Quirks of English and How the Words we use Matter so Much

With the Eng­lish lan­guage being used by in excess of 2.1 bil­lion peo­ple around the globe it has become, arguably, the most pop­u­lar lan­guage on the plan­et, yet when we look around the globe we can see every­one has their quirks when they use the lan­guage. You do not have to look beyond the bound­ary of Lon­don to see that there are so many dif­fer­ent accents:

  • London Map by WikiMedia CommonsReceived Pro­nun­ci­a­tion, or Stan­dard Eng­lish, the com­mon south­ern tongue, encour­aged for BBC pre­sen­ters and actors
  • Cock­ney and Cock­ney rhyming slang.
  • South Lon­don (dis­tinct from Cock­ney) cov­er­ing the area just south of the river.
  • Croy­don and Sut­ton accents, are relat­ed to the Sur­rey accent and South Lon­don tongues.
  • Estu­ary Eng­lish (spo­ken south of the Thames along the estuary).
  • East End, as made famous by the TV show East Enders, some­times this may blend with Cockney.
  • Dagen­ham, relat­ed to the East End and Essex accents, but more dis­tinct, found from Ilford, East Ham out along the north­ern shores of the Thames estuary.
  • Essex, a dis­tinct accent spo­ken in the north east of the city.
  • Mid­dle­sex, spo­ken in the west of the city.
  • Chiswick, a refined accent spo­ken in a small area in the west of the city.
  • Hert­ford­shire, spo­ken in the north west of the city
  • Berk­shire, relat­ed to the Hert­ford­shire and Buck­ing­hamshire accents spo­ken on the west­ern and north-west edge of the city.
  • Twick­en­ham, anoth­er refined accent spo­ken in a small area in the south west of the city.
  • Richmond/Kingston, spo­ken in a neigh­bour­ing bor­oughs of the south­west of the city.
  • Sur­rey, relat­ed to the Rich­mond and Kingston accents on the south west­ern edge of the city.

It takes a Lon­don­er to dis­tin­guish between these 15 dialects, there are prob­a­bly a fur­ther 50 dis­tinct accents found with­in 50 miles of the edge of Greater Lon­don. As we expand across the globe there are pos­si­bly thou­sands of dis­tinct accents used with­in this great lan­guage. Liv­ing in Cana­da I can detect 5 dis­tinct accents in Cana­da and about 8 or 9 across the USA, but Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­cans tell there are more, there may be but either I sim­ply haven’t encoun­tered them or have not heard enough to dis­tin­guish them. Add in the vari­eties of Eng­lish spo­ken in India, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and many oth­er coun­tries and you have an inter­est­ing and eclec­tic mix used by peo­ple every day of the week.

Why this dis­cus­sion on accent? Well one of the great­est chal­lenges of being under­stood is how we all use words, and some­times the words we don’t use which can make or break a spe­cif­ic con­ver­sa­tion. I know, for exam­ple, that some peo­ple who have a wide knowl­edge of Eng­lish, yet when they speak or write they miss words out, the rea­son being because they think in their own lan­guage and then trans­late into Eng­lish, the miss­ing words cor­re­spond to those which have no place in their own lan­guage. When a non-native speak­er speaks with a native Eng­lish speak­er that can be the cause of some fric­tion, espe­cial­ly as miss­ing words are seen as a basic part of the language.

Seeing eye to eye - Royalty Free Image from IMSI
See­ing eye to eye — Roy­al­ty Free Image from IMSI

Trou­ble is many native Eng­lish speak­ers get frus­trat­ed because they find it dif­fi­cult to under­stand the non-native speak­er, when they should be encour­ag­ing that per­son to improve their usage, instead it can be the source of name call­ing and back­bit­ing. This frus­tra­tion is at the heart of many com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lems and can some­times cause fric­tion in the workplace.

It is in fact through con­ver­sa­tion that a non-native speak­er can be encour­aged to improve their lan­guage usage, they will hear the cor­rect way to say things and over time mir­ror those words in their speech, this can though lead to oth­er prob­lems, such as mir­ror­ing the words that you use in the wrong con­text, but again the native Eng­lish speak­er should explain the cor­rect usage and in time each prob­lem can be cor­rect in speech. Writ­ing can be a sep­a­rate issue as many non-native speak­ers do not read well in Eng­lish, and read­ing is often the key to improv­ing how you write in this language.

All those dialects or accents through which the Eng­lish lan­guage is spo­ken can make com­mu­ni­ca­tion inter­est­ing and some­times very colour­ful. The area in north-east Eng­land around the city of New­cas­tle is where many of the locals speak in a Geordie accent, many out­side of that area feel this is is one of the harsh­est accents used, but the same could be said of the Scouse accent (peo­ple from the Liv­er­pool area) or again the Glaswe­gian tongue, whose lex­i­col­o­gy is strong­ly influ­enced by cer­tain Gael­ic sub­stra­ta. It is true some of these region­alised use of the lan­guage can be hard to under­stand and this has also been said of the swamp peo­ple in Louisiana, not that I have per­son­al expe­ri­enced this tongue.

A 100 year old book, sit­ting on my book­shelf  com­plains about the intro­duc­tion of Scot­ti­cisms and how their usage is destroy­ing the Eng­lish lan­guage, the same has also been said of Amer­i­can­isms, yet mov­ing on a hun­dred years our lan­guage has devel­oped and every day new words are added whose source is Amer­i­can, Aus­tralian, French, Span­ish, Latin, Zulu, Chi­nese, or Indi­an and even from slang usage, arguably our lan­guage is all the more rich because of it (although I feel some words, like “self­ie,” have no place in main­stream usage and should be con­sid­ered as slang). We should be encour­ag­ing a uni­fi­ca­tion of this lan­guage, bring­ing togeth­er com­mon ele­ments, back into a sin­gle language.

Do you have you quirks, spe­cial words, or local dialect? Even though I speak what would be referred to as Stan­dard Eng­lish I am aware that I have my own quirks.


Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee as a thank you for this article.



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3 Replies to “Quirks of English and How the Words we use Matter so Much”

  1. I have a New York/ Boston­ian accent even though I was raised in the South I nev­er lost it. My moth­er was huge on annun­ci­a­tion and not using slang. I can mim­ic the South­ern twang. I picked up from my fiancé who is from Alaba­ma. My quirk would be I sort of sing words end­ing with“a” and “ar”. Weird!!! I don’t know where in my trav­els I have picked that up.

  2. […] the dis­tant past or cre­ate new and inter­est­ing visions of any future we find appro­pri­ate and the quirks of lan­guage usage will dif­fer accord­ing to where we hail […]

  3. […] Find out more about Lon­don accents here. […]

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