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Why does the UK seem to have more regional accents than USA?

It seems like the UK has more regional accents than the USA does, why is that? There are probably about 10 or less distinguishable American accents. But there are literally hundreds in the UK! For example in London there are lots of different accents being tossed around. What do you think factors the growth of so many different regional accents? USA regional accents seem stagnant compared to UK's. Does it have to do with the length the country has used English?

1 Answer

  • 8 years ago
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    The UK certainly does have a rich collection of regional accents!

    And you're right: a lot of them are very old. Many are directly connected to our history of invasions and settlements.

    The ones to start with are the Celtic accents you hear in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Those have an older British heritage than any other accent, because they originate from the Celtic languages spoken on these islands before the Romans arrived.

    Move on a few centuries and another bunch of invaders has arrived here and settled. Listen to a Geordie (someone from Newcastle) speaking and you'll hear the same intonations as you get in Scandinavian languages. Why? Because that part of north-eastern England was the heartland of the old Viking territory. Many words still used there – and in Yorkshire and Scotland for that matter – are Old Norse: words like "beck" (stream), "kirk" (church) and "bairn" (child).

    The Black Country accent (heard in Staffordshire and the area between Birmingham and Wolverhampton) is another really old accent. Its sounds go right back to Chaucer's language (Middle English). It's the only part of England left where words which look as if they should sound the same - like "baths" and "maths" for instance - actually *do* sound the same.

    Until the beginning of the railways in the 19th century, most people's travels were limited to walking-distance or maybe a horse-ride from where they lived, so accents stayed very local indeed. And it is only since the age of radio and TV that we really see accents getting mixed up – fashion in accents is nothing new, and often it’s a case of the latest slang expression being adopted complete with its native accent or intonation. But even now, I can tell the difference between Leeds and Bradford accents and they’re only a bus-ride apart!

    As for London: well it’s always been a melting-pot of incoming accents. Old-school Cockney has sounds and words filched from Yiddish and Romany, which tells you a fair bit about the old East End. These days, the most common London accents are probably “Estuary English” and “Jafaican” – though I think both those are soon going to be overtaken by a kind of “multicultural London” that has bits of both plus a lot of Asian phrasing.

    I haven’t even mentioned the “Queen’s English” (also called things like “standard English”) – it’s a relative newcomer (a child of the Georgians and Victorians) but it’s useful because it can be understood by most people. And it’s very handy for charming grumpy Customs officials at US Homeland Security, too. ;D

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