The Difference between British Dialects and Accents

January 30, 2017

A dialect is a term used to describe the words that are spoken, while an accent is defined as the way in which these words are pronounced. What we say and how we say it is shaped and moulded due to several factors: where we live; how our parents spoke; and how old we are to name but a few. Our accent and dialect act as identifiers, orally linking us to a particular part of the world at a specific point in our lives. Many visitors to the UK regard the ‘Queen’s English’ as the quintessential British accent. However, according to Expedia’s Accent map of the British Isles, there are 56 recognised British accents across the UK and Ireland ranging from the famous Cockney twang to the West Country burr.

When travelling through Britain, you will undoubtedly encounter the North/South divide: the point upon which the same word is pronounced in a different way, or different words are used to describe the same thing. So what should you look out for when crossing the border from the North to the South of England?

British Dialects

Expressions:

In the North of England people often use expressions such as ‘pet’, ‘love’ and ‘chuck’ as terms of endearment

For example:

“Hi pet, nice to see you”

“You’re welcome love”

“What’s up chuck?”

Such expressions are used less frequently in the South and may be construed as too personal/informal to Southern dwellers.

For further examples of region specific vocabulary, check out the Mirror’s list of local lingo.

Words:

There are several words in the English language which people in different parts of the world use to describe the same thing. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the divided dining language: the ‘tea’ vs ‘dinner’ debate.

What do you call your evening meal?

Up North, ‘dinner’ means lunch and ‘tea’ is the name given to the last meal of the day.

Conversely, down South, ‘dinner’ is the last meal of the day, while ‘tea’ generally refers to an afternoon tea of scones and dainty sandwiches.

British Accents

One of the most noticeable differences in accent between the North and the South of England is the pronunciation of words like ‘bath’ and ‘grass’.

When travelling through the North of England, people will say the words ‘bath’ and ‘grass’ using the short vowel sound ‘a’ (the same ‘a’ sound used in words like ‘cat’).

Unlike their Northern neighbours, Southerners tend to adopt the long vowel sound ‘ah’ when pronouncing the words ‘bath’ and ‘grass’.

To hear how the word ‘bath’ is pronounced differently throughout the country, check out the British Library’s phonological variation map of the UK.

Which Accent should you Adopt when Learning to Speak English?

Generally, what we say and how we say it is a subconscious decision. However, it can and should be adapted and developed to suit certain situations where our accent and dialect are open to scrutiny, such as in job interviews and public speeches. In times like these, when you want to sound intelligent and be trusted, it is considered best to adopt a speaking style similar to  the Queen’s English.  Then again, any accent as long as it is not too broad is also more than acceptable.

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