Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Regional accents of English speakers
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. Although local accents are part of local dialects, local accents must not be confused with local dialects, which are varieties differing in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Dialects in this sense, including Scots, Ulster Scots, and African American Vernacular English, are not discussed on this page. See List of dialects of the English language.
Among native English speakers, many different accents exist. Some regional accents are easily identified by certain characteristics. It should be noted that further variations are to be found within the regions identified below; for example, towns located less than 10 miles from the city of Manchester such as Bolton, Salford and Oldham, each have distinct accents, all of them a form of the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases 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).
Main article: British English
English accents and dialects vary more widely within the U.K. itself than they do in other parts of the world owing to the longer history of the language within the countries of the U.K.
Main article: English English
The main accent groupings within England are between the north and south; the dividing line runs roughly from Shrewsbury to The Wash. The prestige accent in England is Received Pronunciation, which originates from southeastern England.
Main article: Scottish English
Main article: Welsh English
The Welsh accent of English is strongly influenced by the phonology of the Welsh language, which 20% of the population of Wales still speak as their first language.
The differences between northern and southern Irish accents are significant enough that it is best to treat them separately. There are, of course, differences within each group as well, but these are often noticeable only to locals.
Main article: Hiberno-English
The northern Irish accent is spoken in the historical province of Ulster, i.e. in the U.K. province of Northern Ireland as well as in Counties Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan in the Republic. It bears many similarities to Scottish English. The northern Irish accent is influenced by, but distinct from Ulster Scots, which is recognized as a variety of Scots.
Some characteristics of the Northern Irish accent include:
- As in Scotland, the vowels and /u/ are merged, so that look and Luke are homophonous. The vowel is a high central rounded vowel, [ʉ].
- The diphthong /aʊ/ is pronounced approximately [əʉ], but wide variation exists, especially between social classes in Belfast
- The vowel /eɪ/ is a monophthong in open syllables (e.g. day [dɛː]) but a rising diphthong in closed syllables (e.g. daze [deəz]). But the monophthong remains when inflectional endings are added, thus daze contrasts with days [dɛːz].
- The alveolar stops /t, d/ become dental before [r, ɚ], e.g. tree and spider
- /t/ often undergoes flapping to [ɾ] before an unstressed syllable, e.g. eighty [ɛːɾi]
Main article: North American English
Main article: Canadian English
Canadian accents vary widely across the country, and the accent of a particular region is often closer to neighbouring parts of the United States. Nevertheless, there are some characteristics that exist across the country, in varying degrees, such as Canadian raising. Canadian actors and announcers used to aim for a General American accent, to make their pronunciation more acceptable to U.S. listeners. similar to that formerly used by actors and announcers in the United States. An example of this is the speech of actor Christopher Plummer. There are four main Canadian accents. Starting from the east, first is the "Newfie" accent (dialect is more accurate, as there are many words which are only defined in Newfoundland). It is very hard to describe, but there are elements from nearly every European country that inhabited the Americas in the 15th to 17th centuries (Irish being the strongest influence). It is also spoken very fast, sometimes to the point where it is impossible for anybody to understand. It is primarily spoken on the island of Newfoundland, and to a weaker extent, Cape Breton Isle . The second is the Eastern accent. It is similar to "Newfie", but not as thick nor near as fast. This is frequently confused on American television as the Canadian accent, quite incorrectly. The third Canadian accent is the "Quebec" accent. It has a more throaty sound then the eastern or central accents. The fourth (and by far the most common) accent in Canada is the central/western accent. Sounding similar to the generic northern USA accent, it is spoken by about 60% of the population of Canada. Within this group there are myriads of smaller regional accents, many sounding anywhere from "American" (though one must hesitate to classify them this way, as there are many differences between the American and Canadian accents) to slightly British (in a few locales in Southern Ontario, as well as Vancouver). Most Canadians, especially those speaking with a Central/westen accent deny they have an accent at all.
Main article: American English
There is great variation among accents of English spoken in the United States; accents are perhaps more variable in the U.S. than in any other English-speaking country besides the United Kingdom. In terms of phonology, flapping may be the only process common to all accents of American English: not all American English accents are rhotic, not all use the "flat A" in words like half and can't, not all have lost the phonemic differentiation between the vowels of father and bother or the vowels of cot and caught or the consonants of wine and whine, and so forth. General American is the name given to the accent used by most TV network announcers and is typical of speech in the Midwest, especially Iowa and adjacent parts of Illinois and Nebraska. General American makes a good reference accent, and a good goal for foreigners learning American English, because it is generally regarded as a "neutral" accent (when most Americans say someone "doesn't have an accent" they mean he or she has a General American accent).
For discussion, see:
Main article: Australian English
The Australian accent varies between social classes and is sometimes claimed to vary from state to state, though this is disputed (it is more the lexis that varies between states, as well as the pronunciation of certain words, the most cited example being 'castle'). Accents tend to be strongest in the more remote areas. (Note that while there are many similarities between Australian accents and New Zealand ones, there are also a number of differences.)
Main article: New Zealand English
The New Zealand accent is distinguished from the Australian one by the presence of short or "clipped" vowels, also encountered in South African English. New Zealanders, according to Australians, pronounce "fish and chips" as "fush and chups", "yes" as "yiss" and "milk" as "muwk". This is attributable to the influence of Scottish English speech patterns.
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 almost as 'd' and 'g'. This is also encountered in South African English, especially among Afrikaans speakers.
Main article: South African English
South Africa has 11 official languages, one of which is English. Afrikaners (Boers), descendants of mainly Dutch settlers, tend to pronounce English phonemes with a strong Afrikaans inflection, which is very similar to Dutch.
Native English speakers in South Africa have an accent that generally resembles British Received pronunciation modified with varying degrees of Germanic inflection, due to the Afrikaner influence. Native English speakers in South Africa also insert a number of Afrikaans loanwords into their speech.
In Zimbabwe, native English speakers (mainly the white minority) have a similar speech pattern, hence 'Zimbabwe' is pronounced as zom-baw-bwi, as opposed to the more correct African pronunciation zeem-bah-bwe.
Main article: Hong Kong English
The accent of English spoken in Hong Kong follows mainly British, with rather strong influence from Cantonese on the pronunciations of a few consonants and vowels, and sentence grammar and structure. In recent years there are some Canadian and Australia influences, due to the return of emigrants to these countries. American influence in vocabularies and spellings is also substantial through multinational conglomerates and Hollywood movies.
Main article: Indian English
A number of distinct dialects of English are spoken on the Indian subcontinent. Accents originating in this part of the world tend to display two distinctive features:
- syllable-timing, in which a roughly equal time is allocated to each syllable. Akin to the English of Singapore and Malaysia. (Elsewhere, English speech timing is based predominantly on stress);
- "sing-song" pitch (somewhat reminiscent of those of Welsh English).
(note: Many Malaysians and Singaporeans, even those who use English for it to be considered their native language may also frequently speak their 'mother-tongue' that is the native language of their parents. This may be Malay, a dialect of Chinese, Tamil or another language from the Indian subcontinent. There is also significant variation between these different groups. In Malaysian urban areas, there is also variation between those educated at more up-market schools and those from less up-market schools with the former generally speaking with a more British accent. Also, many adopt different accents and usages depending on the situation, for example an office worker may speak with less coloquialism and with a more British accent at the job than with friends or while out shopping.
- syllable-timing, where speech is timed according to syllable, akin to the English of the Indian Subcontinent. (Elsewhere, speech is usually timed to stress.)
- A quick, staccato style, with "puncturing" syllables and well-defined, drawn out tones.
- No rhotic vowels, like British English. Hence "caught" = "court", "can't" rhymes with "aren't", etc. In recent years however, this has been breaking down due to the influence of American English.
- Much dropping off of final consonants: "must" becomes "mus'", "rent" becomes "ren'", etc.
- The "ay" and "ow" sounds in "raid" and "road" are pronounced as monophthongs, i.e. with no "glide", making them sound like "rehd" and "rohd".
- "Th" becomes "t" and "d", e.g. "thin" = "tin", "then" = "den".
- Depending on how colloquial the situation is: many discourse particles , or words inserted at the end of sentences that indicate the role of the sentence in discourse and the mood it conveys, like "lah", "leh", "mah", "hor", etc.
Philippine English is more influenced by American English than other Asian varieties of English.
- The Speech Accent Archive, over 300 audio samples of people with various accents reading the same paragraph.
- Britain's crumbling ruling class is losing the accent of authority an article on the connection of class and accent in the UK, its decline, and the spread of Estuary English
- The Telsur Project Homepage of the telephone survey of North American English accents
- The Atlas of North American English (demo version) A demo version of the soon-to-be-published Atlas. Includes sound files of Canadians.
- Pittsburgh Speech & Society A site for non-linguists, by Barbara Johnstone of Carnegie-Mellon University
- Linguistic Geography of Pennsylvania by Claudio Salvucci
- Guide to Regional English Pronunciation includes working versions of the Telsur Project regional maps
- Phillyspeak A newspaper article on Philadelphia speech
- J.C. Wells' English Accents course includes class handouts describing Cockney, Scottish, Australian, and Scouse, among other things.
- Evaluating English Accents Worldwide
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