56. British Accents and Dialects

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First in a series of episodes about accents. Learn differences between accents from the UK. This is information that all learners of English need to know!

Click here to listen to my previous episode about British and American Pronunciation.

Here are the notes which I used to record this podcast episode. It’s not a transcript, but I do read from these notes during the episode.

Accents and Dialects:

I’m going to do a series of podcasts about accents. I’ve already done one about British and American accents, but I think accents are fascinating and a lot of fun so I’m going to do more. They are also very important for you, because:
-You need to be aware of different styles of English
-You shouldn’t listen to just ONE style of English because there’s a wide range of ways to say the same thing
-You need to be aware of the different sounds in English and what they mean
-You need to choose the accent you want, and then copy it
-You need to be able to understand different accents when you hear them

One of the most interesting things for me about accents is what and accent can tell you about a person. When I hear someone speak, their accent immediately gives me lots of associations. Just the sound of someone’s voice might tell me; their social class, which part of the country they are from, if they’re from the town or countryside, what their background might be, what their attitudes might be.

Obviously we shouldn’t judge people by their accents, and these are just pre-conceptions but the point is, I get all these associations but learners of English don’t. They can’t tell if someone is from the north or south or what social class they might come from. Native speakers usually can.

I’m interested in bridging that gap between what a native speaker knows/understands about accents and what a learner knows/understands.

Firstly, what is an accent and what is a dialect. A dialect is the usage or vocabulary that is characteristic of a specific group of people. An accent is the way in which a language is pronounced. So, dialect is differences in vocabulary and accent is differences in pronunciation.

Secondly, how many accents can you find in the UK? There are lots! At least 10.

How many accents are there in the world? Again, there are lots. Between different English speaking countries, and also within those countries. There are lots of ways of saying the same sentence in English!

Is it true that there is such thing as a British accent and an American accent? It’s not true that there is just one American or British accent. There are so many in America and so many in Britain but you can group accents as ‘British’ because they share many features and come from Britain. You can do the same for America too. But there is not just 1 British accent or 1 American accent.

There are general differences between British and American accents, and I’ve been into this before in previous podcasts. Click here to listen to my previous episode about British and American Pronunciation. . The differences include the /t/ sound, the /r/ sound, the /ɑ/ sound and the fact that American English often sounds more nasal.

If we focus on the UK we can see lots of different accents that are linked closely with different regions and cultures in the UK.

The standard accent which is used by the BBC World Service, Oxford & Cambridge dictionaries and the commonly used phonemic chart is called RP (received pronunciation) or BBC English. This is a standard form without a specific region. It’s traditionally associated with educated people who speak ‘correctly’. These days we’re more politically correct so any accent is ‘correct’ but RP is considered to be clear and non-region specific. I would say that it is more common in the south. I would also say that I speak with an RP accent with a few traces of accents I have picked up, particularly the Birmingham accent, because I lived there for a few years.

Then there are regional accents. I can’t go into great detail, but I will run through a few. There will be more podcasts in which I play you real samples of these accents. Here’s a list of different accents from the UK: Cornwall, Bristol (South West), London, East Anglia, Midlands (Birmingham), Wales, Liverpool, Manchester, Yorkshire, Newcastle, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland.

In the next few episodes I will play you extracts of different accents and highlight their features. Hopefully you’ll get familiar with a range of accents.

An interesting video in which an actor goes around the map of England, doing the different accents: