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 fiance 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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