Regional accents of English

Spoken English shows great variation across regions where it is the predominant language. This article provides an overview of the numerous identifiable variations in pronunciation; such distinctions usually derive from the phonetic inventory of local dialects, as well as from broader differences in the Standard English of different primary-speaking populations.

Accent is the part of dialect concerning local pronunciation. Vocabulary and grammar are described elsewhere; see List of dialects of the English language.

Secondary English speakers tend to carry over the intonation and phonetics of their mother tongue in English speech. For more details, see Non-native pronunciations of English.

Primary English-speakers show great variability in terms of regional accents. Some, such as Pennsylvania Dutch English, are easily identified by key characteristics; others are more obscure or easily confused. Broad regions can possess sub-forms as identified below; for instance, towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester, such as Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which together comprise the broader accent of Lancashire county; while these sub-dialects are very similar to each other, non-local listeners can identify firm differences.

English accents can differ enough to create room for misunderstandings. For example, the pronunciation of pearl in some variants of Scottish English can sound like the entirely unrelated word petal to an American ear.

For a summary of the differences between accents, see International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects.

Overview

Dialects and open vowels
word RP GA Can sound change
THOUGHT /ɔ/ /ɔ/ /ɑ/ cotcaught merger
CLOTH /ɒ/ lotcloth split
LOT /ɑ/ fatherbother merger
PALM /ɑː/
PLANT /æ/ /æ/ trapbath split
BATH
TRAP /æ/

English dialects differ greatly in their pronunciation of open vowels. In Received Pronunciation, there are four open back vowels, /æ ɑː ɒ ɔː/, but in General American there are only three, /æ ɑ ɔ/, and in most dialects of Canadian English only two, /æ ɒ/. In addition, which words have which vowel varies between dialects. Words like bath and cloth have the vowels /ɑː ɒ/ in Received Pronunciation, but /æ ɔ/ in General American. The table above shows some of these dialectal differences.

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