A Quick Guide to British Accents
Contrary to the belief of most Americans, there is no such thing as a British accent. In fact, of all the world’s native English-speaking nations, the UK is home to the most diverse range of regional accents and dialects. Here’s a quick guide to just a select few, from south to north:
London & South East England
When most people think of ‘British English’ they think of Received Pronunciation, which has its roots in the area around London that’s known as the ‘Home Counties’. While less and less people speak in this region actually speak like the Queen, it remains the accent most learnt by those studying British English, and retains a strong connection with upper class society.
Other prominent accents in the area include Estuary English (a variation of RP) and Cockney (prevalent in East London and exemplified by the likes of Michael Caine and Ray Winstone).
South West England
Although there is a notable difference between how people speak in the city of Bristol and the county of Cornwall, these dialects are grouped together into an accent that is generally known as ‘West Country’. With an influence from the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon languages, it is characterized by an American-style ‘r’ (pronounced after vowels) and saying ‘y’ like an ‘aw’.
Often described as soft and lyrical, Welsh English is the native accent of Tom Jones, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins, among others. Besides being a distinctive accent, the dialect is also categorized by ending a sentence with the subject (e.g. “Running late for work, I am”).
The most distinct accents in this central region of England are ‘Brummie’ (from Birmingham), ‘Black Country’ and ‘East Midlands’, and what they have it common is the use of a short ‘a’ sound (see North East England below) and the pronunciation of ‘i’ as ‘oi’, so the word ‘price’ then rhymes with ‘choice’. A prime example? Think Ozzy Osbourne, just without the slurring.
North West England
The most accent-rich area of England, the North West is home to the dialectic heavyweights of Scouse (think The Beatles) and Mancunian (think Oasis), as well as many Lancashire town variants like Bolton, Wigan, Burnley and Blackpool. As a general rule, these accents utilize harsher consonant sounds than those in the south of England, with shorter vowel sounds.
North East England
This region of the country is dominated by the Yorkshire dialect, which is influenced by Old Norse. Expect slow, soothing voices with short ‘a’ sounds (like in ‘tap’: so ‘bath’ rather than ‘barth’) and ‘oo’ pronounced as ‘u’ (so ‘book’ becomes ‘buk’). However, one major variation on this is accent is in Newcastle, where Geordie voices like that of Cheryl Cole rule the roost.
While there are many regional Scottish dialects – Highlanders, Lowlanders and Westerners all speak differently and use different vocabularies – in general Scottish accents are notable for being rhottic (with the ‘r’ always pronounced, and very often rolled), by dropping the ‘t’ and ‘g’ at the end of most words (‘accen’ and ‘evenin’) and by shortening silent letters (so ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ sound the same). Think Billy Connolly, The Pretenders and Sean Connery.