Freshwomen English Class five: Posh English is the Best(?)

Nimen Hao!

Welcome to today’s class on English accents . We’ll use this subject to further our work on expressing and exchanging a point of view, in terms of thing we like, don’t like, or feel are just ok.

Let’s start with some definitions, and by thinking about accents closer to home first.

What are accents, dialects, …

accent noun [ C ]
  • accent noun (pronunciation) uk ? /?æk.s?nt/ us ? /?æk.s?nt/

the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words


  • dialect noun uk ? /?da?.?.lekt/us ? /?da?.?.lekt/


a regional dialect ????
The poem is written innorthern dialect. ?????????????

uk ? /?pr?s.?.di/ us ? /?pr??.s?.di/ specialized

i. the rhythm and intonation (= the way a speaker’s voice rises and falls) of language



ii. the pattern of rhythm and sound in poetry


  • For example, in Australian English many women put a rising inflection on the last syllable of a statement sentence
  • “It’s gonna rain today”
  • Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect (“correct pronunciation”), or simply the way a particular individual speaks a word or language.
  • diphthong noun [ C ]

    uk ? /?d?f.???/ uk/?d?p.???/ us ? /?d?f.????/ uk/?d?p.????/ specialized

Accents, dialects, and identities

In sociolinguistics, an accent is a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation.[1] An accent may be identified with the locality in which its speakers reside (a regional or geographical accent), the socioeconomic status of its speakers, their ethnicity, their caste or social class (a social accent), or influence from their first language (a foreign accent).[2]

Accents typically differ in quality of the voice, pronunciation and distinction of vowels and consonants, stress, and prosody. Although grammar, semantics, vocabulary, and other language characteristics often vary concurrently with accent, the word “accent” may refer specifically to the differences in pronunciation, whereas the word “dialect” encompasses the broader set of linguistic differences. Often “accent” is a subsetof “dialect”

So, to give some examples of accent and dialect differences: ways of saying hello:

  • East Midlands UK: “EE Up me Duck”.
  • Baltimore US: Whass Up?
  • Australia: G’day mate, how’s it going?
  • London: Awwright?

Let’s just review a few further defintions.

  • linguistics noun uk ? /l????w?s.t?ks/ us ? /l????w?s.t?ks/ also linguistic science


  • Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and society’s effect on language. It differs from sociology of language, which focuses on the effect of language on society. It also differs from linguistics and phonetics.
  • ethnicity noun  us ? /e??n?s·?·t?i/

a large group of people who have the same national, racial, or cultural origins, or the state of belonging to such a group:

[ U ] They place no importance on ethnicity.

Different accents in China: group discussions

Mandarin-speakers are a diverse language group.

Working in your small groups discuss your home province, its dialect/s and its accent/s.

  • Does the local hometown accent differ from the accent chosen by Beijing people? If so, can you describe how their pronunciation sounds differ?
  • Are they different accents in your home province? What kinds of people speak the different accents?
  • What are your favourite and least favourite Chinese accents? What kinds of people speak them? Why do you like or dislike them?

Class and English accents

Let’s begin to learn a little about the accents that have historically belonged to different classes of English people: working class, middle class and upper class.

This old (1960s) comedy sketch gives a good idea of class difference and the accents that go with them. The performers are famous comedians John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett (if they were Chinese, they might have made really good cross-talkers).

OK, this next clip (to be played in class) gives British and American upper class accents (actually current accents) and a working class accent. The working class accent is a Yorkshire accent (again, actually a current accent).


And the following clip from the movie Ethel and Ernest (2016) and  gives an upper class and working class accent. The working class accent is an East Londoner’s accent, known as “cockney”.

Those upper class accents are known as ‘received pronunciation’.

Received Pronunciation  emerged from the 18th- and 19th-Century upper classes, and has remained the “gold standard” ever since. You may have heard the accent in Jane Austen films, or Merchant Ivory films (like A Room with a View), where the characters are generally from those historical upper classes. Although originally related to upper-class London and other wealthy Southeast English areas, it is more widely used these days (its not confined to these  regions.


  • Non-rhoticity, meaning the r at the ends of words isn’t prounounced (mother sounds like “muhthuh”).
  • Trap-bath split, meaning that certain a words, like bath, can’t, and dance are pronounced with the broad-a in father. (This differs from most American accents, in which these words are pronounced with the short-a in cat.


Cockney is probably the second most famous British accent. It originatedamong the working classes of the East End of London, but shares many features with and influences other dialects in that region.


  • Raised vowel in words like trap and cat so these sounds like “trep” and “cet.”
  • Non-rhoticity: see explanation above under Received Pronunciation, above.
  • Trap-bath split: see explanation above under Received Pronunciation.
  • London vowel shift: The vowel sounds are shifted around so that Cockney “day” sounds is pronounced IPA dæ? (close to American “die”) and Cockney buy verges near IPA b?? (close to American “boy”).
  • Glottal Stopping: the letter t is pronounced with the back of the throat (glottis) in between vowels; hence better becomes IPA be?? (sounds to outsiders like “be’uh”).
  • Th-Fronting: The th in words like think or this is pronounced with a more forward consonant depending on the word: thing becomes “fing,” this becomes “dis,” and mother becomes “muhvah.”

As the two kinds of working class accents show, English dialects differ by region and, in fact, there are many local dialects in England and throughout the British isles (if you want to read about them and listen to samples, you can go to the dialect blog).

Let’s listen to two further accents from the British isles that show how different English can sound when its spoken by people from different regions.

Irish (Dubliner) English

Irish English comes in many accents and that spoken by Dubliners has been made famous by actors like colin Farrel. Let’s listen to a little Dublinese:

East Coast Irish English (Dublin) comprises the mostly urban accents spoken from Drogheda in the North to Waterford in the south. Perhaps the most famous of these dialects is working-class Dublin.


  • The dipthong in kite often starts from a centralized place: IPA k?it. To American and British ears, kite can sound a bit like “koyt.”
  • The diphthong in mouth is often fronted differently. Hence mouth can sound like “meh-ooth.”
  • Th becomes IPA t and d in words like thing and this (i.e. “tin” and “dis”).
  • There is much variation, ranging from some suburban Dublin dialects which sound faintly American, to working-class dialect which are nearly-incomprehensible to outsiders.

Famous Speakers: Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, Damien Dempsey, the members of U2.

English accents beyond the UK

Britain’s colonisation of different parts of the world led to the mixing of different peoples and a proliferation of new English dialects. Let’s listen to a few of those. First two kinds of North American accent.

New York City English

The classic “New Yorkese” has been made famous in films (like “Goodfellas,” “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,”), and TV shows (“Seinfeld,” “King of Queens”) .

Prominent Features:

  • Non-rhoticity: see explanation above.
  • The long-a in words like father and cart is often pronounced back and sometimes rounded: i.e. IPA f?:ð? and k?:t (“fawthuh” and “kawt”).
  • The vowel in words like thought, north and dog are pronounced is high and diphthongized, pronounced IPA ???t, n???, and d??g (“thaw-uht,” “naw-uht” and “daw-uhg”).

In the Annie Hall clip we hear middle-class and working class New Yorkese, mixed with another factor: some American accents are influenced not just by place, but also ethnicity. So in the Annie Hall clip, we have a well-educated Jewish American, and a working class Italian American. Have a listen to the New Yorkese accents in the following two clips from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (both to be played in class). What are the accent and identity differences?


Upper Midwestern English

This is the dialect that was made famous by the film “Fargo.” It is mostly heard in Minnesota, North Dakota and a few areas in Iowa. It is related to the Great Lakes dialect, although with some substantial differences.

Prominent Features:

  • The vowel sound in goat is often a strong monopthong, becoming IPA go:t (i.e. “gawwwt”).
  • The prosody (musicality) of the dialect is often influenced by the various Germanic languages that were spoken in the region well into the Twentieth-Century.
  • Most other features are fairly similar to Great Lakes English, with some difference depending on the specific region.

Next let’s hear a little Australian. Here a clip from Jasper

linguists Arthur Delbridge and A.G. Mitchell in 1965.   They separated Australian Accents into broad, general, and cultivated varieties.

General accents represent the most common type of English spoken in Australia.  Broad accents are usually described as more extreme (and associated with more working-class speech), while Cultivated Australian accents are quite similar to the British Received Pronunciation.

The further on the Broad end of the spectrum that an accent lies, the more markedly, well, “Australian” the features of said accent.  Here are the biggest factors:

–The diphthong in “kite,” “ride,” “mine” etc.  The more Broad the accent gets, the more this moves toward the diphthong in words like “choice” (i.e. retracted and raised).  Hence a Cultivated Australian speaker might pronounce “buy” somewhat close to an RP or General American speaker (i.e. IPA ba?).  A Broad speaker, on the other hand, might pronounce it closer to American “boy” (i.e. IPA b?e).

–The vowel in “mouth,” “loud” and “out,” etc.  The more Broad the accent, the more the first part of this diphthong moves toward the “e” in “dress.”  So a Cultivated speaker might have a diphthong closer to GenAm or RP (i.e. IPA a?), while a Broad speaker might pronounce it closer to an “eh-aw” sound (i.e. IPA ??).

Other features include:

–Words like “fleece,” “keep,” etc. are a more pronounced diphthong in Broad Australian accents.
–Words like “face”, and “make” move closer to the diphthong in American/RP “kite” in broad accents.

Group discussions

  • Which international English accents do you know? Can you describe their key features? Make a list of descriptive terms to describe them. What kinds of people speak them? Where do they reside?
  • Which accents do you like/dislike or identify with (or against)? Which accents would you like to emulate? Which accents would you prefer to avoid using? Explain why.
  • Which identities and places in the anglophone world do you like and identify with? Which kinds of people? Make a list of adjectives to describe them. Explain why?
  • Are the accents you like/dislike and the places and people you identify with the same or different? Discuss. See if you can think of reasons (whether they are the same or different).

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