Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Accents and dialects

with 8 comments

IPA vowel chart for Received Pronunciation mon...
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Sometimes the terms ‘accent’ and ‘dialect’ are confused, as are ‘received pronunciation’ and ‘standard English’.

 Accent

Accent refers to the different ways in which words are pronounced. Very often the term ‘regional accent’ is used in the UK to refer to the way people from a particular geographical area pronounce words. In the UK we have, for example, Scottish, Welsh and Irish accents, as well as those associated with cities such as London (the famous Cockney accent), Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle. See Oxford Dictionaries on accents.

In the UK, ‘received pronunciation’ is an accent associated with the educated upper classes or ‘posh’ people. It is not possible to tell from received pronunciation which part of the country the speaker is from. The BBC now uses announcers and newsreaders with a wide variety of accents, but in the past only speakers with received pronunciation were heard over the airways. See Oxford Dictionaries on ‘received pronunciation’.

Visit the British Library’s website to hear different accents from around the UK.

Dialect

Dialect refers to the vocabulary and grammar that people use. An accent can also contribute to a particular dialect. The British Library link above has recordings of older and modern dialects. See Oxford Dictionaries on dialects.

In the UK, ‘standard English’ is a dialect. It is the form of English considered to be formally correct. It’s important to note that Standard English can be spoken in a regional accent.

Dialect words are fascinating to study. Here are some examples associated with Yorkshire and the Black Country (in the English Midlands).

The following are just a few examples of Black Country dialect:

Ne’er a wun cum a nie: No one came to visit

Ow bist?: How are you?

Sad: Heavy, for example, unrisen bread

Mucker: Confusion

Werrit: Worry

Find out about double negatives: right or wrong?

Update, February 2013:

Non-standard forms should not be repressed or condemned, says Stan on his excellent ‘Sentence first’ blog. Read his interesting and informative analysis of a UK school head’s decision to ‘correct’ children’s speech.

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8 Responses

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  1. I REALLY like this post. A big part of why I go places is the pleasure of capturing idioms, which would be dialect unique within cultural context. Quick gems:

    New Orleans: “Where y’at?” (how are you?)
    Yorkshire: “Ayup!” (ay-oop – the all-purpose greeting)
    Wales: ‘i wynt yn ei ddwrn.
    (with his breath in his fist = in a great hurry.)

    Invisible Mikey

    24/04/2010 at 10:17 pm

  2. Hi, Mikey — I’m glad you enjoyed it and many thanks for those great examples. I lived in Yorkshire for a time and heard many words and phrases I hadn’t come across before (I’m from the south of the UK). For example, I would call that white stuff that’s put on a broken limb a ‘plaster cast’, but many of the people I worked with in Yorkshire called a plaster cast a ‘pot’. ‘Ginnel’ was also a common expression meaning an alley or narrow passage between buildings. Another new one on me was ‘mither’, mainly used in the north of England to mean make a fuss, whine or moan. A typical use would be, ‘The children were mithering so we came home’.

    Thanks again, Mikey.

    Deborah

    25/04/2010 at 6:49 am

  3. At the risk of being a complete pedant regarding your round up of “UK” accents, I have to point out that as well as the Scottish, Welsh and English accents you do NOT have Irish, but Northern Irish. “Irish” refers to Eire or the Republic of Ireland, which is NOT part of the UK. Northern Ireland and RoI may be one geographical island, but are as different as Spain and France. Having lived in England for 30 years it still amazes me the number of people who refer to me as “Irish” instead of Northern Irish. Considering that NI has rarely been out of the news for the last 32 years it is even more incredible to me. In fact, nothing short of ignorance and laziness.

    Lizi B

    30/04/2010 at 9:01 am

    • I hang my head in shame, Lizi B, and consider myself rightly told off, chastised and bang to rights.

      Deborah

      30/04/2010 at 9:09 am

  4. Hey Deborah, I agree with Invisible Mikey re how much fun this post is. By the way hurray that you’re still commenting on this site! 🙂

    I would add the following idiomatic words/expressions:

    – a ‘ladder’ (British/Aussie?) in your pantyhose, unheard of here in eastern Canada where a tear in your hose is referred to as a ‘run’. The first time I breezily announced that I had a big ladder in my pantyhose, people fell silent and glanced at my legs in alarm.

    – “You right?” – an Aussie expression meaning a variety of things from, “Are you ready?” to “Let’s go.”

    – “Come in by the yard door.” I heard this recently and have no idea of it’s origin, but the people who use it come from a rural area of eastern Canada. When I inquired as to what a ‘yard door’ was, the explanation wasn’t clear and ranged from the door leading into the house from the garage (?) to the side door of the house. It’s clearly the alternative to the front door and I suppose a couple of hundred years ago on a farm, all other doors but the front opened onto a “yard.”

    Jo-Anne Moore

    01/05/2010 at 2:57 pm

    • Hi, Jo-Anne — lovely to hear from you and thank you for your kind words.

      ‘Ladder’ is a very common expression in the UK for a ‘run’ in stockings or tights (‘pantyhose’ is not such an everyday expression here). I loved reading all those examples you gave. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how widespread sayings are. The following are a few we use in my family, but I’m not sure how common they are generally:

      It’s like Casey’s court – meaning a frantic, confused out-of-control situation or something that’s untidy/higgledy-piggledy in appearance.
      Coming down in stair rods – meaning torrential rain.
      It’s like crickets – referring to very weak tea.

      Thanks again, Jo-Anne.

      Deborah

      01/05/2010 at 3:16 pm

  5. I can guess vaguely at the evolution of the first two expressions, particularly the second as it’s so visual, but the third has me stumped. Eeek! Has someone actually ground up some crickets and found they make a weak brew? (Tee hee <— Being silly)

    I must close with an example from those artful manglers of the English language, the Aussies:

    Mary's inappropriate Mum : "Mary, that guy is a deadset spunk and I think he's tryin' to crack onto you!."

    Mary: "Garn with ya' Mum. That yobbo got Buckley's. He's always down at the boozer gettin' off his face with the other deros. And he's a garbo! He doesn't have a brass razoo. If he wants to get off his date and make a quid, I might give him a Captain Cook."
    🙂

    Jo-Anne Moore

    01/05/2010 at 4:35 pm

    • That’s very funny (and also really interesting from a dialect point of view), thanks, Jo-Anne. ‘Crickets’ has me stumped too (appropriately enough!).

      Deborah

      01/05/2010 at 4:39 pm


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