British English is the standard dialect of
English language as spoken
and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal,
written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee
is almost exclusively used in parts of
Scotland and Ireland, and
occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere.
Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written
English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the
term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary
considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English
is spoken, so a uniform concept of
British English is more
difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur
in the Oxford Guide to World English,
British English shares "all the
ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be
used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly,
within a range of blurring and ambiguity".
When distinguished from American English, the term "British English"
is sometimes used broadly as a synonym for the various varieties of
English spoken in some member states of the Commonwealth of Nations.
3.1 Glottal stop
3.3.1 In the South
3.3.2 In the North
3.4 Loss of grammatical number in collective nouns
3.5 Negative Concord
5 See also
8 External links
Main article: History of the English language
English is a West Germanic language that originated from the
Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers from
various parts of what is now northwest
Germany and the northern
Netherlands. The resident population at this time was generally
speaking Common Brittonic—the insular variety of continental Celtic,
which was influenced by the Roman occupation. This group of languages
(Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric) cohabited alongside English into the modern
period, but due to their remoteness from the Germanic languages,
influence on English was notably limited. However, the degree of
influence remains debated, and it has recently been argued that its
grammatical influence accounts for the substantial innovations noted
between English and the other West Germanic languages. Initially,
Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied
origins of the
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects,
Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. The original Old English
language was then influenced by two waves of invasion: the first was
by speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family, who
conquered and colonised parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries;
the second was the
Normans in the 11th century, who spoke Old Norman
and ultimately developed an English variety of this called
Anglo-Norman. These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to
some degree (though it was never a truly mixed language in the
strictest sense of the word; mixed languages arise from the
cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid
tongue for basic communication).
The more idiomatic, concrete and descriptive English is, the more it
Anglo-Saxon origins. The more intellectual and abstract
English is, the more it contains
Latin and French influences e.g.
swine (like the Germanic schwein) is the animal in the field bred by
the occupied Anglo-Saxons and pork (like the French porc) is the
animal at the table eaten by the occupying Normans.
Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant
grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian
core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto
that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance
branch of the European languages. This Norman influence entered
English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English
developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and with a
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead
Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see
Map showing phonological variation within
England of the vowel in
bath, grass, and dance.
Those in the north generally pronounce such words with a short vowel
whereas those in the south use a long vowel
Dialects and accents vary amongst the four countries of the United
Kingdom, as well as within the countries themselves.
The major divisions are normally classified as English English (or
English as spoken in England, which encompasses Southern English
dialects, West Country dialects, East and West Midlands English
dialects and Northern English dialects),
Ulster English in Northern
Welsh English (not to be confused with the Welsh language),
Scottish English (not to be confused with the Scots language). The
various British dialects also differ in the words that they have
borrowed from other languages. Around the middle of the 15th century,
there were points where within the 5 major dialects there were almost
500 ways to spell the word though.
Following its last major survey of English Dialects (1949–1950), the
University of Leeds
University of Leeds has started work on a new project. In May 2007 the
Arts and Humanities Research Council
Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded a grant to Leeds to study
British regional dialects.
The team are[a] sifting through a large collection of examples of
regional slang words and phrases turned up by the "Voices project" run
by the BBC, in which they invited the public to send in examples of
English still spoken throughout the country. The
BBC Voices project
also collected hundreds of news articles about how the British speak
English from swearing through to items on language schools. This
information will also be collated and analysed by Johnson's team both
for content and for where it was reported. "Perhaps the most
remarkable finding in the Voices study is that the
English language is
as diverse as ever, despite our increased mobility and constant
exposure to other accents and dialects through TV and radio". When
discussing the award of the grant in 2007,
Leeds University stated:
that they were "very pleased"—and indeed, "well chuffed"—at
receiving their generous grant. He could, of course, have been
"bostin" if he had come from the Black Country, or if he was a Scouser
he would have been well "made up" over so many spondoolicks, because
Geordie might say, £460,000 is a "canny load of chink".
Most people in Britain speak with a regional accent or dialect.
However, about 2% of Britons speak with an accent called Received
Pronunciation (also called as "the Queen's English", "Oxford
English" and "
BBC English"), that is essentially
region-less. It derives from a mixture of the Midlands and
Southern dialects spoken in
London in the early modern period. It
is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign
In the South East there are significantly different accents; the
Cockney accent spoken by some East Londoners is strikingly different
Received Pronunciation (RP). The
Cockney rhyming slang can be
(and was initially intended to be) difficult for outsiders to
understand, although the extent of its use is often somewhat
Estuary English has been gaining prominence in recent decades: it has
some features of RP and some of Cockney. In
London itself, the broad
local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Caribbean speech.
Immigrants to the UK in recent decades have brought many more
languages to the country. Surveys started in 1979 by the Inner London
Education Authority discovered over 100 languages being spoken
domestically by the families of the inner city's schoolchildren. As a
result, Londoners speak with a mixture of accents, depending on
ethnicity, neighbourhood, class, age, upbringing, and sundry other
Since the mass internal immigration to
Northamptonshire in the 1940s
and its position between several major accent regions, it has become a
source of various accent developments. In Northampton the older accent
has been influenced by overspill Londoners. There is an accent known
locally as the
Kettering accent, which is a transitional accent
East Midlands and East Anglian. It is the last southern
Midlands accent to use the broad "a" in words like bath/grass (i.e.
barth/grarss). Conversely crass/plastic use a slender "a". A few miles
northwest in Leicestershire the slender "a" becomes more widespread
generally. In the town of Corby, five miles (8 km) north, one can
find Corbyite, which unlike the
Kettering accent, is largely
influenced by the West Scottish accent.
In addition, most
British people can to some degree temporarily
"swing" their accent towards a more neutral form of English at will,
to reduce difficulty where very different accents are involved, or
when speaking to foreigners.
Main article: Multicultural
Phonological features characteristic of
British English revolve around
the pronunciation of the letter R, as well as the dental plosive T and
some diphthongs specific to this dialect.
In a number of forms of spoken British English, it is common for the
phoneme /t/ to be realised as a glottal stop [ʔ] when it is in the
intervocalic position, in a process called T-glottalisation. Once
regarded as a
Cockney feature, it has become much more widespread. It
is still stigmatised when used in words like later, but becoming very
widespread at the end of words such as not (as in no[ʔ]
interested). Other consonants subject to this usage in Cockney
English are p, as in pa[ʔ]er and k as in ba[ʔ]er.
In most areas of Britain outside
Scotland and Northern Ireland, the
consonant R is not pronounced if not followed by a vowel, lengthening
the preceding vowel instead. This phenomenon is known as
non-rhoticity. In these same areas, a tendency exists to insert an R
between a word ending in a vowel and a next word beginning with a
vowel. This is called the intrusive R. This could be understood as a
merger, in that words that once ended in an R and words that did not
are no longer treated differently.
British dialects differ on the extent of diphthongisation of long
vowels, with southern varieties extensively turning them into
diphthongs, and with northern dialects normally preserving many of
them. As a comparison, North American varieties could be said to be
In the South
Long vowels /i:/ and /u:/ are diphthongised to [ɪi] and [ʊu]
respectively (or, more technically, [ʏʉ], with a raised tongue), so
that ee and oo in feed and food are pronounced with a movement. The
diphthong [oʊ] is also pronounced with a greater movement, normally
[əʊ], [əʉ] or [əɨ].
In the North
Long vowels /i:/ and /u:/ are usually preserved, and in several areas
also /o:/ and /e:/, as in go and say (unlike other varieties of
English, that change them to [oʊ] and [eɪ] respectively). Some areas
go as far as not diphthongising medieval /i:/ and /u:/, that give rise
to modern /aɪ/ and /aʊ/; that is, for example, in the traditional
accent of Newcastle upon Tyne, 'out' will sound as 'oot', and in parts
Scotland and North-West England, 'my' will be pronounced as 'me'.
Loss of grammatical number in collective nouns
A tendency to drop grammatical number in collective nouns, stronger in
British English than in North American English, exists. This is
namely treating them, that were once grammatically singular, as
grammatically plural, that is: the perceived natural number prevails.
This applies especially to nouns of institutions and groups made of
The noun 'police', for example, undergoes this treatment:
Police are investigating the theft of work tools worth £500 from a
van at the Sprucefield park and ride car park in Lisburn.
A football team can be treated likewise:
Arsenal have lost just one of 20 home Premier League matches against
Some dialects of
British English use negative concords, also known as
double negatives. Rather than changing a word or using a positive,
words like nobody, not, nothing, and never would be used in the same
sentence. While this does not occur in Standard English, it does
occur in non-standard dialects. The double negation follows the idea
of two different morphemes, one that causes the double negation, and
one that is used for the point or the verb.
As with English around the world, the
English language as used in the
United Kingdom is governed by convention rather than formal code:
there is no body equivalent to the
Académie française or the Real
Academia Española. Dictionaries (for example, Oxford English
Dictionary, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Chambers
Dictionary, Collins Dictionary) record usage rather than attempting to
prescribe it. In addition, vocabulary and usage change with time:
words are freely borrowed from other languages and other strains of
English, and neologisms are frequent.
For historical reasons dating back to the rise of
London in the 9th
century, the form of language spoken in
London and the East Midlands
became standard English within the Court, and ultimately became the
basis for generally accepted use in the law, government, literature
and education in Britain. The standardisation of
British English is
thought to be from both dialect leveling and a thought of social
superiority. Speaking in the Standard dialect created class
distinctions; those who did not speak the standard English would be
considered of a lesser class or social status and often discounted or
considered of a low intelligence. Another contribution to the
British English was the introduction of the
printing press to
England in the mid-15th century. In doing so,
William Caxton enabled a common language and spelling to be dispersed
among the entirety of
England at a much faster rate.
Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language
Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) was a
large step in the English-language spelling reform, where the
purification of language focused on standardising both speech and
spelling. By the early 20th century, British authors have produced
numerous books intended as guides to English grammar and usage, a few
of which have achieved sufficient acclaim to have remained in print
for long periods and to have been reissued in new editions after some
decades. These include, most notably of all, Fowler's Modern English
The Complete Plain Words
The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers.
Detailed guidance on many aspects of writing
British English for
publication is included in style guides issued by various publishers
The Times newspaper, the
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press and the
Cambridge University Press. The
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press guidelines
were originally drafted as a single broadsheet page by Horace Henry
Hart, and were at the time (1893) the first guide of their type in
English; they were gradually expanded and eventually published, first
as Hart's Rules, and in 2002 as part of The Oxford Manual of Style.
Comparable in authority and stature to
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style for
published American English, the Oxford Manual is a fairly exhaustive
standard for published
British English that writers can turn to in the
absence of specific guidance from their publishing house.
Comparison of American and British English
British Sign Language
British English collective nouns may be either singular or
plural, according to context. An example provided by Partridge is: "
'The committee of public safety is to consider the matter', but 'the
committee of public safety quarrel regarding their next chairman'
...Thus...singular when...a unit is intended; plural when the idea of
plurality is predominant".
BBC television news and
The Guardian style
guide follow Partridge but other sources, such as
BBC Online and The
Times style guides, recommend a strict noun-verb agreement with the
collective noun always governing the verb conjugated in the singular.
BBC radio news, however, insists on the plural verb. Partridge, Eric
(1947) Usage and Abusage: "Collective Nouns". Allen, John (2003) BBC
News style guide, page 31.
^ "British English; Hiberno-English".
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (2
ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989.
^ British English, Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary applies the term to English as "spoken
or written in the British Isles; esp[ecially] the forms of English
usual in Great Britain", reserving "Hiberno-English" for the "English
language as spoken and written in Ireland". Others, such as the
Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, define it as the "English
language as it is spoken and written in England".
^ Jeffries, Stuart (27 March 2009). "The G2 Guide to Regional
English". The Guardian. section G2, p. 12.
^ McArthur (2002), p. 45.
^ English and Welsh, 1955 J. R. R. Tolkien, also see references in
Brittonicisms in English
^ "Linguistics 201: History of English". pandora.cii.wwu.edu.
^ a b "The History of English -
Early Modern English
Early Modern English (c. 1500 - c.
^ Professor Sally Johnson[permanent dead link] biography on the Leeds
^ a b Mapping the English language—from cockney to Orkney, Leeds
University website, 25 May 2007.
^ McSmith, Andy.
Dialect researchers given a "canny load of chink" to
sort "pikeys" from "chavs" in regional accents, The Independent, 1
June 2007. Page 20
^ "Received Pronunciation". Retrieved 20 March 2017.
BBC English because this was originally the form of English used on
radio and television, although a wider variety of accents can be heard
^ Sweet, Henry (1908). The Sounds of English. Clarendon Press.
^ a b c Fowler, H.W. (1996). R.W. Birchfield, ed. "Fowler's Modern
English Usage". Oxford University Press.
^ Franklyn, Julian (1975). A dictionary of rhyming slang. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 9. ISBN 0-415-04602-5.
^ a b Trudgill, Peter (1984). Language in the British Isles.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 56–57.
Oxford dictionary website, 02 April 2017.
^ , BBC, 8 January 2017.
^ , BBC, 2 April 2017.
Double negatives and usage - English Grammar Today - Cambridge
^ Tubau, Susagna. "Lexical variation and Negative Concord in
Traditional Dialects of British English" (PDF). The Journal of
Comparative Germanic Linguistics.
^ a b "The Standardisation of English". courses.nus.edu.sg.
^ "The History of English: Spelling and Standardization (Suzanne
^ "New edition of
The Complete Plain Words
The Complete Plain Words will delight fans of
no-frills". 27 March 2014.
McArthur, Tom (2002). Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3 hardback,
ISBN 0-19-860771-7 paperback.
Bragg, Melvyn (2004). The Adventure of English, London: Sceptre.
Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
Simpson, John (ed.) (1989). Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sounds Familiar? – Examples of regional accents and dialects
across the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
Accents and dialects from the
British Library Sound Archive
Accents of English from Around the World Hear and compare how the same
110 words are pronounced in 50 English accents from around the
world – instantaneous playback online
The Septic's Companion: A British Slang Dictionary – an online
dictionary of British slang, viewable alphabetically or by category
British English Turkey
Dialects and accents of
Modern English by continent
Varieties by common name
Varieties by geographic location
East of England
Thames Estuary; London
Isle of Man
Varieties by common name
Chicago; Detroit; Great Lakes
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New York Latino
Burma or Myanmar
Click on a coloured area to see an article about English in that
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History of the English language
English in the Commonwealth of Nations
List of countries by English-speaking population
List of countries where English is an official language
Countries and territories where English is the national language or
the native language of the majority
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
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