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Higher category: Language
The English language spoken and written in England encompasses a diverse range of accents and dialects. The dialect forms part of the broader British English, along with other varieties in the United Kingdom. Terms used to refer to the English language spoken and written in England include: English English and Anglo-English.
The related term British English has many ambiguities and tensions in the word British, so it can be used and interpreted in multiple ways, but it is usually reserved to describe the features common to Anglo-English, Welsh English and Scottish English (England, Wales and Scotland are the three traditional countries on the island of Great Britain; the main dialect of the fourth country of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, is Ulster English, which is generally considered a dialect of Hiberno-English).
There are many different accents and dialects throughout England and people are often very proud of their local accent or dialect. However, accents and dialects also highlight social class differences, rivalries or other associated prejudices—as illustrated by George Bernard Shaw's comment:
It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.
As well as pride in one's accent, there is also stigma placed on many traditional working class dialects. In his work on the dialect of Bolton, Graham Shorrocks wrote:
I have personally known those who would avoid, or could never enjoy, a conversation with a stranger, because they were literally too ashamed to open their mouths. It has been drummed into people—often in school, and certainly in society at large—that dialect speech is incorrect, impure, vulgar, clumsy, ugly, careless, shoddy, ignorant, and altogether inferior. Furthermore, the particularly close link in recent English society between speech, especially accents, and social class and values has made local dialect a hindrance to upward social mobility."
The three largest recognisable dialect groups in England are Southern English dialects, Midlands English dialects and Northern English dialects. The most prominent isogloss is the foot–strut split, which runs roughly from mid-Shropshire (on the Welsh border) to south of Birmingham and then to the Wash. South of the isogloss (the Midlands and Southern dialects), the Middle English phoneme /ʊ/ split into /ʌ/ (as in cut, strut) and /ʊ/ (put, foot); this change did not occur north of the isogloss.
Most native English speakers can tell the general region in England that a speaker comes from, and experts or locals may be able to narrow this down to within a few miles. Historically, such differences could be a major impediment to understanding between people from different areas. There are also many cases where a large city has a very different accent from the rural area around it (e.g. Bristol and Avon, Hull and the East Riding, Liverpool and Lancashire). But modern communications and mass media have reduced these differences in some parts of the country. Speakers may also change their pronunciation and vocabulary, particularly towards Received Pronunciation and Standard English when in public.
British and Irish varieties of English, including Anglo-English, are discussed in John C. Wells (1982). Some of the features of Anglo-English are that:
There has been academic interest in dialects since the late 19th century. The main works are On Early English Pronunciation by A.J. Ellis, English Dialect Grammar by Joseph Wright, and the English Dialect Dictionary also by Joseph Wright. The Dialect Test was developed by Joseph Wright so he could hear the differences of the vowel sounds of a dialect by listening to different people reading the same short passage of text.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Survey of English Dialects was undertaken to preserve a record of the traditional spectrum of rural dialects that merged into each other. The traditional picture was that there would be a few changes in lexicon and pronunciation every couple of miles, but that there would be no sharp borders between completely different ways of speaking. Within a county, the accents of the different towns and villages would drift gradually so that residents of bordering areas sounded more similar to those in neighbouring counties.
Because of greater social mobility and the teaching of "Standard English" in secondary schools, this model is no longer very accurate. There are some English counties in which there is little change in accent/dialect, and people are more likely to categorise their accent by a region or county than by their town or village. As agriculture became less prominent, many rural dialects were lost. Some urban dialects have also declined; for example, traditional Bradford dialect is now quite rare in the city, and call centres have seen Bradford as a useful location for the very fact there is a lack of dialect in potential employees. Some call centres state that they were attracted to Bradford because it has a regional accent which is relatively easy to understand. But working in the opposite direction concentrations of migration may cause a town or area to develop its own accent. The two most famous examples are Liverpool and Corby. Liverpool's dialect is influenced heavily by Irish and Welsh, and it sounds completely different from surrounding areas of Lancashire. Corby's dialect is influenced heavily by Scots, and it sounds completely different from the rest of Northamptonshire. The Voices 2006 survey found that the various ethnic minorities that have settled in large populations in parts of Britain develop their own specific dialects. For example, Asian may have an Oriental influence on their accent so sometimes urban dialects are now just as easily identifiable as rural dialects, even if they are not from South Asia. In the traditional view, urban speech was just seen as a watered-down version of that of the surrounding rural area. Historically, rural areas had much more stable demographics than urban areas, but there is now only a small difference. It has probably never been true since the Industrial Revolution caused an enormous influx to cities from rural areas.
According to dialectologist Peter Trudgill, the major regional English accents of modern England can be divided on the basis on the following basic features; the word columns each represent the pronunciation of one italicised word in the sentence "Very few cars made it up the long hill". Two additional distinguishing features—the absence or presence of a trap-bath split and the realisation of the GOAT vowel—are also represented under the "path" and "stone" columns (so that the sentence could be rendered "Very few cars made it up the path of the long stone hill").
|Accent Name||Trudgill's Accent Region||Strongest Centre||very||few||cars||made||up||path||long||stone||hill|
|Yorkshire||Central and Lower North||Leeds/Bradford||/ɪ/||/juː/||[äː]||[eː]||/ʊ/||/æ/ [a]||/ŋ/||[oː]||[ɪl]|
|Lancashire (traditional)||Central Lancashire||Rossendale||/ɪ/||/juː/||[aːɹ] [note 1]||[eː]||/ʊ/||/æ/ [a]||/ŋg/||[oː]||[ɪl]|
|Brummie||West Midlands||Birmingham||/i/||/juː/||[ɑː]||[ʌɪ]||/ʊ/||/æ/ [a]||/ŋg/||[ʌʊ]||[ɪl]|
|East Midlands||East, North, and South Midlands||Lincoln||/i/ [note 2]||/juː/ [note 3]||[ɑː]||[eɪ] [note 4]||/ʊ/||/æ/ [a]||/ŋ/||[ʌʊ]||[ɪl] [note 5]|
|West Country||Southwest||Bristol/Plymouth||/i/||/juː/||[ɑːɹ]||[eɪ] [note 6]||/ʌ/||/æ/ [æ]||/ŋ/||[ɔʊ]||[ɪl] [note 7]|
|East Anglian (traditional)||East Anglia||Traditional Norfolk/Suffolk||/i/||/uː/||[aː]||[æɪ]||/ʌ/||/æ/ [æ]||/ŋ/||[ʊu]||[(h)ɪl]|
|London/Estuary (also Multicultural London English)||Home Counties||Greater London||/i/||/juː/||[ɑː]||[eɪ~æɪ]||/ʌ/||/ɑː/||/ŋ/||[ʌʊ]||[ɪo]|
Main article: British English in Southern England
In general, Southern English accents are distinguished from Northern English accents primarily by not using the short a in words such as "bath". In the south-east, the broad A is normally used before a /f/, /s/ or /θ/: words such as "cast" and "bath" are pronounced /kɑːst/, /bɑːθ/ rather than /kæst/, /bæθ/. This sometimes occurs before /nd/: it is used in "command" and "demand" but not in "brand" or "grand".
In the south-west, an /aː/ sound in used in these words but also in words that take /æ/ in RP; there is no trap–bath split but both are pronounced with an extended fronted vowel. Bristol is an exception to the bath-broadening rule: it uses /a/ in the trap and bath sets, just as is the case in the North and the Midlands.
Accents originally from the upper class speech of the London–Oxford–Cambridge triangle are particularly notable as the basis for Received Pronunciation.
Southern English accents have three main historical influences:
Relatively recently, the first two have increasingly influenced southern accents outside London via social class mobility and the expansion of London. From some time during the 19th century, middle and upper middle classes began to adopt affectations, including the RP accent, associated with the upper class. In the late 20th and 21st century other social changes, such as middle class RP-speakers forming an increasing component of rural communities, have accentuated the spread of RP. The South East coast accents traditionally have several features in common with the West country; for example, rhoticity and the a: sound in words such as bath, cast, etc. However, the younger generation in the area is more likely to be non-rhotic and use the London/East Anglian A: sound in bath.
After the Second World War, about one million Londoners were relocated to new and expanded towns throughout the south east, bringing with them their distinctive London accent.
During the 19th century distinct dialects of English were recorded in Sussex, Surrey and Kent. These dialects are now extinct or nearly extinct due to improved communications and population movements.
Main article: West Country dialects
The West Country dialects and accents are the English dialects and accents used by much of the indigenous population of South West England, the area popularly known as the West Country.
This region encompasses Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, while Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Wiltshire are usually also included, although the northern and eastern boundaries of the area are hard to define and sometimes even wider areas are encompassed. The West Country accent is said to reflect the pronunciation of the Anglo-Saxons far better than other modern English Dialects.
In the nearby counties of Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, it was possible to encounter comparable accents and, indeed, distinct local dialects until perhaps the 1960s. There is now limited use of such dialects amongst older people in local areas. Although natives of such locations, especially in western parts, can still have West Country influences in their speech, the increased mobility and urbanisation of the population have meant that local Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight dialects (as opposed to accents) are today essentially extinct.
Academically the regional variations are considered to be dialectal forms. The Survey of English Dialects captured manners of speech across the West Country that were just as different from Standard English as anything from the far North. Close proximity has completely different languages such as Cornish, which is a Celtic language related to Welsh, and more closely to Breton.
The Norfolk dialect is spoken in the traditional county of Norfolk and areas of north Suffolk. Famous speakers include Keith Skipper. The group FOND (Friends of Norfolk Dialect) was formed to record the county's dialect and to provide advice for TV companies using the dialect in productions.
East Anglian dialect is also spoken in areas of Cambridgeshire. It is characterised by the use of [ei] for /iː/ in FLEECE words.
Main article: Northern England English
There are several accent features which are common to most of the accents of northern England (Wells 1982, section 4.4).
Some dialect words used across the North are listed in extended editions of the Oxford Dictionary with a marker "North England": for example, the words ginnell and snicket for specific types of alleyway, the word fettle for to organise, or the use of while to mean until. The best-known Northern words are nowt, owt and summat, which are included in most dictionaries. For more localised features, see the following sections.
The "present historical" is named after the speech of the region, but it is often used in many working class dialects in the south of England too. Instead of saying "I said to him", users of the rule would say, "I says to him". Instead of saying, "I went up there", they would say, "I goes up there."
In the far north of England, the local speech is indistinguishable from Scots. Wells said that northernmost Northumberland "though politically English is linguistically Scottish".
Main article: Scouse
The Liverpool accent, known as Scouse colloquially, is quite different from the accent of surrounding Lancashire. This is because Liverpool has had many immigrants in recent centuries, particularly of Irish people. Irish influences on Scouse speech include the pronunciation of unstressed 'my' as 'me', and the pronunciation of 'th' sounds like 't' or 'd' (although they remain distinct as dental /t̪/ /d̪/). Other features include the pronunciation of non-initial /k/ as [x], and the pronunciation of 'r' as a tap /ɾ/.
Main article: Yorkshire dialect
Wuthering Heights is one of the few classic works of English literature to contain a substantial amount of dialect. Set in Haworth, the servant Joseph speaks in the traditional dialect of the area, which many modern readers struggle to understand. This dialect was still spoken around Haworth until the late 1970s, but there is now only a minority of it still in everyday use. The old dialect is mainly encountered in Skipton, Otley, Settle, or similar places where older farmers from deep in the dales live. Examples of differences from RP in Yorkshire pronunciation include, but are not limited to:
The accents for Teesside, usually known as Smoggy, are sometimes grouped with Yorkshire and sometimes grouped with the North-East of England, for they share characteristics with both. As this urban area grew in the early 20th century, there are fewer dialect words that date back to older forms of English; Teesside speak is the sort of modern dialect that Peter Trudgill identified in his "The Dialects of England". There is a Lower Tees Dialect group. A recent study found that most people from Middlesbrough do not consider their accent to be "Yorkshire", but that they are less hostile to being grouped with Yorkshire than to being grouped with the Geordie accent. Intriguingly, speakers from Middlesbrough are occasionally mistaken for speakers from Liverpool as they share many of the same characteristics. It is thought the occasional similarities between the Middlesbrough and Liverpool accent may be due to the high number of Irish migration to both areas during the late 1900s in fact the 1871 census showed Middlesbrough had the second highest proportion of people from Ireland after Liverpool. Some examples of traits that are shared with [most parts of] Yorkshire include:
Examples of traits shared with the North-East include:
The vowel in "goat" is an /oː/ sound, as is found in both Durham and rural North Yorkshire. In common with this area of the country, Middlesbrough is a non-rhotic accent.
The vowel in "face" is pronounced as /eː/, as is commonplace in the North-East of England.
Main article: Lancashire dialect and accent
The Archers has had characters with a variety of different West Country accents (see Mummerset).
The shows of Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement have often included a variety of regional accents, the most notable being Auf Wiedersehen Pet about Geordie men in Germany. Porridge featured London and Cumberland accents, and The Likely Lads featured north east England.
The programmes of Carla Lane such as The Liver Birds and Bread featured Scouse accents.
In the 2005 version of the science fiction programme Doctor Who, various Londoners wonder why the Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston), an alien, sounds as if he comes from the North. Eccleston used his own Salford accent in the role; the Doctor's usual response is "Lots of planets have a North!" Other accents in the same series include Cockney (used by actress Billie Piper) and Estuary (used by actress Catherine Tate).
A television reality programme Rock School was set in Suffolk in its second series, providing lots of examples of the Suffolk dialect.