Write a note on the English regional dialects in the British Isles

Dialect describes a language variety where a user's regional or social background appears in his or her use of vocabulary and grammar. English language is well known for its dialectical differences. In the past English people used only dialects. But with the rise of the Standard English now speakers are aware of both dialect and Standard equivalents. So, in addition to the educated standard in each major division of the English-speaking world there are local forms of the language known as regional dialects.

The presence of regional dialects is is a feature that characterizes the British English more than the English of the former British colonies where English is used as the first language. But in Great Britain the  dialectical differences are very great. They go back to the earliest period of the language and reflect conditions that prevailed at a time when travel was difficult and communication was limited between districts relatively close together. Even among the educated the speech of northern England differs considerably from that of the south. In words such as butter, cut, gull, and some the southern vowel [Λ] occurs in the north as [U], and in chaff, grass, and path the southern retracted vowel [a:] occurs as short [a] in northern dialects.

In the great Midland district one distinguishes an eastern variety and a western, as well as a central type lying between. But such a classification of the English dialects is sufficient only for purposes of a broad grouping. Every county has its own peculiarities, and sometimes as many as three dialectal regions may be distinguished within the boundaries of a single shire. This wide diversity of dialects is well illustrated by the materials published since 1962 in the Survey of English Dialects. In the six northern counties at least seventeen different vowels or diphthongs occur in the word house, including the [u:] of Old English hūs.

The dialect of southern Scotland is also a dialect that has rich literary and historical backgrounds. In origin it is a variety of Northern English, but down to the sixteenth century it occupied a position both in speech and in writing on a plane with English. In the time of Shakespeare, however, it began to be strongly influenced by Southern English. When in 1603 James VI of Scotland became the king of England as James I, and when by the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland was formally united to England, English was plainly felt to be standard, and Scots became definitely a dialect. During the eighteenth century it managed to maintain itself as a literary language through the work of Ramsay, Ferguson, and Robert Burns. Since then it has gradually lost ground. English is taught in the schools, and cultivation of English has, rightly or wrongly, been taken as the first test of culture.

Irish English, or Hiberno-English is also a dialect that has left its mark on the literary tradition, although in different ways at different periods. In the eighteenth century, “stage Irish” was a familiar convention for representing and often ridiculing Irish characters in plays written by English authors whose use of stereotypical linguistic features was not always accurate. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish authors, especially Douglas Hyde (1860–1940), J.M.Synge (1871–1909), and W.B.Yeats (1865–1939), used selected features to give an Irish flavor to their works. In the twentieth century there has been a more realistic tradition, including the work of Sean O’Casey (1880–1964) and Brendan Behan (1923–1964) and the use by James Joyce (1882–1941) of carefully collected dialect phrases in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The distinctiveness of Irish English derives from a mixture of three sources: the influence of the Irish language; the influence of Scots, especially in the Northeast; and the nature of the original English that was brought to Ireland from western England in the seventeenth century and that has remained quite conservative compared with both RP and American English.

Syntactic structures in Hiberno-English often reflect the patterns of the Irish language. The present perfect and past perfect tenses of English (have got, had got), which have no equivalents in Irish, can be expressed using after, the verb to be, and the present participle: He said that he knew that I was after getting lost (“…that I had got lost”). Irish also does not have the equivalent of indirect questions introduced by if and
whether; instead of the declarative word order of Standard English, these sentences have the interrogative word order that is found in other varieties of English, including African American Vernacular English . He wanted to see would he get something to eat. The influence of the Irish prepositional system upon Hiberno-English is evident in the use of with instead of for meaning “for the duration of”: He’s dead now with many a year; He didn’t come back with twenty-eight years. The lack of an expression for no one in Irish, explains why anyone is used where no one is expected in Standard English: Anyone doesn’t go to mass there.

Thus, we see that there are a number of recognizable dialects in the British Isles that have significant literary and linguistic heritage.  


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.