Top 5 Most Popular Regional English Accents (UK)
London Underground Sign by Petr Kratochvil
Genteel. Educated. Refined. The English accent gives many false connotations to people across the Atlantic, and it's largely TV exports that are to blame. From the cut glass baritone of “Carry On” star Kenneth Williams, to the slick Etonian smoothness of James Bond, there's this common misconception that all English citizens are blessed with an aristocratic accent, moulded by years of public schooling.
Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth. Like every other nation, England has multifarious regional dialects with extremely diverse historic influences. For example, Liverpool, being a port city, was heavily influenced by nearby trading countries such as Ireland and Scotland. Conversely, the broad Cornish accent was influenced by the language spoken in the region up until the 18th Century, although has some marked similarities to Welsh owing to its proximity to the England-Wales border.
With popular reality programmes such as “The Only Way is Essex” and “Geordie Shore” now becoming widely available internationally, the world is slowly becoming attuned to England's many unique and colourful dialects. Read on for our pick of the top five native English favourites:
5. West Country
Nearly every English accent has an element of stigma attached to it, and the West Country dialect is no different. Synonymous with country bumpkins and local yokels, the West Country accent is prevalent throughout South Western England, and collectively refers to the dialects of the region stretching from Cornwall to Lands End (Cornwall county). Cornish accents are distinguished by the slower delivery and enunciation of vowels, coupled with a strong burr – where the letter 'r' is trilled, rather than merely spoken.
The accents of the West are considered some of the most un-evolved compared to other dialects; words such as “thee”, “ye” and “thou” are still commonly used in place of “you”, and the infinitive “be” in place of “am”, “is” or “are”. Force-fed to millions thanks to fictional “Little Britain” character Vicky Pollard, the West Country dialect has once again found favour among natives, coming 8th in a recent fun poll of English accents conducted by the Roxy Palace Casino site.
Immortalised by roguish actors such as Michael Caine in the hit movie “The Italian Job” (1969), the Cockney accent continues to rank up there with the Queen's English as one of the world's favourite British accents. Cockney speech derives from rhyming slang, and is generally characterised by the dropping of 'H's' and glottalized 'T's' (pronounced in the back of the throat).
The Cockney dialect was once stereotypical of London's working class, however, actually originates from a small pocket of the city known as the “East End”. In the 16th Century, the term “Cockney” referred to lower class Londoner's born within ear-shot of Bow Bells – the bells of historic St. Mary Le-Bow Church near Cheapside, however an experiment conducted by scientists in 2000 showed that the sound would have actually carried across a radius of six miles. To that end, it is now accepted that while all East End inhabitants are Cockneys, not all Cockneys hail from the East End.
Yorkshire is modernly considered a county of two halves. In the largely rural North, the dialect is strong and broguish, with distinctive Old Norse (Germanic) and Northumbrian influences. The letter 'a' in words such as “bath” is typically shorter and spoken far more quickly in comparison to Southern dialects. Words that contain “ay” sounds, such as “take”, are transformed with the integration of the letter 'e' - as in “tek”. Certain letter groupings are also pronounced differently; words ending in “gh” often spoken as if they conclude with “ff”.
Southern Yorkshire dialects largely derive from the Mercian and Anglo-Saxon languages. As such, vowel sounds can be rather more drawn out - “about” pronounced “abaht”, and “head” pronounced “eead”. The letter 'h' is often dropped for shorter words. When describing objects, natives tend to forego using the word “the” completely in favour of “t”, or by adjoining the letter to the preceding word – as in “ont sofa”, instead of “on the sofa”. Lord of the Rings actor Sean Bean (“Boromir”) originates from Yorkshire, and is perhaps one of the best known celebrities to retain his accent for many of the characters he portrays.
With prominent ambassadors such as Girls' Aloud's Cheryl Cole and TV comedy duo “Ant and Dec”, it's little wonder the Geordie accent is rapidly gaining favour across the pond. Legend tells that the term “Geordie” was coined during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, when the Jacobites deemed much of Tyneside “for King George”, however natives also accredit the term to George Stephenson, inventor of the miners' lamp.
Geordie dialect is often considered one of the most up-beat and cheerful of English accents, in part due to the manner by which natives finish their sentences. The word “like” is often attached to the end of a sentence, causing the speaker's voice to raise slightly in pitch - as if asking a question. Geordies also have a tendency to use exclamations for a variety of purposes - such as “Howay” (meaning “come on” and “hurry up”) and “haadaway” (an exclamation of disbelief meaning “get away”). Geordie dialect has many similarities to others of Anglo-Saxon origin; 'R's' are rarely pronounced unless immediately followed by a vowel, and the letter “a” is used to abbreviate words with two adjoining vowels.
1. The Queen's English
In England, natives use the term “the Queen's English” to reference a variety of dialects spoken by the 'public-schooled' classes – i.e the attendees of Eton or Cambridge Universities. The formal term for this register is “Received Pronunciation”, however it is more modernly regarded as the correct and conventional way of pronouncing words, as they are written. Despite the “Queen's English” being a more formal term for Standard English, the associated accent is still regarded as 'posh' by the middle and working classes.
A cut glass English accent doesn't necessarily mean the speaker is of a particularly superior class or background. In fact, the Queen's English has now become associated with numerous arty professions, such as acting, dance and classical music. English natives generally associate Standard English with right-wing politicians and public-schooled London professionals, however those living in the outlying, well-to-do areas of London are also considered probable speakers.
Despite there being a standard of English from which most regional dialects have evolved, even natives have a hard time understanding their Northern and Western counterparts at basic conversational level. Like most countries, the regional variations have taken on a life of their own as they've evolved over the centuries – to a degree that many are now considered a language format in their own right!