English accents & dialects
WITH AUDIO►: Click to open/close audio player then hit the ► play button
Only a minority of English speakers speak "the Queen's English".How many English languages are there? Well, it depends where you draw the line between different languages. Are American and English different? An American might say : " I dropped all my tomatoes on the sidewalk" (with the middle syllable of tomatoes pronounced mate — an Englishman would say "I dropped my tomatoes on the pavement", (with the middle of tomatoes pronounced mart).
This example has two differences: the first is just a question of accent — the second is a question of language, or dialect. Sidewalk, or pavement.
O.K. so American is different from English — we all know that: but what about the different types of English spoken in Great Britain alone ? British English is actually one of the most varied languages in Europe. The kind we usually teach is called R.P., or Oxford English, or the Queen's English — but it's just one of many varieties. Accents and dialects vary according to geographical region and social standing and there are hundreds of different varieties! Take the word garage: in the south of England people usually say garage, as in French; in the north of Britain people tend to say garridge, as if it rhymed with bridge .
Sometimes, more rarely, the intonation of a word varies: a careful speaker will probably say controversy, other people will say controversy.
A much more common feature is the way English speakers frequently "drop their Hs": a careful speaker, meeting his friend coming back from holiday might say: "Hello Henry, I Hope you Had a Happy Holiday !" Someone speaking with a more "common" accent might say: " 'Allo 'Enry, I 'ope you 'ad an 'appy 'oliday."
The last three examples are questions of accent . But then there's the question of dialect too. We talk about dialect when it is not only the pronunciation of words that changes, but the words themselves and even the grammar. This is a common feature of regional varieties of English, but sometimes it also distinguishes between different social levels of language.
If you, as a foreigner, were in England and asked someone for change for a fifty-pound note, the person might reply: "Sorry, I haven't got any!" No problem there: it's just what you learn in your English classes ! But what if the person you're talking to replied, "Sorry mate ! Ain't got none !" ? In this case, you'll probably understand that the reply is negative, because of the word sorry, but the rest of the sentence may be incomprehensible. Mate, is a slang word (in this context) meaning friend; the word I has disappeared from the answer; ain't is a general negative form that can replace most negative auxiliaries (haven't, isn't, etc.), and any has become none, a double negative. Sorry mate, ain't got none ! is the kind of sentence you might hear anywhere in Britain.
Most dialects are regional: for example there are several different dialects of English in Scotland. Many Scots say things differently from the English: phonetically, as in the word go (with a monophthong) rather than go [gəu], with a diphthong or hame instead of home. Sometimes grammar and words change too; many Scotsmen say I dinna ken rather than I don't know, or couldna instead of couldn't, wee instead of little, or a lum instead of a chimney. Scotland is a different country from England, and the reasons for its language being different are not hard to imagine: but England itself has many regional accents and dialects. Northern English is different from Southern English, but there again, there are many varieties of each !
There are obviously some general shared features: in most Northern dialects, the [ʌ] sound of southern English becomes [u]: the word duck, in the North of England, rhymes with look. In many southern regional dialects, other vowels change: the pronoun I may be pronounced [oi], rhyming with boy, and the short [ɔ] as in fox becomes [a:], so making fox rhyme with Marx (as in many American dialects). While it is the vowels that change most from one accent or dialect to another, some consonants change a little, especially the R which is fully pronounced in some English and many American dialects. Compare standard English I'm a farmer with Westcountry English Oi'm a varrmer!
Yes, it's all very complicated, and no one expects a student from another part of the world to understand all the details ! Whole books have been written on the question ! What is important is that non-native speakers of English realise that all these different varieties of English do exist, even within the United Kingdom. If you go to England expecting everyone to speak "the Queen's English", you will get a big surprise ! Go expecting to find a variety of accents and dialects, and you will find that they are easier to understand !
WORDSRP: Received Pronunciation - feature : characteristic, quality -
Printing: A printer-friendly document - better than PDF
Copyright © Linguapress. Do not copy this document to any other website
Copying permitted for personal study, or by teachers for use with their students
English accents and dialectsThere is no worksheet to accompany this item.
Explore spoken English further by listening to the text on word stress in English.