Varieties of English

The aim of this section of the website is to provide you with some information about the study of Varieties of English. We will look at what it is, how and where it is studied and who studies it. As well as looking at some key ideas within this branch of linguistics, we will include some case studies of research into this topic. We hope this is both interesting and useful to you. If you discover you're particularly interested in this discipline we have included links throughout the web-pages and in the Finding out more section for you to research further if you wish to. Please make use of our interactive Check your knowledge section to see how much you know about Varieties of English.

If we were to gather a group of individuals together from across the UK, or indeed the world, one of the most noticeable features of any conversation they had would be their different speech styles. Varieties of English looks at the different accents and dialects communities of people use, how these linguistic varieties differ in several aspects including vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and also other speakers' attitudes towards this variation. 
One of the first things to define is the difference between an accent and a dialect:

  • An accent refers to the speakers' pronunciation of words.
  • A dialect is a way of speaking that differs from other ways of speaking in the syntax (see What Is Syntax?) and the words it uses, as well as its pronunciation. 
Varieties of English is not just interesting to linguists and those studying English Language and linguistics. On a much larger scale it's a topic open to the general public no matter how much previous knowledge or understanding they have. We can be fairly certain that whether you have had direct contact with individuals with different accents or accessed this through media such as the television, everyone is aware of the countless variations between speakers of the English Language. This diversity is what makes the topic so interesting to learn about, but is also the biggest factor in why certain accents have become stigmatised or 'looked down on.' Because everyone has access to them, everyone is keen to comment on 'what they like the sound of,' 'what sounds odd,' 'what makes the speaker sound uneducated.'

Through this website we hope to demonstrate the several aspects involved in studying the Varieties of English as well as identifying case studies and examples of accents and dialects and look at the social and cultural factors surrounding different speech communities. 

  • Accent and dialect are two different ideas, which go together in the studying of variation across English.
  • Stigmatisation (see Language attitudes and opinions). This is the pre conceived ideas and opinions that people have developed about certain accents, based on social, cultural and sometimes even purely aesthetic reasons.    
  • Speech communities are groups who share the same norms and ideas about language and how it should be spoken.