Social and Territorial Varieties of English Pronunciation

Social and Territorial Varieties of English Pronunciation

One of the main difficulties a foreign student may face when learning English pronunciation is the abundance of remarkable variety of accents. This book aims to show you the main differences in grammar and spelling between British English and American English, their prominent dialects and accents. The following project is recommended to students of English Philology and for anybody who learns English language.

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Official English language in the World

Importance of the English Language edit

ENGLISH LANGUAGE belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group within the western branch of the Germanic Languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages. It is related most closely to the Frisian language, a lesser extent to Netherlander (Dutch-Flemish) and the Low German (Platt-Deutsch) dialects, while more distantly to Modern High German. Its parent, Proto-Indo-European, was spoken around 5,000 years ago by nomads who are thought to have roamed the south-east European plains.[1]

Today all English-speaking nations have their own national variants of pronunciation and each of them has peculiar features that distinguish it from other varieties of English. Though every national variant of English has considerable differences in pronunciation, lexicon and grammar, they all have much in common which gives us ground to speak of one and the same language – the English language.

English is one of the most common languages in the world. It is the official language in a large number of countries. Generally, Standard English today does not depend on accent but rather on shared educational experience, mainly of the printed language. Present-day English is an immensely varied language, having absorbed material from many other tongues. It is spoken by more than 300 million native speakers, and between 400 and 800 million foreign users. It is the official language of air transport and shipping; the leading language of science, technology, computers, and commerce; and a major medium of education, publishing, and international negotiation. For this reason, scholars frequently refer to its latest phase as World English.

British VS American English edit

  1. British English
  2. American English

The main differences between British English and American English can be summarized as follows.

1. The presence of rhotic accent
2. Differences in vowel pronunciation. The most relevant ones are change of diphthong [əʊ], change of [ɒ], change of [æ], and change of [ju:].
3. Differences in consonant pronunciation. This mainly involves the different pronunciations of letter t.
4. Change of stress. This comprises the change of stress in French loanwords, and certain suffixes such as -ate and -atory.
5. Differences in articulation. American English has a clear tendency to pronounce unstressed syllables where British English does not show such a disposition.


Word RPReceived Pronunciation GAGeneral American
Go [gəʊ]
No [nəʊ]
Crow [krəʊ]
comparison [kəmˈpærɪsn]
Promotion [prə'məʊʃn]
Romantic [rəʊ'mæntik]


Speakers of American English use the present perfect tense less than speakers of British English.

  • US Did you do your homework yet?
  • Brit. Have you done your homework yet?
  • US I already ate.
  • Brit. I’ve already eaten.

In British English, "have got" is often used for the possessive sense of "have" and "have got to" is informally used for "have to". This is much less common in American English.

  • Brit. I’ve got two sisters.
  • US I have two sisters.
  • Brit. I’ve got to go now.
  • US I have to go now. [3]

There are number of words that exist in both languages but have different meanings.

British English American English
Autumn Fall
Cellar Basement
Underground Subway
Ground floor 1st (First) Floor
1st (First) floor 2nd (Second) floor
Flat Apartment

In American English the words are shorter and simpler.

British English American English
Colour Color
Honour Honor
Jewellery Jewelry

S → Z

1. analyse – analyze
2. realise — realize

Permutation of letters

1. Litre — liter
2. Theatre – theater
3. Metre — meter

Dialects edit

Dialect is a variety of a language. Dialects are distinguished from each other by differences in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. The most common dialects of English - British, based in the southern UK. The second - is the U.S. but the most dialect-obsessed nation in the world is The United Kingdom. The most widespread type of dialectal differentiation is geographic. As a rule, the speech of one locality differs from that of any other place.

  1. American Dialects
  2. British Dialects

Gender Differences in Pronunciation, Social Class and Accent edit

The gender differences of language reflect in the pronunciations. Social linguists think that women compared with the men of same ages are closer to the standard style and have more elegant accents so as to make them look like more educated, and enjoy higher social levels. For instance, the pronunciation of the vowel "r" is a kind of typical expression of gender differences in pronunciation. In American English, the pronunciation of the vowel "r" is the symbol of people who have higher education and higher social status, and is the tag of the upper class.[4]

As for the accents, they refer to the varieties in pronunciation, which convey information about a person’s geographical origin. These varieties are partly explained by social mobility and new patterns of settlement. Distinct groups or social formation within the whole may be set off from each other in a variety of ways: by gender, by age, by class, by ethnic identity. Particular groups will tend to have characteristic ways of using the language-characteristic ways of pronouncing it, - for example - and these will help to mark off the boundaries of one group from another. They belong to different social groups and perform different social roles. A person might be identified as ‘a woman’, ‘a parent’, ‘a child’, ‘a doctor’, or in many other ways. Many people speak with an accent, which shows the influence of their place of work. Any of these identities can have consequences for the kind of language they use. Age, sex, and socio-economic class have been repeatedly shown to be of importance when it comes to explaining the way sounds, constructions, and vocabulary vary.

Perhaps to a certain extent, accent is much more a pointer to geographic region. Upper class people will usually speak Standard English, but some people are proud of their origins and will keep the local accent - especially if they are Scots or Irish. Some accents are perceived to be 'worse' than others - Birmingham, London, Liverpool accents are considered to be 'less educated' than say Yorkshire; a West Country (Devon, Somerset, Cornwall) accent is thought of as agricultural, and their people as slow and methodical, and the best English is said to be spoken in Inverness in the North of Scotland! It is certainly a very pure speech, even if not exactly 'standard English'!

So some conclusions about the kinds of social phenomena that influence change through contact with other dialects can be made:

  • dialects differ from region through the isolation of groups of speakers
  • dialects change through contact with other dialects
  • the upper classes reinforce Standard English and RP through education

References edit

See Also edit