The ‘British Accent’ – A Rough Guide for the Perplexed.

So I was chatting the other day to my friend Matthew Curry of The Chia Pet Circus and he very kindly tweeted this clip to me, reminding me how quaint the BBC used to be:

“Don’t forget your cocoa, and don’t let the bed-bugs bite. Breakfast will be at six SHARP!”

One of the things that stood out for me as I listened was how old-fashioned the presenter’s voice sounds. The BBC used to insist on a posh accent but these days tends to choose a softer accent and often a regional accent. After some discussion about how I would actually place this accent (thoughts anyone?) I got to thinking about how many accents we have on our tiny island. I tried to google how many and came up with zip. So much for research. As a general guide we might come up with something like this:



Scouse (Liverpool)

Mancunian (Manchester)

Geordie (Newcastle)

Cockney (Parts of London)

Brummie (Birmingham)

Yorkshire (Yorkshire)

West country (The west country e.g Bristol, Devon..)

Northern Irish,

Southern Irish,

Welsh (and some may divide this accent between North and South)

Glaswegian (Glasgow)

Aberdonian (Aberdeen)

My Scottish mother would add many more here including Dundonian etc.

The list goes on (please comment if I’ve missed any obvious ones) but for brevity’s sake I’ll draw a line here, but listen to this accent from the Scottish Islands:

Could you guess what they said? We used to have friends of my mum come down to visit sometimes and there was one very lovely old lady who couldn’t communicate with any but my aunt (not even my mum had a clue). She made these beautiful little cooing sounds and I would smile and nod as my aunt translated English into English! It wasn’t a different language she just had a very strong dialect. (Nothing to do with Dr Who btw.)

There are many more accents however. For example, ‘towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester such as BoltonOldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which form the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases are different enough to be noticed even by a non-local listener’ so says Wikipedia. I would say Mancunian sounds nothing like Lancastrian but there you go.

In my newly adopted home county of Northamptonshire we can hear when someone is from Northampton and when they’re from Leicestershire (just a few miles away) for example. People hereabouts call women ‘duck’ as a term of endearment (like sweetie, lass etc. (It’s ‘hen’ in Scotland)) and they pronounce it ‘doook’ (a proper phonetics table would help here!) whereas from my mouth it’s a very different creature and doesn’t sound endearing at all!

My accent? Well some people say they hear Cockney, some say they hear the Queen’s; I would say it’s somewhere between the two, and yes, I have had a lot of comments in my lifetime, including from some (it’s happened more than once) who ask if I’m from New Zealand – really!! Some can even hear the Scottish influence in there. Would I record it for you? Not on your nelly. (That means no.)

The ever useful Beeb have gone about the UK recording accents and they have captured 1200 apparently. Take a look here:Capture2

They have a map too.

The green dots can be clicked on (on the site) and will give you a taste of the accent from that area.

So, in summary, it would be fair to say that there’s no such thing as a ‘British accent’ as many foreign students will tell you. We sometimes can’t understand one another here, despite being only 603 miles from John O’Groats to Land’ s End and smaller than many states around the world. But we are all united. At least at present.

I don’t know about you but I think that’s pretty amazing.


Published by Jill London

Hi, I’m Jill, a writer and teacher living in the UK, usually behind a desk but sometimes on a sofa with a book or a film. I began writing at around age three, legibly by five, although I didn’t write any stories until I was older. Aged eleven, I began writing children’s fiction, mostly middle-grade fantasy and I’m still doing it to this day. I have had stories published online and in My Weekly magazine. The best bit about writing is when ideas pop into your head (from the writing fairy presumably?) and everything starts clipping together like a jigsaw puzzle. The worst bit? When you start to get the feeling there's a piece missing from the box...

41 thoughts on “The ‘British Accent’ – A Rough Guide for the Perplexed.

  1. Wow. I’m glad you wrote this. I was pondering it all day at work. It makes me think of “My Fair Lady” and the way Henry Higgins (was that his name?) had spent so much time and energy documenting accents. And he could tell exactly which street a person lived on just by the way they spoke. (I know that was fictional, but it doesn’t seem to be too far from reality.) This is fascinating stuff. I will come back and re-read your post more carefully when my cat isn’t having a psychotic episode.


    1. There’s no arguing with a psychotic cat! 😉 Is s/he normally high-spirited or is it just a mad half-hour thing (I don’t think I ever saw a cat that didn’t have the occasional mad half-hour).


      1. Oh, she just gets mad sometimes when I’m sitting in front of my laptop and she wants attention. She walked off and sat in the hallway, howling like she was going to die. Yeah, it’s just something she does from time to time… Hope you’re having a good weekend. 🙂


      2. Cats don’t like being told no for an answer! They can be such drama queens and so funny with it, they know you can’t resist them. Is she a lucky black cat or accident prone? I can’t have a cat because of my allergy but sometimes I can’t resist stroking the local one, Leo, when he comes calling.
        It’s been a busy W/E but really good, thanks. The sun’s been shining for about a week now and you can probably guess by the way I go on about the weather that this is a MAJOR event 😀 (An obsession with the weather is quintessentially British!) How about you? Good weekend?


      3. I can understand your obsession with the weather. I’ve always heard it stays rainy and dreary in England. Is that true? Or is that just a myth I’ve bought into? (Not that it’s a BAD thing. I love rain. It’s been pouring here lately and I’m the only one enjoying it.)

        It’s hard to describe Frances. She’s not really accident prone, but I wouldn’t use the word “lucky” to describe her either. Most of the time, she’s an affectionate, sweet, cuddly thing. But she can be a drama queen, you’re right about that. When she wants me to drop what I’m doing and play with her, she walks around the apartment, making this wretched howling noise. It’s bone chilling.

        Sorry about your allergy. That’s sad. My sister’s allergic to cats too, so I know how it is… My weekend’s been pretty good. I’m on the last chapter of my WIP. It’s almost time to put the “paint” on it. 😉


      4. Most of the time these days it’s not even rainy. I like a bit of rain myself but instead it’s just grey and dreary, just as you say. Weather-wise Britain is in a kind of Limbo, although I’m starting to wonder if it’s just the Midlands. Europe gets the most incredible thunderstorms, especially Italy. I loved it, the water just drops in sheets then the sky clears up and it’s back to the sunshine. Sigh.

        Great news about the new WIP! Sounds like it’s getting to the really fun part when it all starts looking like the real thing. I’m so happy for you, really, and looking forward to hearing more once it’s done. I know it’s going to be good 🙂


  2. I just had a conversation about accents today. My best friend is from Brighton, making that accent “the real one” in my mind. 🙂 It is awesome that there are so many!!


  3. Great post! The number is mind boggling and the potential for misundrstanding enormous 😉 often it’s not the accent that confuses but the colloquialisms used.


      1. My geographical knowledge of the U.K. is limited at best so I have no idea if you’re on the mark or not. Nottingham is where my grandparents lived with my mum and her brothers. I don’t know if this saying was handed down through the generations and possibly from another completely different area who spoke a different dialect altogether.


      2. Nottingham is in the west Midlands, so that was a pretty good guess on my part! 😀 I haven’t heard the phrase before but who knows? Maybe it’s familiar to that area. You could be right about the generational thing though. Families can start up little sayings of their own (Anyone care to reveal some of their own?). Has your Mum lived in the US long, Kelly?


      3. Mum (or Moom- as in book- as my grandparents would say) has been in Australia since she was 15. She met my dad here who came from Wales when he was 9. Mum has recently been reverting to using the dialect in certain words. We duly point this out


      4. Mum is now a citizen here but retains a dual passport. To my knowledge, Dad has never been back. I would love to see both countries one day. Thank you for following my blog. Just to let you know though, my content is at Free Little Words not Keladelaide.


  4. My goodness – 1,200 accents! It does not matter to furrylittlegnome or to many other Americans, we love hearing the British accent no matter what region it is coming from.


  5. So interesting Jill. Imagine, all around Australia there is only one accent, and you cannot pick where anyone is from! I quite like that, as you cannot be pigeon holed, but I think the British accents are gorgeous .


  6. Great post, Jill! I love the British accent. But, I really love the different names for things. My most favorite is the “sleeping police man”…a speed bump in the U.S.


    1. The only time I remember hearing them called that was on an advert, otherwise we say ‘speed bump’ too. I think some Britishisms are fading out of memory to be honest. We gain a lot of influence from US TV shows and films, so these days no-one would feel odd saying ‘shopping mall’ or ‘candy’ or calling someone a jerk (when I was little it would have been strange), but nappies are still nappies (and not diapers) and spellings (colour, grey etc.) remain the same.


    2. UPDATE: Someone just told me they remember saying ‘sleeping policemen’ and she told me why they were called that. Apparently the bump is like a policemen monitoring your speed! I feel daft not knowing now :-[. It’s a really good phrase but a bit of a mouthful for everyday speech.
      Btw, ‘daft’ is a fairly British expression, isn’t it? Or is it universal?


  7. I am a Manc who tries to avoid ‘sorted’ and ‘innit’ slipping into my conversation. In cold print, without the nasal emphasis, this comment doesn’t come over well at all. Innit?
    One other thing, do you recall that old advert about the posh lady having lessons to speak in a rough cockney accent? The wota in Majorca don’ taste like what it oughta.


    1. Andy! I lost you to my spam-checker 😦 I’m so sorry! As I just commented to the other blogger who got lost in there I’m going to have to check through it more regularly!

      Whenever I hear Mancunian mentioned I hear Liam Gallagher in my head! Is that a bad thing? Mancunian and Scouse are two of my favourite UK accents (along with Scots and Irish) but I know what you mean about the cold print. The staccato tone of the cockney vowel is hard to express in writing! And yes! You’re spot on about that advert – I did feature it in a post recently too 🙂


      1. I am always getting lost in cyberspace.
        And yes-Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown, Shameless,Coronation Street, its all bad!


  8. I was once asked if I was Rusiian?! I have a New Jersey accent (posh NJ–haha). I dated the cutest guy with a Geordie accent and everybody loved him. I dated a guy from Tipperary and my brother was like, “I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”


    1. We are sooo alike 🙂 I guess I sound posh cockney (I blame my Scottish roots. Ask any Scot and they’ll tell you the English don’t know how to speak properly :-D).


  9. Oh Jill. I do wish you hadn’t put up that BBC map. I have too much to do as it is, but now I want to take a week off and listen to every clip. But getting to the point: I grew up in Ireland but was born in Hertfordshire. When I was a youngster there was a definite Hertfordshire accent that has now pretty much disappeared, though I still have a couple of aunts who speak that way. The clips provided by the BBC don’t come close. The only recording I can find of it is an impersonation (and a pitch-perfect one) by a lady who was by no means Hertfordshire and was, indeed, half American. The wonderful Joyce Grenfell does a splendidly funny monologue (she places it in Buckinghamshire which is near enough). It takes me back to hear this: it’s a country-ish accent, but not quite the Hampshire / Oxfordshire burr (which themselves are not quite Wurzelish oo-arr West Country).

    By the way, among the peculiar Hertfordshire idioms I knew from my youth was the expression “Will’s Mother’s”, as in: “I don’t think this good weather will last. I had a look over Will’s Mother’s and I reckon it might rain”.


    1. Eek! I’m so sorry for my late reply but my spam-checker let me down for the first time ever! Luckily I do check through it though and there I found you (and one other blogger) among the casino comments and the questions on which platform I use. I will have to check my spam more often.

      How lovely to hear Joyce Grenfell again and an excellent link for anyone unfamiliar with this gifted and funny lady. What a joy!
      I never heard that expression before. Am I missing an obvious detail or does this need the accent for all to become clear?! Knowing how most English expressions arise it probably goes beyond memory (I love that about expressions!) but I’m willing to bet that your accent is tantalisingly hard to pin down.


  10. I love British accents Jill. I still think you need to record yours for us so I can see if it matches the voice in my head when I read your posts 🙂


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: