A Brief Overview On The English Dialects Of The British Isles

The main English dialect of the British Isles is British English. This is the standard form of the English language as written and spoken in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and rather broadly elsewhere throughout the British archipelago. Received Pronunciation is the standard accent of British English in the U.K.

With respect to the Republic of Ireland, Hiberno-English qualifies as the main English dialect of the country but there are also other dialects with a small territorial distribution such as those in Dublin or southern Ulster.

Furthermore, there is also a considerable number of local dialects spoken in many areas of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The distribution of the main local English dialects in these constituent countries of the United Kingdom is the following one (dialects listed by constituent country):

1. England

  • South (South East, Sussex, Kentish, Estuary, London, Cockney);
  • West Country (Main West Country, Bristolian, Somerset, Devonshire, Anglo-Cornish);
  • East Anglia (Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex);
  • Midlands (West Midlands, East Midlands, Brummie, Coventry, Potteries, South-East Midlands);
  • North (Cumbrian, Northumbrian, Geordie, Pitmatic, Mackem, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Scouse, Mancunian).

2. Wales

  • Welsh English;
  • Cardiff English;
  • Gower.

3. Scotland

  • Highland Scottish;
  • Lowland Scottish;
  • Glaswegian.

4. Northern Ireland

  • Mid Ulster;
  • Belfast.

Note: The above classification excludes Scots given the fact that it is sometimes regarded as a separate Germanic language. In addition to these main dialects, there are also slight variations depending on the region. It is equally important to mention that a British English accent (and possibly even a regional dialect) varies on a radius of 5 to 10 miles across the British archipelago.

Another significant mention is that there are two main extinct English dialects in Ireland (presumed to have been descended from Middle English), specifically the Forth and Bargy dialect (once spoken in County Wexford) and Fingallian (spoken in County Fingal).

Detailed map of the British Isles depicting the territorial distribution of British English dialects. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Below you can watch a series of Youtube videos on different British English dialects, accents, and variations.

Documentation sources and external links:

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4 Responses to A Brief Overview On The English Dialects Of The British Isles

  1. Joanna Vandenbring says:

    But these are accents not dialects (at least 90%of them) why call them dialects??? Doesn’t give a very serious impression.

  2. Laurence Hallewell says:

    (1) “Received standard” is the compromise dialect introduced by the public schools at the very end of the 18th century to distinguish the upper class from the rest. It has been slowly dying out since World War Two, It has such subdialects as the Oxford drawl, the more clipped Cambridge (univedrsity) form, and the pretentious MeeFah (named for the upper market Mayfair residential district of central London). When spoken by the nouveaux riches it was usually still possible for a good ear to detect the local accent being covered up (e.g. the Brummagem twang of Joe Chamberlain and his sons).
    (2) Essex is an Angle, not a Saxon area and was one of the Home Counties until the 1970s. Its only connection with East Anglia began with television regions. I was born in S.W. Essex in 1929 but have lived in N.E. since 1966. My father, born 1882, says that in his childhood, “broad Essex” began at Barking. My paternal grandfather was born in 1867 in a village outside Newmarket and despite migrating to Canning Town in the 1890s, retained his west Suffolk accent till his death in 1952. His Liverpudlian wife gentrified her Scouse so well that, although only a domestic servant, she got a job with minor royalty in a grace and favour residence at Hampton Court.

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