Regional dialects in English: The UK and the United States
From time to time, we get questions such as "how to learn other Spanish languages," questions which confuse the differences in regional dialects with the differences between distinct languages. Often, to explain this concept, someone will make an analogy to English such as, "It's like the difference between the English spoken in the Southern United States and the English spoken in the Bronx" or "It's like the difference between English spoken in the UK and English Spoken in the US." That is to say that they are all the same language.
For some time now, I have been somewhat interested (somewhere between a passing fancy and a hobby) in the dialectical variations exhibited across the US as well as in the variations that occur within the UK. I just wanted to share a few of the links that I have come across to some of the more accessible websites which deal with this theme. Many of these websites offer numerous voice recordings (for comparison purposes) which might also be of use for those trying to learn English. My hope is that some of you might find these helpful or, at the very least, interesting. Enjoy.
Variations across the UK
Variations across the US
These sites are great Izanoni. Thanks for doing all of the work and for sharing the information with us.
It is interesting just how many variations there are just within the United States. Even in the Philadelphia/NYC region where I live, we all have a particular accent. However, that basic accent is also flavored by our varying ethnicities.
I particularly enjoyed the one question:
Do you stand "in line" at the bank or "on line" at the bank. Where I live, it is very common to say "While I was waiting "on line" at the bank, etc." I know it sounds very strange, but that is what we are used to.
This is fascinating.
I love it Nicole! If you are on the West Coast of the U.S. and someone says they "waited on line", they only think you were at your computer waiting for a page to load!
Also on the West Coast they have no idea what you are talking about if you order a "coffee regular"!
I think the regional differences in our dialects are fascinating as well.
Interesting links! I'll need some time to listen to them all.
Here in Masschusetts I hear a lot of "youse guys" (which is their way of saying ya'll).
We also have "wicked," as in "That's wicked good!" (which means very good).
Regional differences are the "spice" of languages. Thanks Izanoni for the links that you found.
As far as proper English is concerned....
Does anyone else know what a "hoagie" is?
What about "jimmies"?
For bonus points, I have explained this before in the forum, but does anyone know what "jeet" means on the streets of Philadelphia?
What a fascinating thread - thank you. I look forward to having the time to explore the links that you have provided, Izan.
The range of accents and dialects is truly remarkable. I am always particularly struck by the correlation between accent and the local landscape. For instance, Cork and Kerry, in the south west of Ireland are mountainous regions (well, in an Irish context; anywhere else they would be mere hillocks) and the accents there reflect that undulation, with the Cork accent being the most representative of the famous Irish "lilt". In fact, although I was born and raised in Ireland, though I have subsequently spent half my life in the UK, I find it nigh on impossible to follow a conversation between two natives either of these counties. Even if I am in a discussion with a Cork or Kerry native myself, it is like taking part in a conversation in a foreign language. There is a brief delay between the words reaching my ears and the meaning reaching my mind and there are often words used that I just don't understand at all - they are purely local in usage. Given that the entire population of the Republic of Ireland was about 3.5 million when I was growing up (now c4.5 million), it puts into perspective the variation that exists between regions within larger countries such as the US, not to mention between the various English-speaking countries worldwide.
With reference to some of the other postings, it really made to smile to read about the spread of "youse"...because I have always assumed that it was an Irish weed. If I hear a character in an American TV show use this word, I take it as a signifier that the character is meant to have Irish roots. (The same applies to the Scouse / Liverpool accent referenced in dandi's post.) Of course, there are also generally other indicators within the accent or language register too. So, reading your posts got me wondering last night and I came across this link, reviewing some research, "Methods and Data in English Historical Dialectology": [link text]
The review is only c4 pages long but the most pertinent passages are the following three paragraphs, if you would like to shortcut:
"One of the linguistic features discussed in Hickey’s paper is the origin of the second person plural form youse. Although there are a large number of devices available to differentiate StE you pl. from StE you sg., e.g. y’all, y’uns, ye, you lot, and Caribbean unu, the variant youse/yez [ju(: )z], [jiz], [jez], [jiz] is often assumed to be of Irish English origin, though today it is also found in colloquial American, Australian, New Zealand and South African English (Dossena and Lass 2004:200). The Irish English use of youse is thought to have been borne from a strategy of Irish speakers who were wont to distinguish the second person plural pronoun, as it exits in Irish sibh [ʃɪv]. The curiosity which Hickey addresses is the fact that such a form youse/yez is completely absent from eighteenth-century Irish English literature, including over fifty plays; Hickey also points out that the variant is absent from Maria Edgeworth’s (1767–1849) novel Castle Rackrent (1800), which attempts to display the speech of the native Irish realistically. Hickey goes on to note that the first attestation given by the OED is from Samuel Lover’s novel Handy Andy: A tale of Irish life (1842), which accords with Hickey’s Corpus of Irish English, where no attestations are to be found before the mid-nineteenth century. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century the form is common enough and is found in the works of John Millington Synge, Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan (Dossena and Lass 2004:201). On the whole, Hickey does seem to agree that the historical data, though somewhat tight, could nevertheless support the view of Irish influence on Southern Hemisphere and US English, as there was probably still enough mid-century Irish immigration to provide the necessary impetus for youse to catch on. One further fact that seems to support Irish origin of youse is that the form is found in only those areas of Britain where there was a proportionally considerable Irish influence. In this regard, Hickey cites Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow, adding that the form has spread from Glasgow into central Scotland. It should be pointed out that the form youse, often pronounced [ju:z] or [jəz], is at least as common on Teesside where substantial nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish immigration is also on record. In an abstract for a recent conference (NWAV 34) Barbara Fennell and Carmen Llamas tell us that “From the 1870’s onwards, Irish-born economic migrants accounted for one in five inhabitants in Middlesbrough, making the relative size of the Irish-born population second only to that of Liverpool in nineteenth century Britain” (see also Chase 1995). It has often been noticed how Middlesbrough English, with several other unusual linguistic features, such as intonation patterns, nurse-vowel fronting to [ε:] and affrication of stops t > ts and k > kx/x, is often perceived as Scouse (see Kerswill and Williams 2000), and it will be instructive to see how many of these linguistic features can or cannot be accounted for by Irish influence in ongoing research."
One other significant point to remember about Irish English and its subsequent influence on other English accents and dialects, is that until the Great Famine period, c1845-1848, the vast majority of those living in Ireland were native Irish, or Gaelic, speakers. Most of them also lived in extreme poverty which is why the famine was so devastating. The 1841 census put the population at 8.2 million. By the end of the famine, some 1 million of those souls had died and another million had emigrated, mainly to America. Ireland's people has probably been its greatest export ever since (apart from the 10 years of the Celtic Tiger, of course), mainly the the US, Australia, NZ and, of course, our nearest neighbour, the UK. The famine had a huge effect on the national psyche, not least reflected in the belief that English was the language to speak because English speakers were perceived as being better educated and, more importantly, wealthier. English was the language of opportunity, just as America was the land of opportunity. Irish, or "Gaelige" as it is known in Irish, was a weight around the neck. The British Government's introduction of the 1870 Elementary Education Act provided the final nail in the coffin to Irish being a widely-spoken language so that by 1900 there were comparatively few native speakers left. So what has this to do with English? Well, Irish is a very different beast from English; it is a highly expressive and poetic language where the constructions and syntax are often widely at odds with the English translation. In many ways, it's more than a language - it's a different way of seeing the world. Therefore, even when the Irish acquired an English vocabulary, they tended to apply this in the context of the constructs that were essentially a part of them and their culture. The text's reference to "youse" mentions the attempt to make the two languages fit. Another example would be the Irish English: "I'm after doing my homework instead of "I have done my homework". To compensate for the loss of Irish's continuous present, we find the use of: "I does be going to work at about 9 o'clock", meaning "I usually go to work about 9 o'clock". There are many more of these constructs and variations that may be of interest to you if you live in an area that has, or has had, a strong Irish connection. As this post is already rather longer than I originally intended, I have found the following link that seems to be pretty accurate and provides more examples and further information: link text
If any of you have any particular questions, I would be happy to try and answer them.
: http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/hsl_shl/dossena & lass.htm
Even in the Philadelphia/NYC region where I live, we all have a particular accent. However, that basic accent is also flavored by our varying ethnicities.
This is true here in the Houston/Galveston area where I live as well, and I would daresay that there are probably more than a few distinct variations spoken over about a 60-100 mile radius.
Here in Masschusetts I hear a lot of "youse guys" (which is their way of saying ya'll).
We used to have a neighbor that lived across the street from us who was from Chicago (by way of Detroit), and he used to say "youse guys" all the time, too (which I can tell you seemed extremely out of place for South Texas).
Nicole -- I think a "hoagie" is a submarine sandwich. I have no idea what a "jimmie" is...please enlighten us!
I have always wondered why I can barely ever tell if someone is Canadian or American from their accent, but I can tell if someone is from Manchester versus Sheffield.
I have no idea what a "jimmie" is...please enlighten us!
At some point there was a simple test published in Facebook, that purported to identify what regional US accent you were most familiar with. Accurately enough, it told me that I am most familiar with the New York State accent.