Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
British English
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

British English

 Major English dialects:
American English
Australian English
British English
Canadian English
Caribbean English
Filipino English
Indian English
Jamaican English
Liberian English
Malaysian English
New Zealand English
Scottish English
Singapore English
South African English

British English is a collective term for the forms of English spoken in the British Isles. In particular, when used by other English speakers, it often refers to the written Standard English and the pronunciation known as Received Pronunciation (RP), the term is often used to make a distinction from American English. In such context the written form is sometimes called International English, since few other English-speaking countries have adopted the changes in spelling introduced by nineteenth century US lexicographers.

It should be noted that the people who live in the British Isles do not use the term, but refer to Scottish English, Welsh English or Irish English (never English English!), or dialects thereof. This article deals with British English in the stricter sense.

Table of contents
1 Written language
2 Dialects
3 Accent
4 English outside the British Isles
5 Literature
6 External links
7 See Also

Written language

The written language is known as Standard English and dates back to the early 16th century in its current form. It is primarily based on dialects from the South East of England and is used by newspapers and official publications. Standard written English is basically the same in every English-speaking country, apart from a few minor points of spelling, such as colo(u)r, travel(l)er.


The British Isles are the most linguistically diverse area in the English-speaking world. Significant changes in accent and dialect may occur within one region.

Three major divisions are normally classified as Southern English dialects, Northern English dialects, and Scottish English and the closely related dialects of the Scots language.

There is also Hiberno-English (English as spoken in Ireland) and the form of English used in Wales, as well as Ulster Scots (a variety of Scots spoken in Ulster).

The various English dialects differ in the words they have borrowed from other languages. The Scottish and Northern dialects include many words originally borrowed from Old Norse and a few borrowed from Scots Gaelic. Hiberno-English includes words derived from Irish Gaelic.

There are thus many differences between the various English dialects. These can be a major impediment to understanding among the older dialects. However, modern communications and mass media have reduced these differences significantly. In addition, speakers of very different dialects may modify their speech, and particularly vocabulary, towards Standard English.


The accent known to many people outside the United Kingdom as British English is Received Pronunciation, which is defined as the educated spoken English of southeastern England. Earlier it was held as better than other accents and referred to as the King's (or Queen's) English, or even "BBC English". Originally this was the form of English used by radio and television. However, for several decades other accents have been accepted and are frequently heard, although stereotypes about the BBC persist. English spoken with a mild Scottish accent has a reputation for being especially easy to understand.

Even in the south east there are significantly different accents. The local inner east London accent called Cockney is strikingly different from Received Pronunciation and can be difficult for outsiders to understand.

There is a new form of accent called Estuary English that has been gaining prominence in recent decades: it is has some features of Received Pronunciation and some of Cockney. In London itself, the broad local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Caribbean speech. Londoners speak with a mixture of these accents, depending on class, age, upbringing, and so on.

Outside the south east there are, in England alone, at least seven families of accents easily distinguished by natives:

See Distinguishing accents in English

English outside the British Isles

American English, Canadian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, Caribbean English, Indian English, and Pidgin English are among the many newer English dialects that have emerged since the period of emigration from the British Isles during the expansion of the British Empire. Dialect differences are not, in general, an impediment to understanding among the newer overseas dialects, which are for the most part, linguistically very close to each other since, apart from Pidgin, they are all based on Standard English. For examples of differences however, see American and British English differences. A literate, educated English speaker will generally know many forms. Due to the wide reach of US media vis-à-vis the more limited impact of contemporary British culture in the US, knowledge of American English in Britain is more common than the reverse.


External links

See Also