English Dialectology

About British English

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.[18] 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.[19]

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:

  • The London accent, in particular, Cockney.
  • Received Pronunciation (‘R.P.’).
  • Southern rural accents, of which the West Country, Kent and East Anglian accents are examples.

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 (and possibly sowing the seed of Estuary English).

Southern English engages in r-dropping, that is, r’s are not pronounced after vowels, unless followed by another vowel. Instead, vowels are lengthened or have an /’/ off-glide, so fire becomes /fai’/, far becomes /fa:/, and so on.

  • regular use of “broad a” (/a:/), where GA (General American) would use /æ/.
  • “long o” is pronounced /’u/, where GA uses /ou/.
  • final unstressed i is pronounced /i/, where GA uses /i:).
  • t between vowels retained as /t/ (or a glottal stop, in its variants), where GA changes it to /d/.

The English of well-bred Londoners, especially graduates of the public schools (e.g. Eton and Harrow) and “Oxbridge” universities, was the origin of “the Queen’s English,” also known as Received Pronunciation (RP), BBC, or “posh.”


Originally the dialect of the working class of East End London.

  • initial h is dropped, so house becomes /aus/ (or even /a:s/).
  • /th/ and /dh/ become /f/ and /v/ respectively: think > /fingk/, brother > /brœv’/.
  • t between vowels becomes a glottal stop: water > /wo?’/.
  • diphthongs change, sometimes dramatically: time > /toim/, brave > /braiv/, etc.

Besides the accent, it includes a large number of slang words, including the famous rhyming slang:

  • north and south — mouth
  • plates — feet [from plates of meat = feet]
  • boat race — face
  • skin and blister — sister
  • trouble — wife [from trouble and strife = wife]
  • dustbin lids — kids / children
  • whistle — suit [from whistle and flute = suit]
  • oily rag — fag = cigarette
  • jam jar — car
  • mince pies — eyes
  • pen and ink — think
  • porkies — lies [from pork pies = lies]
  • titfer — hat [from tit for tat = hat]
  • apples and pears — stairs
  • Jimmy — urinate [from Jimmy Riddle = piddle]
  • Bertie Woofter — gay man [from Bertie Woofter = poofter]
  • China — mate / friend [from China plate = mate]
  • Khyber — buttocks [from Khyber Pass = ass]
  • rabbit and pork — talk
  • tea leaf — thief
  • taters — cold [from potato mold = cold]
  • dog and bone — phone
  • loaf — head [from loaf of bread = head]
  • brown bread — dead
  • elbows and knees — trees
  • gold watch — Scotch
  • pride and joy — boy
  • current bun — Sun
  • dicky — shirt [from dicky dirt = shirt]
  • pots and pans — hands
  • jugs — ears [from jugs of beers = ears]
  • ones and twos — shoes
  • daisies — boots [from daisy roots = boots]
  • bird — prison [from bird lime = time, as in doing time]

(from Kryss Katsiavriades at http://www.krysstal.com/cockney.html)

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