The regional accents of English speakers show great variation across the areas where English is spoken as a first language. This article provides an overview of the many identifiable variations in pronunciation, usually deriving from the phoneme inventory of the local dialect, of the local variety of Standard English between various populations of native English speakers.
|Areas of study|
|Accent · Dialect
Sociology of language
|Code-switching · Diglossia
Local accents are part of local dialects. Any dialect of English has unique features in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. The term "accent" describes only the first of these, namely, pronunciation. See also: List of dialects of the English language.
Among native English speakers, many different accents exist. Some regional accents are easily identified by certain characteristics. Further variations are to be found within the regions identified below; for example, towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester such as Bolton, Oldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which form the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases are different enough to be noticed even by a non-local listener. There is also much room for misunderstanding between people from different regions, as the way one word is pronounced in one accent (for example, petal in American English) will sound like a different word in another accent (for example, pearl in Scottish English).
Accents and dialects vary widely across the United Kingdom; as such, a single "British accent" does not exist, but someone could be said to have an English, Welsh, Scottish, or Irish accent, although these all have several different sub-types.
For many years, the BBC and academic bodies employed Received Pronunciation as a 'standard', across the whole of the UK, although this is no longer a requirement for broadcasting as it was seen as discriminating against other accents and dialects. Received Pronunciation has its roots in the speech patterns of the counties surrounding London, popularly known as the Home counties, where many of the monied classes in London originated during the 16th and 17th centuries, but is now more a marker of a particular social class than a region.
There is considerable variation within the accents of English across England. Two sets of accents are spoken in the West Country, Cornish (primarily in South Cornwall) and West Country (the counties of Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Bristol, Dorset (Not so much in east Dorset), Wiltshire (again, less so in eastern Wiltshire), and also in East Cornwall). The accents of Northern England are also distinctive including a range of variations: Northumberland, County Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, Cumbria, Lancashire with regional variants in Bolton, Burnley, Blackburn, Manchester, Preston, Blackpool, Merseyside and Wigan, Yorkshire is also distinctive, having variations between the North Riding of Yorkshire, West Riding of Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire. Other accents include a range of accents spoken in the West Midlands (In the major towns and conurbations (The Black Country, Birmingham, Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton) and in rural accents (such as in Herefordshire and south Worcestershire)); the accents of the counties comprising the East Midlands (Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Kettering) and East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, north Essex and Cambridgeshire). Even within these broad categories there are considerable differences in inflection and pronunciation.
The accent of English in Wales is strongly influenced by the phonology of the Welsh language, which more than 20% of the population of Wales speak as their first or second language. The North Wales accent is distinct from South Wales and north east Wales is influenced by Scouse and Cheshire accents. South Wales border accents are influenced by West Country accents. The Wenglish of the South Wales Valleys shows a deep cross-fertilisation between the two.
see Scottish English.
Ireland has several main groups of accents, including (1) those of Dublin and surrounding areas on the east coast where English has been spoken since the earliest period of colonisation from Britain, (2) the accents of Ulster, with a strong influence from Scotland as well as the underlying Gaelic linguistic stratum which in that province approaches the Gaelic of Scotland, and (3) the various accents of west, midlands and south.
The Ulster accent has two main sub accents, namely Mid Ulster English and Ulster Scots. The language is spoken throughout the nine counties of Ulster, and in some northern areas of bordering counties such as Louth and Leitrim. It bears many similarities to Scottish English through influence from Ulster Scots, which has many distinct characteristics and is often seen as a variety of Scots.
Some characteristics of the Ulster accent include:
The accent of these three provinces fluctuates greatly from the flat tone of the midlands counties of Laois, Kildare, and Offaly, the perceived sing-song of Cork and Kerry, to the soft accents of Mayo and Galway.
Historically the Dublin county area, parts of Wicklow and Louth, became under heavy exclusive influence from the first English settlements (known as The Pale). It remained until Independence from Britain as the biggest concentration of English influence in the whole island.
The Corkonian accent has a unique lyrical intonation. Every sentence typically ends in the trademark elongated tail-off on the last word. In Cork heavier emphasis yet is put on the brrr sound to the letter R.
Similar to the Cork accent but without the same unmistakable intonation, Kerry puts even heavier emphasis on the brrr sound to the letter R. For example: the word Forty. Throughout the south this word is pronounced whereby the r exhibits the typified Irish brrr. In Kerry however (especially in rural areas) the roll on the r is enforced with vibrations from the tongue (not unlike Scottish here). "Are you?" becomes a co-joined "A-rrou?" single tongue flutter (esp. in rural areas). This extra emphasis on R also seen in varying measures through parts of West Limerick and West Cork in closer proximity to Kerry.
Another feature in the Kerry accent is the S before the consonant. True to its Gaelic origins in a manner similar to parts of Connacht "s" maintains the shh sound as in shop or sheep. The word Start becomes "Shtart." Stop becomes Shtop.
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Irish Travellers have a very distinct accent closely related to a rural Hiberno-English, particularly the English spoken in Connaught from where they originate. Many Irish Travellers who were born in parts of Dublin or Britain have the accent in spite of it being strikingly different to the local accents in those regions . They also have their own language which strongly links in with their dialect/accent of English, see Shelta.
North American English is a collective term for the dialects of the United States and Canada; it does not include the varieties of Caribbean English spoken in the West Indies.
The United States does not have a concrete 'standard' accent in the same way that Britain has Received Pronunciation. Nonetheless, a form of speech known to linguists as General American is perceived by most Americans to be "accent-less", meaning a person who speaks in such a manner does not appear to be from anywhere. The region of the United States that most resembles this is the central Midwest, specifically eastern Nebraska (including Omaha and Lincoln), southern and central Iowa (including Des Moines), and western Illinois (including Peoria and the Quad Cities, but not the Chicago area).
Three major dialect areas can be found in Canada: Western/Central Canada, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland.
The phonology of West/Central Canadian English, also called General Canadian, is broadly identical to that of the Western US, except for the following features:
With respect to phonemic incidence, the pronunciation of certain words has American and/or British influence. For instance, shone is /ʃɒn/; been is often /bin/; process can be /prosɛs/; etc.
Words like drama, pyjamas, pasta tend to have /æ/ rather than /ɑ/~/ɒ/. Words like sorrow, Florida, orange have /or/ rather than /ɑr/; therefore, sorry rhymes with story rather than with starry.
For discussion, see:
Australian English is relatively homogenous when compared to British and American English. There is however some regional variation between the states, particularly in regards to South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
Three main varieties of Australian English are spoken according to linguists: Broad Australian, General Australian and Cultivated Australian. They are part of a continuum, reflecting variations in accent. They can, but do not always reflect the social class, education and urban or rural background of the speaker.
The New Zealand accent is distinguished from the Australian one by the presence of "clipped" vowels, slightly resembling South African English. Phonetically, these are raised or centralised versions of the short "i" and "e" vowels, which in New Zealand are close to [ɨ] and [ɪ] respectively rather than [ɪ] and [ɛ]. New Zealand pronunciations are often popularly represented outside New Zealand by writing "fish and chips" as "fush and chups", "yes" as "yiss", "sixty-six" as "suxty-sux." Scottish English influence is most evident in the southern regions of New Zealand, notably Dunedin.
Geographical variations appear slight, and mainly confined to individual special local words. One group of speakers, however, hold a recognised place as "talking differently": the South of the South Island (Murihiku) harbours a "Celtic fringe" of people speaking with a "Southland burr" in which a back-trilled 'r' appears prominently. The area formed a traditional repository of immigration from Scotland.
The trilled 'r' is also used by some Māori, who may also pronounce 't' and 'k' sounds without aspiration, striking other English speakers as similar to 'd' and 'g'. This is also encountered in South African English, especially among Afrikaans speakers.
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The Falkland Islands have a large non-native born population, mainly from Britain, but also from Saint Helena. In rural areas, the Falkland accent tends to be stronger. The accent has resemblances to both Australia-NZ English, and that of Norfolk in England, and contains a number of Spanish loanwords.
"Saints", as Saint Helenan islanders are called, have a variety of different influences on their accent. To outsiders, the accent has resemblances to the accents of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Television is a reasonably recent arrival there, and is only just beginning to have an effect.
South Africa has 11 official languages, one of which is English. Accents vary significantly between ethnic and language groups. Native English speakers (white, Indian and Coloured or Cape Coloured) in South Africa have an accent that generally resembles British Received Pronunciation (modified with varying degrees of Germanic inflection due to Afrikaans).
The Coloured community are generally bilingual, however English accents are strongly influenced by primary mother-tongue (Afrikaans or English). A range of accents can be seen, with the majority of Coloureds showing a strong Afrikaans inflection. Similarly, Afrikaners (and Cape Coloureds), both descendant of mainly Dutch settlers, tend to pronounce English phonemes with a strong Afrikaans inflection. The English accents of both related groups are significantly different and easily distinguishable (primarily because of prevalent code-switching amongst the majority of Coloured English speakers, particularly in the Western Cape of South Africa). The range of accents found amongst English-speaking Coloureds (from the distinctive "Cape Flats or Coloured English" to the standard "colloquial" South African English accent) are of special interest. Geography and education levels play major roles therein.
Black Africans generally speak English as a second language, and accent is strongly influenced by mother-tongue (particularly Bantu languages). However, urban middle-class black Africans have developed an English accent, with similar inflection as native English speakers. Black, Indian and Coloured students educated in former Model C schools or at formerly white tertiary institutions will generally adopt a similar accent to their white classmates. Code-switching and the "Cape Flats" accent are becoming popular amongst white learners in public schools within Cape Town.
South African accents also vary between major cities (particularly Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg) and provinces (regions). Accent variation are also observed within respective cities, for instance, Johannesburg, where the northern suburbs (Parkview, Parkwood, Parktown North, Saxonwold, etc.) tend to be less strongly influenced by Afrikaans. These suburbs are more affluent and populated by individuals with tertiary education and higher incomes. The accents of native English speakers from the southern suburbs (Rosettenville, Turffontein, etc.) tend to be more strongly influenced by Afrikaans. These suburbs are populated by tradesmen and factory workers, with lower incomes. The extent of Afrikaans influence is explained by the fact that Afrikaans urbanisation would historically have been from failed marginal farms or failing economies in rural towns, into the southern and western suburbs of Johannesburg. The western suburbs of Johannesburg (Newlands, Triomf, which has now reverted to its old name Sophiatown, Westdene, etc.) are predominantly Afrikaans speaking. In a similar fashion, people from predominantly or traditionally Jewish areas in the Johannesburg area (such as Sandton, Linksfield or Victory Park) may have accents influenced by Yiddish or Hebrew ancestry.
Examples of South African accents (obtained from http://accent.gmu.edu)
Additional samples of South African accents and dialects can be found at http://web.ku.edu/~idea/africa/southafrica/southafrica.htm
Regardless of regional and ethnic differences (in accents), the "colloquial" South African English accent is often confused with Australian (or New Zealand) English by British and American English speakers.
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In Zimbabwe, native English speakers (mainly the white and Coloured minority) have a similar speech pattern to that of South Africa. Hence those with high degrees of Germanic inflection would pronounce 'Zimbabwe' as zim-bah-bwi, as opposed to the African pronunciation zeem-bah-bweh. Zimbwabwean accents also vastly vary, with some Black Africans sounding British while others will have a much stronger accent influenced by their mother tongues, usually this distinction is brought about by where you grew up and the school attended. For example most people that grew up in and around Harare have a British sounding accent while those in the rural areas have a more "pigeon-english" sort of accent
Example of a Zimbabwean English accent (obtained from http://accent.gmu.edu)
Philippine English employs a rhotic accent that originated from the time when it was first introduced by the Americans during the colonization period to replace Spanish as the dominant language used in politics.
In reality, there is no single Philippine English Accent, many indigenous languages affect the English that is spoken throughout the Islands. For example, those from the Visayas may generally interchange the /e/ and /i/ also the /o/ and /u/ as their distinction is not very pronounced in the Visayan languages.
Those coming from the North may pronounce the /r/ with a strong trill instead of the flap as it is one of the features of the Ilocano language. Some Ilocanos also pronounce the /ə/ better as there is a sound in their language that is close to this.
A number of distinct dialects of English are spoken in South Asia. There are many languages spoken in South Asia like Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Maithili, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Rajasthani and many more, creating a variety of accents of English. Accents originating in this part of the world tend to display several distinctive features, including:
The Malaysian accent appears to be a melding of British, Chinese, and Malay influences.
Many Malaysians adopt different accents and usages depending on the situation; for example, an office worker may speak with less colloquialism and with a more British accent on the job than with friends or while out shopping.
Students in Primary and Secondary schools learning English as the language of instruction also learn a second language called their "Mother Tongue" by the Ministry of Education, where they are either taught Mandarin Chinese, Malay or Tamil. A main point to note is while "Mother Tongue" generally refers to the first language (L1) overseas, in Singapore, it is used by the Ministry of Education to denote the second language (L2).
A 2005 census showed that around 30% of Singaporeans speak English as their main language at home.
There is a large number of foreigners working in Singapore. 36% of the population in Singapore are foreigners and foreigners make up 50% of the service sector. Therefore, it is very common to encounter service staff who are not fluent in English. Most of these staff speak Mandarin Chinese. Those who do not speak Mandarin Chinese tend to speak either broken English or Singlish, which they have learnt from the locals.
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