A Tour Of UK Accents

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  1. With regards to your title, note that this is NOT about dialects (differences in vocabulary, syntax and grammar) but accents (the sound of the speech). And Dublin is in British Isles, but not the UK – not for a long time, at any rate; my late father was born there in 1919 when it was in the UK, but those days are long gone. ‘A tour of the British Isles in accents’, the original title, is much more accurate, though, it must be said, it is a rather restricted tour.

    Indeed, one cannot fail to notice huge gaps in the tour. For example, there is a yawning gap in the densely populated Midlands, where there are very distinctive accents (e.g. Birmingham, Wolverhampton), and there is another very distinctive one on Tyneside (Newcastle, Gateshead etc). Also, the English accent in the Western Isles or ‘Outer Hebrides’ (Isle of Lewis, for example) where a majority speak Gaelic and there are residual Norse elements, is noticeably different from ‘mainland’ varieties of Scottish English.

    There is, in truth, large variation within single counties. In any region of the British Isles accents are usually quite distinguishable between places twenty miles apart. Not necessarily by foreigners, of course, but by us natives.

    • dialect |ˈdīəˌlekt|
      a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group: this novel is written in the dialect of Trinidad.

  2. Dr Clark, the same dictionary from which you drew the definition for ‘dialect’ has this definition for ‘accent’:

    “A distinctive mode of pronunciation of a language, especially one associated with a particular nation, locality, or social class”

    Comparing the two definitions, is it not evident that it is regional pronunciation that this ‘tour’ is about? Certainly as a British person listening to the ‘tour’ it is evident that it is wholly about regional modes of pronunciation, i.e. accent, not forms of language such as vocabulary and grammar.

    The narrator in this ‘tour’ is speaking a Standard English script in different regional accents as he goes around the map. In some of those geographical places the scriptwriter could have chosen to introduce dialects (specific regional variants of grammar and vocabulary), but has clearly chosen not to do so, presumably to keep to the subject of accent.

    If persons from different regions in the British Isles read a set passage from the Bible, or a national newspaper, or indeed the script that the narrator is reading from in the ‘tour’, one will perceive different accents, not different dialects. We will say he is reading it in a Welsh accent, or an Ulster accent, or a West Country accent, or whatever, but we will know that it is Standard English and not a dialect.

    Here is a somewhat fuller treatment of the distinction.

    “Your accent is the way you pronounce English when you speak it–and of course everybody therefore has an accent. Your dialect, on the other hand, has to do also with the grammatical forms that you use, as well, perhaps, as any regional vocabulary that you employ.

    “It is important to make this distinction between dialect and accent, in order to be able to show that it is possible to speak Standard English with a regional accent. Standard English has nothing to do with pronunciation. In fact, most people who speak Standard English do so with some sort of regional pronunciation, so that you can tell where they come from much more by their accent than by their grammar or vocabulary.”
    (Peter Trudgill, ‘Dialects’, Routledge, 2004)

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