Dialects. Language dialects of English

Dialect – a variety of a language spoken by a group of people and having features of vocabulary, grammar, and/or pronunciation that distinguish it from other varieties of the same language. Dialects usually develop as a result of geographic, social, political, or economic barriers between groups of people who speak the same language.

  1. Language dialects of English

.3 Standards and dialectal speech

are not simply cold linguistic systems studied in grammar books, but rather, tools for human communication. Therefore, as a human phenomenon, language is endowed with the spontaneous and ever-changing nature typical of us human beings. It is thanks to this medium that we can establish social relationships with other people, and so perform certain social functions, for there is no doubt that any speech act has a particular function in the context where it is taking place. In addition to the purely communicative function of language, we should not overlook that language is also a powerful source of personal information, in the sense that the way we speak our language is highly influenced by both our social status and our region of origin. Thus, if a given speaker comes from County Durham, for example, he or she probably uses the kind of language spoken by people from that part of the country. If this person is also a middle-class businessman, he uses the kind of language associated with people of this type. Kinds of language of this sort are often referred to as dialects, the first type in the previous example being a regional dialect and the second a social dialect.is a concept that tends to be confused with accent; however, it should be explained that dialect has to do with lexical, grammatical and phonetic differences between different language varieties, whereas accent refers solely to pronunciation. Taking the notion of dialect as a basis, I think that it would be convenient to define language as the compilation of all the dialects (or language varieties) of a given linguistic system used worldwide. Accordingly, the English language as a whole would include not only English English, but also American English, Australian English, Canadian English… As there mentioned, hence it becomes clear that the notion of a unique worldwide Standard English is simply an utopia which is quite far from becoming a reality, for as David Graddol suggests, “a standard variety of English can only actually exist in the shape of one of its regional variations”. [6;190]

In the previous paragraph, it is noticed about concept that surely stands out in any discussion revolving around dialectal issues: Standard English. This is the dialect which is normally used officially, that is, the kind of English to be found in printed books, newspapers, educational contexts, dictionaries, grammar books… However, it is obvious importance should not deter us from considering and valuing the existence of unofficial, or rather, non-standard dialects. As we shall see later on, it is when we start talking about standard and non-standard dialects that many social prejudices and misjudgments come into play. Having made clear some introductory concepts, it should be stated that the remainder of this part of term paper will be primarily concerned with one of the Standard English is mentioned above: English English. This term refers to the English language as spoken only in England. Even though “British English” is more commonly used than “English English” to refer to the same reality, we should not forget that the former is reserved to describe the features common to all UK language varieties (English English, Welsh English, Scottish English, and sometimes Hiberno-English), while the latter is restricted to the kind of English used only in England.mentioned above, dialects are both regional and social , so it is no wonder that any individual speaker’s speech shows traces of his/her home town, his/her upbringing, education… Peter Trudgill calls the reader’s attention to the fact that there are certain parallels between the development of social varieties and that of regional varieties. He explains that the development of both regional and social varieties has to do with the existence of barriers: geographical, in the case of regional varieties, and social, in the case of social varieties. [8; 23]

To provide an example of the first kind of barriers, it has been found that Traditional Dialect speakers in the areas of Britain north of the river Humber still have a monophthong in words like house /hu:s/, whereas speakers south of the river have used a diphthong for several hundred years /haus/. Regional variation is undoubtedly also affected by distance, so the greater the geographical distance between two dialects the more dissimilar they are linguistically. With regards to social dialects, we may say that they are also affected by the same kind of variables to be found when studying regional dialects: barriers and distance. Nevertheless, social barriers and distance are not as clear-cut as geographical barriers and distance may appear to be, for what comes into play now is not something physical (a river, a mountain) but abstract. In fact, the division of society into various strata is nothing but a fairly blurred and abstract classification based on the notion of privilege, which is a concept determined by power, wealth and status. Trudgill holds that it takes a long time for a linguistic innovation that begins among the highest social groups to spread to the lowest social groups, thus emphasizing the paramount role that social distance may play when it comes to dealing with linguistic matters. If we choose to place clear dividing lines between several dialects, basing our decision solely on county boundaries, then we will probably be acting according to socio-political loyalties, rather than linguistic facts. This statement seems to make sense if we consider the distinction drawn between Geordie (Newcastle) and Mackem (Sunderland), a distinction certainly based more on football rivalry and loyalty than on actual linguistic facts., it may be deduced that dialects and accents in England are clearly related to differences of social-class background and prestige. Taking this idea into account, the reader may begin to understand why the terms Standard English (a social dialect) and RP (a social accent) are so controversial and so open to heated debate. Let us first provide some general background on the emergence and subsequent importance of Standard English. The rise of a certain dialect as the standard variety of that language takes place simultaneously with the rise of a given social group as the most powerful one. It is under such circumstances that the standard variety begins to acquire the social prestige with which we tend to associate the notion of standardness. In England, the standard variety derived from the south-eastern triangle around London, where the Normans established both their court and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. As centuries went by, the South-Eastern variety was gradually imposed from above over the range of regional dialects; thereby trying to obliterate linguistic variation and diversity in favour of what Trudgill calls a “superposed variety of language”. The arbitrariness associated with the standardization of a certain variety is evident if one conceives the possibility that had the Normans established their Court in the North-East (instead of the South-East), this superposed variety nowadays would have been closer to Geordie The official nature of standard English has led to its being regarded as the most perfect and accurate variety, against which all other English usage is measured. Contrary to expectations, however, the standard variety is not intrinsically superior to other (non-standard) varieties, for there is nothing linguistically (and hence, scientifically) relevant that proves that a given variety is better than another one. As explained below, judgments of this kind are based not on linguistic facts, but on socio-economic misjudgments or prejudices. For many years, Standard English has been closely linked to a particular accent, the so-called RP (Received Pronunciation). This upper-class kind of accent began to been utilized in the most famous English fee-paying or Public schools at the end of the nineteenth century. From then on, RP came to be viewed as the best English accent, that is, the accent everyone should master or aim at achieving. Due to its social and educational prestige, RP is also referred to as The Queen’s English or even BBC English (in the early years of broadcasting it was very rare to hear any other accents on the BBC). Surprising though it may seem, this social accent is not necessarily linked to Standard English, which can be spoken with any regional accent. Despite the widespread foreign (and ESL) belief that everyone in England speaks Standard English with an RP pronunciation, it should be pointed out that according to Melchers & Shaw , “only 12 per cent of the population of England are speakers of Standard English; nine per cent speak Standard English with a regional accent [ 7;47]. What these figures suggest is, first and foremost, that the number of speakers of Standard English in England is very small, and secondly, that only 3% of the total population of England speak Standard English with an RP accent. All things considered, it is paramount that we end this section by examining the interrelationship between geographical variation and social variation in England. In order to fulfill this purpose, we shall refer to Trudgill’s pyramidal illustration of these issues. [8; 30-3]already noted, Standard English is the language variety employed by those who have received a good education; hence, educated middle and upper classes. Since Standard English is not a fully homogeneous variety, it is not at all striking to find some small regional differences among educated speakers of this dialect. Nevertheless, as we proceed downwards in the social scale, we will find that regional differences among speakers increase gradually (precisely for this reason, some working-class dialects are so localized geographically and so difficult to understand).Concerning accent, we may observe that the rather flattened top of the dialectal pyramid turns into a clearly pointed top or peak. This change in shape may be explained by reference to the unique position of the RP accent; it is such a prestigious and educated accent that regional variation among those who use it (mainly upper class people) is non-existent.

2.2 Comparison of British dialects

Cockney is probably the second most famous British accent. It originated in the East End of London, but shares many features with and influences other dialects in that region.


 Raised vowel in words like trap and cat so these sounds like “trep” and “cet.”

 Non-rhoticity: see explanation above under Received Pronunciation, above.

 Trap-bath split: see explanation above under Received Pronunciation.

 London vowel shift: The vowel sounds are shifted around so that Cockney “day” sounds is pronounced IPA dæɪ (close to American “die”) and Cockney buy verges near IPA bɒɪ (close to American “boy”).

 Glottal Stopping: the letter t is pronounced with the back of the throat (glottis) in between vowels; hence better becomes IPA be?ə (sounds to outsiders like “be’uh”).

 L-vocalization: The l at the end of words often becomes a vowel sound Hence pal can seem to sound like “pow.” (I’ve seen this rendered in IPA as /w/, /o,/ and /ɰ/.)

 Th-Fronting: The th in words like think or this is pronounced with a more forward consonant depending on the word: thing becomes “fing,” this becomes “dis,” and mother becomes “muhvah.”

Estuary English (Southeast British)

Estuary is an accent derived from London English which has achieved a status slightly similar to “General American” in the US. Features of the accent can be heard around Southeast England, East Anglia, and perhaps further afield. It is arguably creeping into the Midlands and North.


 Similar to Cockney, but in general Estuary speakers do not front th words or raise the vowel in trap. There are few hard-and-fast rules, however.

 Glottal stoppingof ‘t’ and l-vocalization (see above) are markers of this accent, but there is some debate about their frequency

West Country (Southwest British)

West Country refers to a large swath of accents heard in the South of England, starting about fifty miles West of London and extending to the Welsh border.


 Rhoticity, meaning that the letter r is pronounced after vowels. So, for example, whereas somebody from London would pronounce mother as “muthah,” somebody from Bristol would say “mutherrr”. (i.e. the way people pronounce the word in America or Ireland).

 Otherwise, this is a huge dialect area, so there’s tons of variation.

Midlands English

Midlands English is one of the more stigmatized of Englishes. Technically, this can be divided into East Midlands and West Midlands, but I won’t get into the differences between the two just now. The most famous of these dialects is Brummie (Birmingham English).


 The foot-strut merger, meaning that the syllable in foot and could is pronounced with the same syllable as strut and fudge. (IPA ʊ).

 A system of vowels otherwise vaguely reminiscent of Australian accents, with short i in kit sometimes verging toward IPA kit (“keet”) and extremely open “loose” dipthongs.

 A variety of unusual vocabulary: some East Midlands dialects still feature a variant of the word “thou!”

Northern England English

These are the accents and dialect spoken north of the midlands, in cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. Related accents also found in rural Yorkshire, although there are some unique dialect features there that I won’t get into now.


 The foot-stut merger: (see the Midlands description above).

 Non-rhoticity, except in some rural areas.

 The dipthong in words like kite and ride is lengthened so that kite can become something like IPA ka:ɪt (i.e. it sounds a bit like “kaaaait”)

 Unique vocab includes use of the word mam to mean mother, similar to Irish English.


Geordie usually refers to both the people and dialect of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in Northeast England. The word may also refer to accents and dialects in Northeast England in general. I would classify this as a separate region from the rest of Northern England because it’s so radically different from the language spoken in nearby cities.


 The foot-stut merger(see the Midlands description above).

 Non-rhoticity (in the cities at least)

 The /ai/ dipthong in kite is raised to IPA ɛɪ, so it sounds a bit more like American or Standard British “kate.”

 The /au/ dipthong in “about” is pronounced IPA u: (that is, “oo”) in strong dialects. Hence bout can sound like “boot.”

Welsh English

This refers to the accents and dialects spoken in the country of Wales. The speech of this region is heavily influenced by the Welsh language, which remained more widely spoken in modern times than the other Celtic languages.


 Usually non-rhotic.

 English is generally modelled after Received Pronunciation or related accents, but with many holdovers from the Welsh language.

 Syllables tend to be very evenly stressed, and the prosody of the accent is often very “musical”.

 The letter r is often trilled or tapped.

 Some dialect words imported from the Welsh language.

Scottish English

This is the broad definition used to describe English as it is spoken in the country of Scotland. Note that Scottish English is different than Scots, a language derived from Northumbrian Old English that is spoken in Scotland as well. That being said, Scots has a strong influence on how English in Scotland is spoken.


 Rhotic, with trilled or tapped r’s.

 Glottal stopping of the letter t when in between vowels (similar to Cockney and related accents).

 Monopthongal pronounciations of the /ei/ and /ou/ dipthongs, so that that face becomes




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