle before being introduced to Henry Higgins, in the movie “My Fair Lady”.

What is the origin of the term Cockney?

The term Cockney may literally refer to a cock’s egg, supposed to be a shapeless egg laid at times by young hens. The term may be attributed to the word cokenei used in Middle English to mean a “city dweller”. It perhaps represented a weak townsman as distinguished by the stronger countryman. In the 17th century cockney was jokingly used to refer to a Londoner. Interestingly a Cockney accent can be faked and is sometimes known as the ‘Mockney’.

Which area is designated as the Cockney area?

Today the dialect used by the natives of the East End of London is termed as Cockney. It is generally believed that to be regarded as a real Cockney, the person has to be a native of the area from where he can hear the bells of St. Mary le Bow, situated at Cheapside in London. The Cockney accent regarded as the working-class dialect is also used in the other areas of the eastern part of the city including Stephney, East End, Shoreditch Poplar, and Hackney.

What are the features of Cockney Dialect?

The primary feature of the Cockney was not using the letter ‘h’ in many words. Using contractions and double negatives were also characteristic of Cockney dialect. Vowel shifts resulted in a drastic change in the sound of words. Many consonants are commonly replaced with other combinations as in the word “frosty” which is used as “fwasty” in Cockney dialect. In some words the final consonant is dropped resulting in a comic use of language as in the use of “dinna” for “dinner”.

What is the Cockney Rhyming Slang?

One of the fascinating features of Cockney dialect is the use of rhyming slang which may not be understood by the non-Cockneys. Typically a single word is replaced with a group of words consisting of a word that rhymes with the original single word and then the rhyming word is eliminated. For example the word ‘head’ is replaced by the phrase ‘loaf of bread’ (‘bread’ rhyming with ‘head’),the rhyming part is then eliminated and hence what remains is the word ‘loaf’ which is used in Cockney dialect to mean a ‘head’.

What is the significance of the Cockney Dialect?

The Cockney dialect is generally considered inferior though it is recognized as an acceptable English accent in the United States. Within England itself, since 1909 the Cockney dialect has gained acceptance as an “alternative form of the English Language” So speaking in Cockney may no longer be termed as inferior as it was though of in the past. All the same the preference for the RP variety of English always remains with the educated class of England. During the 1950s, BBC used mainly RP English but it is common nowadays to hear a number of accents including Cockney dialect.







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