A little note for the colonial cousins

Something I noticed when living on the West Coast of your delightful land. Accents don\’t really change very much over distance. It is indeed different in some of the urban areas of the east, but out west there\’s not much change.

The UK is somewhat different:

Miss Ridley says her favourite saying is \’now then\’, meaning \’hello\’.

\’People up here have no idea what you mean and say, \”ah, you mean \’Aal reet,\”\’ she said.

\’Some of the dictionary isn\’t actual words, it\’s things like we might say \”tortured\” meaning \”pester\”, whereas up here it\’s the more serious word.

\’The other thing is we\’d say, \”shot us that over here\”, for \’throw that over here.

\’Up here, they\’d say \”hoy it ower here\”.\’

That\’s the difference in only 40 miles of distance, between two industrial towns up in the NE of England.

And there are plenty of parts of the country where the accent (if not so much the slang) will change almost violently over a distance of perhaps a mile or two. Inhabitants of my native Bath will know what I mean if I mention Twerton and Moorland\’s Road for example. Can\’t be more than two miles between them but the accent is very different indeed.

18 thoughts on “A little note for the colonial cousins”

  1. The same is true in Norway, apparently. Enormous variations in accent from village to village.

    Russia, by contrast, sees barely any accent change across all 10+ time zones.

  2. The best part is, nobody really knows why! There are parts of the US which before mass communications should by rights have had German accents or whatever. Britain has been fairly homogeneous for a long time and yet as you say you can often place people to within a few miles.

    Tim adds: It works both ways. You get a language extending out, as people wish to communicate with each other. Thus “English” replacing the various Dane, Norwegian, Angle, Saxon, Norman etc stuff. But you also get localisms increasing within a language over time. It’s precisely those areas that have been settled a long time by roughly the same people/same language group that give you the high local variation.

  3. The differences in English accents are getting ironed out though. The south east in particular which once had a bewildering – to the outsider – variety in accent and dialect now has just Estuary. There are still variants of class and age but nothing like the diversity there was. I’m not as attuned to northern speech but it seems to me that something similar is happening there too.

  4. When I lived in the north-east, I could tell the difference between Sunderland, Newcastle and Gateshead accents, and they’re pretty close together.

    My Sunderland girlfriend was delightful, and not a bad navigator either. “Go straight, right, then take a left, right, followed by a right, right……

  5. @Hector: precisely my experience, in the exact same part of the country.

    And my Geordie friends were adamant that “Cockneys begin at the Tyne Bridge”.

  6. I can tell the difference between a St Helens and a Knowsley accent, and they’re close enough to share a maternity hospital. Which is why I was born in the same ward as Stephen Gerard and sounded *nothing* like him (even before I emigrated).

  7. many years ago I was interviewing a very senior manager at De Beers, a chap from Northern Ireland who’d been in SA for twenty years and had acquired a thick veneer of the local accent. The bloke I was working with was also from NI and had a skull-crunching hangover so he spent the bulk of the interview in greasy painful silence until he suddenly piped up with “I know where you’re from!”. He named a village and was within a couple of miles.

  8. Oh my goodness – thanks for the flashbacks of “Twertonese”. It’s practically a different country within Bath, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s a different language.

  9. 50%+ of children under the age of 8 in the US are now of Hispanic background. So it is more than the accent that may soon vary.

  10. In many parts of England it wont be an accent it will be a language from the far countries of the world. Diversity you know.

  11. Famously the UK has more dialects per head of population than any other country in the world. (Judged by vocabulary and grammar, rather than pronunciation.)

    The conventional explanation is although the Brits use dialect to distinguish region they also use it to distinguish class, which adds a layer of complexity unknown in most languages.

  12. Diversity is great. Miami used to be a red-neck-infested swamp. It is now one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant city in the Americas.

  13. Ted Baumann wrote:
    “50%+ of children under the age of 8 in the US are now of Hispanic background.”

    Source for this, please. According to this Wikipedia page, that figure is way off.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States
    Not even 40% projected kiddies by 2050, which is when they are expected to eclipse non-Hispanic whitie sprogs.

    That’s assuming current trends persist, which I’m not convinced by. Saw a splendid line yesterday: “illegal immigrants are to immigration what shoplifters are to shopping”. With the Nick Clegg now appreciating that culture always trumps economics, it’s possible that even those who write for the Adam Smith Institute might scratch their chins and realise that it does actually make sense to control who comes in.

    Probably not, though. Religion is very powerful. 😉

  14. Scotland too, Edinburgh and Glasgow, 44 miles city centre to city centre and utterly different from one another. Not only that but there are several variations within each city and the towns in between (Falkirk, Livingstone, Stirling a little further north) are different again. I’ve always put the phenomenon down to the fact that in most of history, a journey of 40 miles from home constituted a once-in-a-lifetime event for people other than soldiers and sailors. Mass comms may take a while to erode that.

  15. Matthew L – As a fellow Tellinser I know what you mean. Before I moved away, many moons ago, I could tell which part of St. Helens you came from. The difference in speech between someone who was educated at Cowley versus someone who attended Sutton High is unmistakable. Those who went to Parr, and therefore probably drink the blood of their dead, babble along in an almost incoherent manner even amongst themselves.

  16. First time I met someone from Geordieland … I couldn’t understand them.

    So they repeated themselves, slowly and more loudly. Still nothing but pops and squeaks.

    Really, one of the weirder experiences in my life …

  17. Really, you’d never find a staggering dialect difference like that between Scouse and Manc across 40 miles in the US.

    Tim adds: That’s not actually quite true. In the old cities of the East you can and do find such. Brooklyn/Bronx are two entirely different accents.

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