Background of British English:
The size of the British Isles often leads people to assume that the language spoken in its countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland is somewhat homogeneous and first time visitors are often surprised to find that they have difficulty in understanding the accents and dialects of certain regions.
The history of the Englishlanguage really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is nowWales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles came from Englaland and their language was called Englisc - from which the words England and English are derived. Accents are clues to where people were born and where they grew up. Although some people may change the way they speak during their lifetimes, most people "carry at least some trace" of their accent and dialect origins throughout their lives:
Inaddition to the regional accents of England, there can also be class differences reflected in the different accents. The general sociolinguistic issues section discusses this more fully.
Geography of British English:
We know that many different accents exist and some regional accents are easily identified by certain characteristics. Further variations are to be found within the regionsidentified below; for example, towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester such as Bolton, Oldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which form the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases are different enough to be noticed even by a non-local listener.
Although there is an abundance of different dialects within England that can be referred to as "northern"or "southern" for example, they do not really follow any sharp boundaries or coincide with any county lines. Dialects form a continuum and as Trudgill describes, they can be differentiated on a "more-or-less" basis rather than an "either-or" one. It is common in Britain for people who display particularly broad accents to be labeled by terms such as "Geordie", "Cockney", "Jock" or "Scouse." Allof these identify a specific regional accent, most of which are recognizable to many of the people in the country. Trudgill discusses specific regional dialects and vocabulary for many areas of Great Britain.
Sociolinguistic issues of British English:
In Britain, "people are often able to make instant and unconscious judgements about a stranger’s class affiliation on the basis of his or heraccent Both the words and pronunciation of many individuals reflect that person’s social position. It is agreed that in England, the "phonetic factors assume a predominating role which they do not generally have in North America".
Geographical variation is represented along the broad base of the pyramid while the vertical dimension exhibits social variation. It can be seen that working class accentsdisplay a good deal of regional variety, but as the pyramid narrows to its apex, up the social scale, it’s also apparent that upper class accents exhibit no regional variation.
Thus by definition, any regional accent would not be considered upper-class and the more localizable the accent, the more it will described as a "broad" accent. Wells purports that broad accents reflect:
*regionally, the highest degree of local distinctiveness
* socially, the lowest social class
* linguistically, the maximal degree of difference from RP.
A 1972 survey carried out by National Opinion Polls in England, provides an example of how significantly speech differences are associated with social class differences. The following question was asked:
"Which of the these [eleven specified...