The English language is one of the most powerful communications tools on the planet. Yet there are many quirks of English, that irk, annoy, or provide great humour.
2.1 Billion People
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. 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 accents:
- Received Pronunciation, or Standard English, the common southern tongue, encouraged for BBC presenters and actors. Also used widely in offices around the city.
- Cockney and Cockney rhyming slang.
- South London (distinct from Cockney) covering the area just south of the river.
- Croydon and Sutton accents. 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.
Within each accent there are so many quirks of English, used by people who have a mix of backgrounds. One of my brother-in-laws speaks with a distinct East-End accent, yet his upbringing in Mombasa, Kenya shows through.
Quirks of English
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. Canadians and Americans tell me there are more. It may be true 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. For example, 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 that 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 cause of some friction, especially as the missing words are a basic part of the language.
Trouble is many native English speakers get frustrated because they find it difficult to understand the non-native speaker. Realistically they should encourage that person to improve their usage, instead of using it as a source of name calling and backbiting. This frustration is at the heart of many communications problems and can sometimes cause friction in the workplace.
This requires people to think differently. I think of it as they know a second language, whereas I only know one.
It is through conversation that a non-native speaker is encouraged to improve their language usage. They hear the correct way to say things and over time mirror those words in their own speech. This can though lead to other problems, such as mirroring the words used in the wrong context. This becomes another of those Quirks of English. But, the native English speaker should explain the correct usage and in time each problem gets corrected in their speech. Don’t assume the non-native speaker has no willingness to improve.
Writing is a separate issue as many non-native speakers do not read well in English. Reading is often the key to improving how you write in this language.
Speech and conversation with all of those dialects, accents, quirks of English at play can make communication interesting and sometimes very colourful.
The area in north-east England around Newcastle is where many of the locals speak in a Geordie accent. Many outside of that area feel this is one of the harshest accents used. The same could be said of the Scouse accent (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 dialects are 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 been said of Americanisms. Moving on a hundred years, our language has developed. Every day new words are added whose source is American, Australian, French, Spanish, Latin, Zulu, Chinese, or Indian, even some come from slang usage. Such are the quirks of English. Arguably our language is all the more rich because of it (although I feel some words, like “selfie,” have no place in mainstream usage, they are a modern day slang).
We should encourage unification of this language. Bring together common elements, back into a single language codex. I am not saying this will be easy, but it is essential for future development of English.
Other Related Material
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, including some Canadianization, that means I say ‘gas’ instead of ‘petrol’.
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- Separated by a Common Language?
- The Joy of Sentences — Construction
Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for this article.