Many British Englishes: The South
John Larrysson Column

There are many varieties of British English and no one standard British English accent that everyone in the UK uses. I will survey a few of these local variations. The most commonly recognised British English accents are RP, Cockney, Brummie, Yorkshire, Estuary, Geordie, Welsh and Scots. I will roughly divide them geographically. This week I will cover the southern varieties and next week the Midlands and northern varieties.

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RP or Received Pronunciation is the variety of the southern upper class and the original BBC. Some people think of RP as the only correct form of English, but the vast majority of British people don't speak it. Only about 3% do. In RP the r at the end of words or before another consonant is silent. Some short-a sounds like bath, laugh, grass and chance are pronounced with the broad-a in father. This is different from most northern English varieties, in which these words are pronounced with the short-a in cat. Other words such as cat and man keep the usual short-a.

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Cockney is the dialect of the east end of London. Like in RP the r at the end of words is silent. Some vowels are pronounced differently. In Cockney, th-sounds are usually replaced with f or v sounds. In addition to its own pronunciation, Cockney also has many slang words based on rhymes. The word porky is short for 'pork pie'. The word pie rhymes with lie. So when someone says "She's telling porkies!", they mean she is telling lies. This London variety is famously difficult for foreigners to understand.

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Estuary English is spoken in London and south-eastern Britain. However different authorities disagree on its definition. Estuary English is the most widespread and is more closely related to varieties spoken overseas including American English. Others point out that Estuary English has the broad-a and the silent r (on the end of a word) and sounds fairly similar to Cockney in some ways.

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Welsh English is the accent used in Wales. It varies a fair bit in different areas and is heavily influenced by the Welsh language, particularly in its intonation. The r at the end of words is silent. Syllables are more evenly stressed, instead of the more usual stress on the initial syllable. The Welsh language descends from the old non-English British language.

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The greatest difference in these varieties is accent, the grammar is mostly standard. However some words used in each variety may be rare elsewhere. Next week we will have the Midlands and northern varieties.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.