English dialects around the world - list of dialects of the English language
There is definitely no such thing as a single English language. There may be similar words and meanings across the different forms English takes but there is no uniformity of structure, vocabulary or pronunciation. And, if we were being honest, the variety of English use across the world is a source of fascination and, in some cases, comic moments. Let’s take a tour around the world and celebrate the differences in how one language can be used.
When you think about how the English speak you might imagine the Queen and the very proper way that she speaks. She enunciats every syllable and the sentence structure is always perfectly formed. The truth is that very few Brits speak with a plum against their gum. The country is awash with different dialects and accents that would make your head spin.
If you find yourself close to Birmingham, in an area alarmingly known as the Black Country, you might find yourself going “round the Wrekin” – whether this is in a journey, or more likely, in a conversation. You would simply be going the long way around. If you get to the point, the locals might describe you as bostin – or brilliant – which ironically literally means broken – but developed from describing people as smashing. Confused? Just take bostin as a compliment.
If you find yourself nearer London in the county of Essex then you might hear the phrase sing-small, which means you are dealing with less than you expected or were promised. Alternatively, if you are trying to carry something far too big and cumbersome then it might be referred to as liggle.
Probably the most alien dialect an outsider would come across in England is Liverpudlian – more commonly known as Scouse. If you go somewhere in Liverpool and it is chocka, then it means that it is busy. This comes from a nautical phrase chock-a-block, which you might hear all over the UK. You may be referred to youse (you) or as fella (man). You might get yourself a little devoed if you can’t understand what is going on (or upset – for those not fully up on their Scouse.)
Just as difficult is Geordie – a dialect of the north east. Here you will get called pet a lot – which is a term of affection, as opposed to referring to you as a domesticated animal. If you say something surprising the Geordie might respond with haddaway. If you move a few miles away to Yorkshire the phrase would change to eee by gum or even Oh aye? But if you please a Yorkshire native they might tell you they are appy as a pig in muck. Or, for the clueless – happy because you are like a pig who enjoys rolling in mud.
Probably the most amusing dialect that adds colour to English is Cockney. Why on earth would stairs be referred to as going up the apples? Well, because of the rhyming slang: up the apples and pears, of course. If you are my china plate you are my friend (or mate) and if you made me bubble bath (laugh) I would be making quite the box of toys (noise).
If you cross the borders into Wales and Scotland you would be forgiven for believing it was a different language. In fact, in Wales or Cymru, you will find that all the road signs are written in English and Welsh. But, there are other words that are distinctly Welsh dialect, like having a cutch – or a hug – or being someone’s butty – or friend – not to be mistaken for sandwich, which is what this means across the border in England.
If you go to Glasgow be reassured that no one other than those people from Glasgow understands anything that is being said. There is byraway – which is generally just added to the end of sentences, or ha huvnae a scooby – which you might not – as it means don’t have a clue. A Glaswegian might also say wur aw Jock Tamson’s bairns – which means we are all equal (all God’s children – bairns is another word for children).
If you ask any Englishman what it means to speak Australian they would suggest it means just adding ie to most words, such as Barbie (BBQ) or Stubbie (beer). Or it might mean using the word look regularly at the beginning of sentences – as if you can see exactly what they are about to say.
If you said this to an Aussie (see, add ie to words) and they might say good onya, mate! As if you have completely grasped Australian slang – but to be fair – you haven’t scratched the surface.
First, there is Bogan – which is an uncultured person who likely wears a flanno (a flannel shirt) and lives a fairly lively life in the outback (countryside). They are likely to buy their refreshments from the Bottle-O (alcohol shop) and store it in their Esky – their cooler.
Another type of Australian that is fair dinkum (real) is a grommet (young surfer) who might enjoy a pash (long passionate kiss) and root (doing something a little more passionate still) on the beach. Root needs to be used carefully in Australia – you don’t want to root for your team – that would be going a bit far in your loyalty in Oz. You might want to barrack (support) your team instead.
A lot of Australian slang revolves around the beer. There is the slab, which is a pack of 24 beers, the stubbie holder – which is a holder for a bottle of beer – which you might get from the bottle-o remember. But let’s not whinge (whine) or sook (sulk), it’s all sweet as (amazing).
All this a little too much? Well, here are some general rules to help you get started. If you want to say hello - say g’day. At the end of every sentence use the word mate – which means friend but in Australia this means almost everybody you meet. Mate is also used as an exclamation. For instance, if you say – did you enjoy the party? and the Aussie replies with Maaaaate! this is the equivalent of “yes, it was the most excellent party, thank you for asking, friend.”
Crikey and Streuth are great words to have in your Aussie armour – they are just ways of saying wow! but make you sound like a native. But, if you want to escalate the wow to be ultimately amazing you can say it is fully sick. All these simple phrases will make you appear like a true blue Aussie, mate – well, maybe you will look like someone who is trying to be a real Australian – but, that’s close, right?
To suggest there is a single American English would be like suggesting there is really no problem in finding a needle in a haystack. Of course, there are many American dialects – as you would expect of a country with a population of over 300 million people.
If we start in the north east you will find that those in Boston tend to miss off the r in words. They also tend to use the word wicked (very) often and a tonic is a soft drink. Move a little further along the coast to Phillie and you will find that the letter h tends to disappear from words. Water sounds like wooter and they call chocolate sprinkles on ice-cream jimmies.
If we move to the Wisconsin area then you meet the Yooper dialect. This is easily mistaken for Canadian English, though it is probably best not to admit this to people in the area. Most of the slang refers to clothing to help protect against the cold weather – not surprisingly. So – if you have choppers you have long-sleeved mittens or a Yooper-scooper you have a snow shovel.
When you go to St Louis you will struggle with the vowels as a and o tend to be interchanged – but this means taking Interstate Farty Far is always amusing for the outsiders.
Head down into the Deep South and you are on your own. They speak a different language in the wilds – well, actually, in New Orleans they may well speak French. Some easy starters include the Virginia Piedmont dialect, where you just extend words that include an e by adding the drawl of an ay sound. So, met would be may-et or bed would be bay-ed.
Head over to the west coast and you hit the mysterious world of California – which in itself has many dialects within it. Surfer and Valley girl should never be interchanged – and there are also actual different languages – as Spanish is commonly spoken. You might find some common speech patterns – like the use of “like” to act as a filler like um and er “like”. You might also hear gnarly, awesome and dude a lot – but with the impact of American films you can hear these words pretty much all over the world too.
Now that English has become a global language there are new forms popping up all over the world. The home language of the country and the distinct accents all work together with English vocabulary to evolve a new dynamic language. Here are some examples you might find:
Singlish is spoken in Singapore – and includes words from Chinese and Malay. Singapore was a British colony, so English is a commonly spoken language but it is merged with others spoken. As with every distinct region, the language has been adapted and context begins to play a huge part.
if you give someone an arrow you are not giving them a weapon – you are giving them an order. If you say Bao Toh, or bun knife, you are chatting about someone behind their back – or backstabbing. If you say catch no ball you are saying you don’t understand a certain topic. In Singlish you would say the ball is in my court but I fail to catch it – an extension of the phrase referring to it being your responsibility but adapted to say it is not understood what is your responsibility.
If you say someone has eat snake you are saying they are skiving – which is a merging with Chinese jiak zua. You could equally say someone is a Kayu – or a blockhead. It actually means wood in Malay – so this works well. You could easily call them a lobo – which is a lazy person – but derives from the English army phrase Left out of Battle Order (LOBO). If you are accused of Sabo, then you have caused deliberate harm to others.
Less well known is Uglish (you-glish) which describes the dialect of English that has emerged in Uganda. You can dirten your hands – or make them dirty. You can be accused of cowardising – or being a coward. If you beep someone it means you ring them and hang up quickly before they pick up the phone. Benching is used to mean someone you have an interest in. Instead of lending someone some money you would borrow them some money. If you find something funny you might experience deep giggles.
There is a lot to be said for the creative way the Ugandans use English, even if some argue it is a sign of people learning weak English. The differences add colour rather than errors.
Here is a dialect that emerged from the English and American armed forces but is spread around the world by the travelling soldiers. It tends to involve using a lot of swear words to get attention and is used to be any part of the sentence whether it be the verb or the noun or the adjective, maybe even the gerund. But, then if you are under fire you can guess why this might happen (though it is only used when they are off duty – apparently.)
English is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Over 2 billion people speak it but it might not always be the same standardised English as you travel. This is both confusing and amusing in equal part. For instance, it means an Englishman telling his American friend to open the boot may end up with an odd outcome! It is what makes the world so interesting – humans play with words and from this comes our character!