Regional dialects vs accents – what's the difference?
You could be forgiven for feeling a little bit unsure of what a regional or local dialect is exactly, and how it differs from an accent. You wouldn’t be the only one, as the distinction between dialect and accent is one that’s up for debate. The words are often used interchangeably, but those of us who work with languages agree that there is a difference.
Put simply, the meaning of a regional or local dialect is all-encompassing of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary – while the definition of an accent is about pronunciation only. For example, as Cockney has its own vocabulary, it's considered a dialect rather than an accent. If, on the other hand, you speak with a Cardiff accent, that’s not considered a Welsh dialect as it’s simply a variation of pronunciation, compared with other Welsh accents.
That said, there is so much more to local dialects and accents than just those definitions. Speaking with an accent that represents where you’re from connects you with your heritage, which we think is pretty important.
Take a tour of the different dialects in the UK and Ireland
Keeping tourists guessing what it means to sound British or Irish, local dialects and accents have given us many weird and wonderful local sayings.
We’ve lost count of the number of ways you can say hello in English. You could be greeted with a ‘Wotcha’, an ‘Aye up’ or a simple ‘Alright mate’ depending where you are. Those poor tourists never stood a chance!
Here are some examples of our favourite expressions in a range of dialects.
How many different accents are there in the UK?
The jury’s still out for how many accents exist in the UK. You could argue that with 69 cities across the country, there could be an accent for each. But in reality, it's estimated around 40 different accents.
What causes accents and dialects to form?
Accents are a product of our environment. It’s the influences surrounding you that lead you to a particular speech pattern, unique sayings, or even mispronunciations of words. Accents are a celebration of the place and environment that we are from, as well as the diversity of cultures throughout our society.
However, you tend not to know if you have an accent until someone (who’s not from your local area) tells you that you do. In your hometown, you won’t notice accents because it’s your “normal.” But when you come across an accent you’re unfamiliar with, words can easily get lost in translation. Like ‘Areet marra?’ – Geordie for hello – or ‘pop’, Welsh dialect for fizzy drinks.
To help visitors and the curious get up to speed, we looked at seven stand-out accents and schooled expats on how to speak the lingo of Cockney, Scottish, Scouse, Welsh, West Country, Yorkshire, and Geordie. Watch and learn at The School of British Accents.
What your accent says about you
Of course, very few of us love the sound of our own voice and if the thought of hearing yourself talk on a recording instantly makes you cringe, don't worry, we’ve all been there. In fact, it’s so common there's even a name for it – voice confrontation.
But we’re all about the preservation of different UK and Irish accents. And that’s why we’re celebrating what makes your local accent one of a kind. We ran a survey to ask people to share their favourite thing about some of the biggest, baddest and boldest accents from across the UK and Ireland*.
Want to make granny proud? Keep your accent alive
You only need to take one look at how beloved the nursery stories told by The Scottish Granny on YouTube are to see an undeniable joy of generations passing on their dialect.
But, there is a rise in accent softening in the UK and Ireland, with research from Cambridge finding a decline in regional dialect words and pronunciation. And more people are pronouncing words in a way that’s similar to Londoners and those in the South East, who tend to have a 'standard Southern English' accent.
Specialists predict that local dialects and accents are dying. They say the much loved Cockney dialect and rhyming slang as we know it is expected to disappear from London in 30 years. So 'dog and bone' and ‘bees and honey’ may be totally lost to a new generation of Londoners.
Hold on to your accent – no matter where you are
People can lose their accent for many reasons. They may wish to neutralise how they sound to avoid generalisations or fear of not being understood. There’s even pressure from our devices like Alexa and Google Home to speak more ‘clearly’. And many of us instinctively adjust our way of speaking to the people around us.
If you’re wondering how to keep your accent when you move, think E.T. phone home. Pick up the blower (Cockney slang for phone) and chat with your mum, dad, brother, sister, friends, granny, or grandpa. We promise, the slang, the pronunciations, it’ll all come rolling back.
No matter how you speak, your accent is what makes you, you. Embracing your regional dialect and local accent is something we encourage you to be loud and proud of, wherever you are and whoever you're around.
*Results based on an independent survey with 100 people across the UK and Ireland.