- British English
British English or UK English (BrE, BE, en-GB [
language codefor "British English" , as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).] ) is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English languageused in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere. [Peters, p 79.] There is confusion whether the term refers to English as spoken in the British Islesor to English as spoken in the United Kingdom, [The Oxford English Dictionarydefines "British English" as "the English language as spoken or written in the British Isles; esp [ecially] the forms of English usual in Great Britain, as contrasted with those characteristic of the U.S.A. or other English-speaking countries."] though in the case of Ireland, there are further distinctions peculiar to Hiberno-English.
There are slight regional variations in formal written English in the United Kingdom (for example, although the words "" and "little" are interchangeable in some contexts, one is more likely to see "wee" written by someone from northern Britain or
Northern Irelandthan by someone from Southern Englandor Wales). Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in "written" English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described as "British English". The forms of "spoken" English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken and a uniform concept of "British English" is therefore more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the "Oxford Guide to World English" (p. 45), " [f] or many people...especially in England [the phrase "British English"] is tautologous," and it shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word "British", and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".
English is a West Germanic language that originated from the
Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germanyand the northern Netherlands. Initially, Old Englishwas a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. The original Old English languagewas then influenced by two waves of invasion. The first was by language speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family; they conquered and colonized parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries. The second was the Normansin the 11th century, who spoke Old Normanand ultimately developed an English variety of this called Anglo-Norman. These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to some degree (though it was never a truly mixed languagein the strict linguistic sense of the word; mixed languages arise from the cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid tongue for basic communication).
Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance branch of the European languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and with a huge
The widespread use of English worldwide is largely attributable to the power of the former
British Empireand the widespread global commerceit encouraged under free trade, and this is reflected in the continued use of the language in both its successor (the British Commonwealth, and later the Commonwealth of Nations) and many other countries. In the days before radio and television, most communication across the English-speaking world was by the written word. This helped to preserve a degree of global uniformity of the written language. However, due to the vast separation distances involved, variations in the spoken language began to arise. This was also aided by émigrés to the empire encountering other, non-British cultures. In some cases, resulting variations in the spoken language have led to these being reflected in minor variations in written language usage, grammar and spellings in other countries.
Dialects and accents vary not only amongst the nations of Britain, but also within the countries themselves. There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in any particular region.
The major divisions are normally classified as
English English(or English as spoken in England, which comprises Southern English dialects, Midlands Englishdialects and Northern Englishdialects), Welsh English, Scottish Englishand the closely related dialects of the Scots language. The various British dialects also differ in the words that they have borrowed from other languages. The Scottish and Northern English dialects include many words originally borrowed from Old Norseand a few borrowed from Gaelic.
Following its last major
survey of English Dialects(1950–1961), the University of Leedshas started work on a new project. In May 2007 the Arts and Humanities Research Councilawarded a grant to a team led by Sally Johnson, Professor of Linguistics and Phonetics at Leeds University to study British regional dialects. [ [http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~smlsaj/ Professor Sally Johnson] biography on the Leeds Universitywebsite] [http://reporter.leeds.ac.uk/press_releases/current/voices.htm Mapping the English language – from cockney to Orkney] , Leeds Universitywebsite, 25 May 2007.]
Johnson's team are sifting through a large collection of examples of regional slang words and phrases turned up by the "Voices project" run by the
BBC, in which they invited the public to send in examples of English still spoken throughout the country. The BBC Voices project also collected hundreds of news articles about how the British speak English from swearing through to items on language schools. This information will also be collated and analysed by the Johnson's team both for content and for where it was reported. "Perhaps the most remarkable finding in the Voices study is that the English language is as diverse as ever, despite our increased mobility and constant exposure to other accents and dialects through TV and radio." Work by the team on this project is not expected to end before 2010. When covering the award of the grant on 1 June 2007, The Independentstated:
The form of English most commonly associated with educated speakers in the southern counties of England is called the "Received Standard", and its accent is called
Received Pronunciation(RP).cite article |last=Fowler |first=H.W. |editor=R.W. Birchfield |title=Fowler's Modern English Usage |work= |pages= |language= |publisher=Oxford University Press |year=1996 |url= |accessdate= ] It derives from a mixture of the Midland and Southern dialects which were spoken in London during the Middle Agescite article |last=Sweet |first=Henry |title=The Sounds of English |work= |pages= |language= |publisher=Clarendon Press |year=1908 |url= |accessdate= ] and is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners. Although educated speakers from elsewhere within the UK may not speak with an RP accent it is now a class-dialect more than a local dialect. The best speakers of Standard English are those whose pronunciation, and language generally, least betray their locality. It may also be referred to as "the King's (or Queen's) English", "Public School English", or " BBCEnglish" as this was originally the form of English used on radio and television, although a wider variety of accents can be heard these days. Only approximately two percent of Britons speak RP [ [http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/case-studies/received-pronunciation/ Learning: Language & Literature: Sounds Familiar?: Case studies: Received Pronunciation] British Library] , and it has evolved quite markedly over the last 40 years.
Even in the South East there are significantly different accents; the London
Cockneyaccent is strikingly different from RP and its rhyming slangcan be difficult for outsiders to understand. Estuary Englishhas been gaining prominence in recent decades: it has some features of RP and some of Cockney. In London itself, the broad local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Caribbean speech. Communities migrating to the UK in recent decades have brought many more languages to the country. Surveys started in 1979 by the Inner London Education Authoritydiscovered over 100 languages being spoken domestically by the families of the inner city's school children. As a result, Londoners speak with a mixture of accents, depending on ethnicity, neighbourhood, class, age, upbringing, and sundry other factors.
Since the mass
immigrationto Northamptonshirein the 1940s and its close accent borders, it has become a source of various accent developments. There, nowadays, one finds an accent known locally as the Ketteringaccent, which is a mixture of many different local accents, including East Midlands, East Anglian, Scottish, and Cockney. In addition, in the town of Corby, five miles (8 km) north, one can find Corbyite, which unlike the Kettering accent, is largely based on Scottish. This is due to the influx of Scottish steelworkers.
Outside the southeast there are, in England alone, other families of accents easily distinguished by natives, including:
West Country( South West England)
*West Midlands (
Black Country, Birmingham)
Manchesterand other east Lancashireaccents
Geordie) and other northeast England accents
Although some of the stronger regional accents may sometimes be difficult for some anglophones from outside Britain to understand, almost all "British English" accents are
mutually intelligibleamongst the British themselves, with only occasional difficulty between very diverse accents. However, modern communications and mass mediafact|date=June 2008 have reduced these differences significantly. In addition, most British people can to some degree temporarily 'swing' their accent (and particularly their vocabulary) towards a more neutral form of "standard" English at will, to reduce difficulty where very different accents are involved, or when speaking to foreigners. This phenomenon is known in linguisticsas " code shifting".
As with English around the world, the English language as used in the United Kingdom and the
Republic of Irelandis governed by convention rather than formal code: there is no equivalent body to the Académie françaiseor the Real Academia Española, and the authoritative dictionaries (for example, " Oxford English Dictionary", "Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English", " Chambers Dictionary", " Collins Dictionary") record usage rather than prescribe it. In addition, vocabulary and usage change with time; words are freely borrowed from other languages and other strains of English, and neologisms are frequent.
For historical reasons dating back to the rise of
Londonin the 9th century, the form of language spoken in London and the East Midlandsbecame standard English within the Court, and ultimately became the basis for generally accepted use in the law, government, literature and education within Britain. Largely, modern British spelling was standardised in Samuel Johnson's " A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755), although previous writers had also played a significant role in this and much has changed since 1755. Scotland, which underwent parliamentary union with England only in 1707 (and devolved in 1998), still has a few independent aspects of standardisation, especially within its autonomous legal system.
Since the early 20th century, numerous books by British authors intended as guides to English grammar and usage have been published, a few of which have achieved sufficient acclaim to have remained in print for long periods and to have been reissued in new editions after some decades. These include, most notably of all, Fowler's "Modern English Usage" and The Complete Plain Words by Sir
Ernest Gowers. Detailed guidance on many aspects of writing British English for publication is included in style guides issued by various publishers including The Timesnewspaper, the Oxford University Pressand the Cambridge University Press, and others. The Oxford University Press guidelines were originally drafted as a single broadsheet page by Horace Henry Hart and were, at the time (1893) the first guide of their type in English; they were gradually expanded and eventually published, first as Hart's Rulesand, most recently (in 2002), as part of "The Oxford Manual of Style". Comparable in authority and stature to The Chicago Manual of Stylefor published American English, the Oxford Manual is a fairly exhaustive standard for published British English, to which writers can turn in the absence of any specific document issued by the publishing house that will publish their work.
American and British English differences
British Isles (terminology)
Languages in the United Kingdom
Regional accents of English
Ulster Scots language
*McArthur, Tom (2002). "Oxford Guide to World English". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3 hardback, ISBN 0-19-860771-7 paperback.
*Bragg, Melvyn (2004). "The Adventure of English", London: Sceptre. ISBN 0-340-82993-1
*Peters, Pam (2004). "The Cambridge Guide to English Usage". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
*Simpson, John (ed.) (1989). "Oxford English Dictionary", 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
* [http://www.bl.uk/soundsfamiliar Sounds Familiar?] ndash Examples of regional accents and dialects across the UK on the
British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
* [http://english2american.com The English-to-American Dictionary] ndash British words and terms translated into American English
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