Dialect vs. accent (vs. language)

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Yesterday, I posted on "'How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent'" (11/29/18).  Last night, before I went to bed, I wanted to add a comment about my views on the difference between "dialect" and "accent", but didn't have the energy to type it out.  So I was pleased to find when I woke up this morning that others share the same view.

Namely, in my idiolect, and in the speech of my family and people from my neck of the woods (Osnaburg township, northeast Ohio), "accent" refers to distinctive pronunciation, whereas "dialect" gets into differences of vocabulary, grammatical constructions, and so on — but still implies mutual intelligibility (which is why I've always, even before becoming a Sinologist, considered it strange to call Cantonese, Taiwanese, etc. "dialects" of "Chinese").  Thus, for me and my circle back home, we say things like "He / She has a special / odd / unique / funny / peculiar accent" and are only talking about differences in pronunciation, such that we surmise they're from somewhere else, and often we can form a judgement about where they're from, or at least have some idea about it, even though we might be wrong.  However, when we say that somebody has a "thick" accent, such that it makes intelligibility difficult, and when they use many words that are unknown to us and employ grammatical constructions that are unfamiliar to us, then it's getting over toward the dialect end of the accent-dialect scale.  There's another scale between dialect and language, the dialect-language scale, but that's a separate matter, one which we have debated endlessly on Language Log.

Now, as for Philadelphia, does it have an accent or a dialect?  I would say that a lot depends on which part of the city you're from, how long you (and your family) have been there, and in which local speech community you spend the majority of your time.  In some closely knit groups, it might amount nearly to a dialect, but usually I think it's more on the order of an accent.

I've lived in the Philadelphia area since 1979, but I don't think that I've picked up a single feature that is characteristic of Philadelphia speech.  Occasionally, I will say something like "Are you going 'down the shore' this weekend?", but that is done playfully and consciously, not naturally.

My son was born in Taiwan, spent his first two years in a Mandarin-speaking household there, moved with that household to Cambridge, Massachusetts and continued speaking mostly Mandarin till he was six, when he went to elementary school and started speaking English.  I don't think he picked up many features of Cambridge speech, except maybe a few words like the way he says "aunt", which he still retains to this day.

At around the age of ten, TK moved with us to Philadelphia.  After the first couple of years in University City, we've lived in Swarthmore (thirteen miles west of Philadelphia), but my son continued to go to the city often and interacted with people there.  During his years as an undergrad at Penn, he spent a lot of time on South Street and in other neighborhoods where he would have heard more or less pure forms of Philly speech.  It was during this period that he picked up a number of speech mannerisms that are characteristically Philly (i.e., Phillyisms), such as the way he says "with" and "yo".

After graduating from college at age 22, Tom started drifting all over the world:  Australia, France, England, Hong Kong, China, and many parts of the United States.  For about the last twenty years, he has lived in the Dallas area.  Though his speech hasn't acquired any traits that would identify him as a Dallasite or Texan, he does use a fair number of Mexican expressions that sometime leave me at a loss.  The amazing thing, though, after all of Tom's wandering around the world, is that it is still the Philadelphia part of his idiolect that stands out the sharpest.

Readings



61 Comments »

  1. Chris Button said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

    I would agree that "accent" is strictly about pronunciation. When I recently started offering freelance pronunciation coaching on the side, I decided to go with adápting áccents as the name and carefully avoided the word "dialect" for that reason. However, it's a touchy subject even then, since I have to make it explicitly clear that the purpose is to boost intelligiblity rather than mask one's background (performing actors excepted).

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 1:21 pm

    May I ask why you chose "adápting áccents" in preference to "ad'apting 'accents", Chris ? Stress markers I could understand, but not acute accents …

  3. Daniel Barkalow said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

    My mother has a Boston accent and speaks the Boston dialect. I grew up without the Boston accent, but with other features of the dialect. This led to an odd situation with the word "drawers"; for my mother, it's a two syllable word, where the two syllables have the same vowel and there aren't any consonants between them. When I learned the word, however, I didn't learn it with the two syllables: because my accent wouldn't make the vowels the same, I thought it was just one of those words where the spelling implied a syllable that wasn't in the spoken language. It wasn't until I got to college that people noticed that I had an idiosyncratic pronunciation for this word, and I found out that everyone but me was actually saying "draw-ers" in whatever their accent was. (I'm not sure if I knew that people speaking different dialects had a second syllable or not, but I would have considered it a regionalism, like people saying "pop" or "coke" for soda.)

  4. Ellen K. said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

    @Daniel Barkalow

    People who draw, or things you put your clothes in? The things we put clothes in, one syllable for me (middle of USA), rhymes with doors. I would assume a two syllable pronunciation would make it pronounced the same as the people who draw meaning of drawers (draw + er + s). Or is there a difference? (As for the item of clothing, my familiarity with it is from writing, so my in-my-head pronunciation doesn't mean much.)

  5. Chris Button said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    Purely branding purposes. Those stress marks would look weird to most non-specialists, whereas the accent marks create a nice play on the notion of an orthographic accent versus a spoken accent, while also hopefully making people pause to think about why there isn't one on the first "a".

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    Chris — Fair enough : I'll think of them as Greek tonos rather than as acute accents then.

  7. Yuval said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 6:02 pm

    Or Spanish acentos.

  8. Daniel Barkalow said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

    @Ellen K.

    I was referring to the things you store items in in a desk and I was pronouncing the word identically to "draws". Now that I think of it, I probably adopted a pronunciation like the people who draw as a hypercorrection. Does "drawers" really rhyme perfectly with "doors" for you? I'd expect the vowel to start out a bit different (closer to the vowel in "flaws"), and the whole thing to be marginal on whether you can change the vowel that much in a single syllable.

  9. Jim Breen said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 6:43 pm

    My resident polygot (aka my wife, Julia) and I had a long discussion about this on our daily pre-breakfast walk. We are inclined to take a rather hard-line position that a dialect needs a fairly large degree of separation from the "main" language to deserve that label. A good test is whether kids growing up and speaking the language of their area need to start learning the main/national/whatever language when they go to school.

    Examples we came up with were Neapolitan, Swiss German, and possibly Scots. We would probably not class Québécois as a dialect of French.

    On our classification English as spoken in Australia, New Zealand etc. are not dialects, in fact there are probably few English dialects (AAVE comes to mind). I'll probably be abused for suggesting that Scots is a dialect.

  10. Bathrobe said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 7:16 pm

    'Drawer' (in a desk or cabinet) is pronounced the same is 'draw' for me.

    'Drawer' (person who draws) is quite likely to become 'draw ra'. Intrusive r after 'draw', but no r at the end of the word.

  11. Bathrobe said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 7:22 pm

    Actually, the difference between 'dialect' and 'accent' was the main cause of the ridiculous interview at An interview about Chinese accents: How cross-cultural differences led to a conversation conducted totally at cross-purposes that you linked to in 2016.

  12. DCA said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

    I'd agree: if I think you have an accent, it means that if what you say is written down in the spelling used for the language we share, I'll have no trouble reading it. (The caveat about spelling is to eliminate spellings meant to suggest an accent).

    I'd say that Scots is a dialect. Again using the written form to wipe out
    sound differences (and allowing both English and Scots to use their own spelling), I can read Scots pretty accurately though I've never learned it.
    So if we wanted to call it a separate language from English, we lose the distinction between how it and, say, Dutch, look to an English speaker/reader.

    (I realize that the reading view assumes a common writing system, which Europe pretty much has, but other sets of languages, even close ones, do not. But I still find it a helpful way to think about the issue.)

  13. djw said,

    November 30, 2018 @ 10:49 pm

    Ellen K. and Daniel Barkalow, I also typically pronounce the storage unit as a rhyme for "doors" (in fact, when I was a kid in central Texas half a century ago, I stored my clothes in a "chester droors"). I think I recall my grandmother making it 2 syllables, sort of like "draw-wars," and I probably said it that way some, too. (I think my mother-in-law, raised in southern Louisiana but and Air Force wife for most of her adult life, still says it "draw-wars.")

    I think artistic types have always been "draw-ers" for me, though.

  14. Charles in Toronto said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 12:20 am

    I can report that "drawers" in my Toronto accent is one syllable. Rhymes with doors, roars, floors, smores, oars, etc.

    I wonder, for people who pronunce "drawers" as two syllables, do they also have the distinction between horse/hoarse, warn/worn?

  15. tangent said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 12:34 am

    I had no idea there were so many pronunciations for "drawer"! If I ever heard a "draw-er" I missed noticing it. (I'm a "droor".)

    I've heard one that's "droor" without the /r/.

  16. rosie said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 2:05 am

    IME in Britain, everyone pronounces "drawers" the same way as "draws". "Draws" is a common misspelling for "drawers" (and "chester draws" for "chest of drawers").

    Some non-rhotic Britons have intrusive /r/ and would thus pronounce "drawing" /'dɹɔ:ɹɪŋ/ (to rhyme with "boring") — but "drawers" is never /'dɹɔ:ɹəz/ or anything like, because the reduction from two syllables to one happens before any /r/ got a chance to intrude.

  17. Alex said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 2:47 am

    @bathrobe

    what a great link you provided

    http://www.cjvlang.com/index.html

    Thanks

  18. Stéphane L said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 4:23 am

    With this approach, how do you account for different levels of language when differentiating accents and dialects? For example, France and Québec French are mostly just different accents at a formal level of language, but have very different vernaculars, suggesting that they are different dialects.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 4:38 am

    Jim B ("We would probably not class Québécois as a dialect of French") — I think that I would. Whilst (in my experience) most Québécois have no trouble understanding Parisian French, the reverse is not the case and a Québécois accent in Paris would be difficult for a local to understand. But at least in the parts of Québec in which I have travelled, locals have little difficulty in code-switching to more standard French for the benefit of foreigners such as myself.

  20. Bathrobe said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 6:43 am

    @ Alex

    I have to own up rather sheepishly that that is my own website :' The interview seemed to sum up the point of this post so well that I felt I should mention it.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 7:38 am

    I have to agree with Alex that Bathrobe's post about "Chinese accents" on "Spicks & Specks" is absolutely classic:

    http://www.cjvlang.com/Spicks/chineseaccents.html

    If what it tells us about the level of knowledge concerning Chinese linguistics is typical of Confucius Institute (CI) directors (and in my experience it most certainly is), then one can only shudder to think what the level of understanding concerning Chinese language pedagogy is typical for CI instructors.

    @Bathrrobe

    Please be so kind as to tell us the link to the relevant LLog post in 2016.

  22. Bathrobe said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 8:46 am

    This is it:

    Accents, dialects, topolects, and languages — United Kingdom, Australia, and China

  23. Jenny Chu said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 9:49 am

    If Quebecois is not a separate dialect, what should I mJe of the fact that certain Canadian TV shows, when shown on TV5, need subtitles? (and not just captions) Example https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5489038/

  24. TK Mair said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

    I have what is sometimes called "Zelig" phenomenon. Which is that my accent often mirrors the person I am speaking with. It is mostly light and natural and people don't even notice it. As I have gotten older, I am more aware of it, and I can "be myself" more easily and more often.

    I think the tendency for two speakers to gravitate towards each other's speech patterns and tone is natural, especially if they are sincere in their desire to understand each other. Emphasizing differences has other reasons….

    I use funny accents to get telemarketers to hang up on me. And my newest funny accent is Indian Robin (from Batman and Robin).

    Holey Aymayzing Awtawnomahtons Indian Bahtmaan! That iz unbeliwable robot!

  25. Victor Mair said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

    The only other person I ever met who could rival my son, Thomas Krishna Mair, in his ability to mimic any accent, was the late, lamented Michel Strickmann (1942-1994), who sometimes called himself Michel Strickturk. Michel (pronounced mee-shel), a renowned scholar of Taoism / Daoism, was (so far as I know) the only faculty member in the history of UC Berkeley to have his tenure revoked. Basically it was because he was irrepressibly playful.

  26. Chas Belov said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 3:10 pm

    Lived my first eight years in Philly, then continued my growing up in Pittsburgh. I watched the video on Philly accents and didn't recognize any of the sounds they were talking about. People tend to place my accent as New York, which I never lived in, but my perception is that I retain some Pittsburghisms many years later. I definitely identify more with Pittsburgh speech.

    I pronounce "drawers" as "droors" to rhyme with "doors."

  27. Martha said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 3:28 pm

    Drawers: I say "droor," although if I really wanted to enunciate, it would be "dror-er." West Coast.

    However, I was first exposed to the "draws" pronunciation when Will Smith (West Philadelphia, born and raised) said it on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He was talking about underwear, though. It was also the first time I'd ever heard someone use "drawers" to refer to underwear. As a result (absent adequate context, of course), "draws" = underwear to me, and not where you store stuff.

    Regarding dialect/accent, accent refers to pronunciation to me. However, grammatical errors from nonnative speakers might be referred to as "part of" someone's accent.

  28. Chris Button said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

    It's funny how even the word "accent" itself is pronounced so differently in "standard" American versus British accents: /ˈæk.sɛnt/ versus /ˈaks.n̩t/. The American variety betrays a little more of the French origin through its full vowel in the second syllable, although it does nonetheless apply the native English stress pattern on the first syllable presumably in order to distinguish the verb /ækˈsɛnt/ with which British /akˈsɛnt/ is almost the same due to the lack of vowel reduction.

  29. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 6:39 pm

    @Mary — “Drawers: I say "droor," although if I really wanted to enunciate, it would be "dror-er." West Coast.”

    Ditto for me, but I grew up in south west Ohio near Cincinnati. (In a small former railroad town on the Little Miami River amongst Kentucky emigrants. My mom was from Germany (native language Plaatdüütsch) and my father was from a Slovak family, though he was born in Jersey City (and lived, as he said, “alongside the Cat-licks and Eye-talians”). It’s amazing I can speak English at all lol!)

  30. mg said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

    My son is the child of two transplanted New Yorkers and had a pronounced NY accent when he was little. Sadly, Boston accents and vocabulary are disappearing – probably because so many people from elsewhere move here for college and stay, or else come for jobs. For example, one seldom sees "tonic" for "soda" any more.

    Meanwhile, my vocabulary is not just NYC but has some additions from where my mother grew up. I never realized that they were localized vocabulary until I tried the online dialect site and discovered that the Yonkers area has a few idiosyncrasies all to itself.

  31. conycatcher said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 9:26 pm

    Vietnamese people always refer to the broad regional varieties of their language (North, Central, and South) as accents in their language (and when speaking English,too), but I’ve alwys felt that it was more appropriate to call them dialects, rather than accents. There are more differences than just pronunciation.

  32. Levantine said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

    Christ Button, I’m a Londoner who uses what you consider the American pronunciation of “accent”, with the second syllable sounding just like “sent”. I assume there are other Brits like me!

  33. maidhc said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 3:15 am

    Back in the sixties, when John Lennon was about to publish a book of his poems and sketches, Ringo suggested that it should be called "John Lennon in his own Write and Draw". The publisher decided that a lot of people wouldn't get the joke, so they decided on "John Lennon in his own Write".

    Ringo's suggestion, in the Liverpudlian vernacular, would sound exactly like "in his own right-hand drawer".

  34. Chris Button said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 6:27 am

    @ Levantine

    I was born and raised in London too and there would unhesitatingly go with /ˈaks.n̩t/ there. However, I don't doubt there are many others like you using a full-vowel /ɛ/ for the "e" there (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary notes a version with the full as a "non-standard" variant).

  35. Levantine said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 7:46 am

    Chris Button, “nonstandard” seems a little extreme! Hardly scientific, I know, but I just spent several minutes listening to fellow Brits on YouTube discussing accents, and the pronunciation with /ɛ/ appears to predominate. Even Malcolm Muggeridge uses this pronunciation in the following clip (curiously, he seems to put the stress on the second syllable, as if saying the verb): https://youtu.be/gbsS3MNofR4 (about 1.15 minutes in)

  36. Levantine said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 7:53 am

    Another example (about 1.25 minutes in): https://youtu.be/ywg03b574oQ

    I haven’t watched it yet, but the whole video looks fascinating. It’s a documentary about the accents of British and Irish POWs recorded in Germany during the First World War.

  37. Chris Button said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 8:34 am

    @ Levantine

    Perhaps "non-standard" was not the right term for me to use. The LPD describes it accordingly: "Where pronunciations other than the main one are in common educated use, they too are included but as secondary pronunciations". I wonder if the pronunciation with the full-vowel is more traditional (that would be my guess due to its origin) or as a result of the influence of American English (I certainly acquired my pronunciation of "schedule" with /sk/ rather than /ʃ/ in Britain rather than America although both my parents say /ʃ/).

  38. Robert Coren said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 10:42 am

    My husband and I both grew up in New York City, and have both spent our entire adult lives in the Boston area. I say "dror", more or less, and he says "draw".

  39. Philip Taylor said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

    (from another Briton) — I too say /ˈækˌsɛnt/, and I am confident that, in my case at least, this has nothing to do with the influence of American English. I think it far more likely that, just as in "innovative", where I give the second vowel its full /ɒ/ value (/ɪ ˈnɒv ət ɪv/) while many (most ?) of my peers pronounce it as /ɪ/ (/ɪ ˈnɪv ət ɪv/) and argue forcibly that the /ɪ/ pronunciation is the correct one, I am heavily influenced by the spelling, whence also my /ˈeŋ ɡlənd/ & /ˈeŋ ɡlɪʃ/. (I note in passing that whilst the LPD glosses the latter as /ˈɪŋ ɡlɪʃ/, the speaker quite clearly says //ˈeŋ ɡlɪʃ// !

  40. Stephen said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 3:41 pm

    Don’t children age 0 to 2 sometimes understand some things they are told, before they can talk?

  41. Levantine said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 5:45 pm

    As a further example of a spelling pronunciation, I have a very well-spoken colleague (another Londoner) who says the last syllable of "difficult" as if it were the standalone word "cult", and I've also heard people pronounce "says" with a diphthong. /ˈeŋ ɡlənd/ and/ˈeŋ ɡlɪʃ/, however, are really surprising to me–it's difficult for me to imagine any native anglophone using these pronunciations.

  42. Philip Taylor said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

    Levantine — if you can, take a listen to the LPD recording of British "English" and tell me what vowel sound you hear in the first syllable. For "England", it is a clear /ɪ/, but for "English", I believe I hear an /e/. What I have never understood is why so many speakers of English (both as L1 and as Ln, for moderately small n) pronounce the name of the letter "H" as if started with a letter "h" (i.e., /heɪtʃ/)

  43. Levantine said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

    Philip Taylor, is this the correct link? https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/england. If so, the audio for the British audio won't play for me, though the American one does.

    "Haitch" is standard in Irish English, though I'm not sure when and how it became so widespread in the UK. I read that in some places, including Australia, it's a shibboleth that indicates a Catholic education (because Irish nuns taught/teach it over "aitch"), but an Australian friend was very doubtful when I asked him about this.

  44. Philip Taylor said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 6:21 pm

    Ah, no, Longman, but not the LPD. The audio to which I listened was on the CDs that accompany the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary in hardback. It's getting a bit late this evening but I'll try to capture it using Total Recorder and post a link tomorrow. "Haitch" in Ireland certainly makes sense, and from my limited travels in that wonderful country I would certainly agree that it is far more prevalent there than on the mainland.

  45. Bathrobe said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 7:26 pm

    an Australian friend was very doubtful when I asked him about this.

    And rightly so. "Haitch" is now very common in Australia and has no perceived relationship to religious education.

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 6:32 am

    Not sure if the infrastructure of this forum permits use of the HTML-5 <audio> element, but let's try. If it does, the LPD's pronunciation of England and English should follow. If there's nothing there, try a direct link to the FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV versions..

    Your browser appears not to support the HTML-5 <audio> element. Here are links to the online versions instead :
    FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV.

  47. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 6:33 am

    Not sure if the infrastructure of this forum permits use of the <audio> element, but let's try. If it does, the LPD's pronunciation of England and English should follow. If there's nothing there, try a direct link to the FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV versions..

    Your browser appears not to support the HTML-5 <audio> element. Here are links to the online versions instead :
    FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV.

  48. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 6:37 am

    I could not persuade the forum infrastructure to allow me to add a comment containing an HTML-5 <audio> element, so here are direct links to the LPD's pronunciations of England and English as FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV.

  49. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 6:44 am

    [Having some trouble posting this …]

    Not sure if the infrastructure of this forum permits use of the <audio> element, but let's try. If it does, the LPD's pronunciation of England and English should follow. If there's nothing there, try a direct link to the FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV versions..

    Your browser appears not to support the HTML-5 <audio> element. Here are links to the online versions instead :
    FLAC,
    MP3 or
    WAV.

  50. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 6:48 am

    All attempts to embed audio have failed, so resorting to a simple link — please see these audio files for the LPD's pronunciation's of England and English.

  51. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 8:12 am

    Moderator : please remove all but the first successful message of mine in this sub-thread; the others appear to have been queued and then all appeared together. Apologies to readers for the multiple copies.

  52. Levantine said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 10:26 am

    Thank you, Philip Taylor, for going to so much trouble! The pronunciation of England sounds like the normal one to me.

  53. Philip Taylor said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

    With "England" I agree (not my pronunciation, but the normal one). But do you not think that "English" starts /e/ rather than /ɪ/ ?

  54. Levantine said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

    Ah, sorry–I was paying attention to the wrong word. I've just listened a few times to "English". It's funny, because I heard something approaching an /e/ the first time I played it (probably because I was primed by your question), but can now hear /ɪ/ only. The experience reminded me of the Laurel/Yani phenomenon and leads me to think there's something about the recording itself that makes the vowel sound different to different people.

  55. Trogluddite said,

    December 4, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

    @TK Mair
    I am very prone to the "Zelig" phenomenon that you describe – when I was much younger, sometimes to the point of being accused of parody and consequent embarrassment – and, like you, it only became apparent to me later in life. I'm sure that growing up surrounded by a wide variety of BrE accents in my family is a big factor in this; from infancy, I had to "tune in" to dialects spanning Scotland to the Sussex coast and several points between. When I moved to Yorkshire in early adulthood, it didn't take me long to start picking up the local accent, nor to notice that the stereotypical "Yorkshire accent" that I'd heard on TV was an amalgam of several quite distinct, more localised, accents. Consequently, wherever I go, people identify my accent as "not from around here"; to a true Tyke (Yorkshire born and bred), I will forever sound like a Southerner, but to my family's ears, I am now a broad Yorkshire speaker.

    What I find very bizarre is that I'm hopeless at mimicking accents when consciously attempting parody or when prompted to do it. When I listen to myself "being myself", my accent seems to be extremely fluid, changing with my mood and the particular content of a sentence every bit as much as for code-switching to suit the social context, sometimes shifting several times within a single utterance. My whole idiolect seems rather unstable (unless mumbling counts as an idiolect!), even for my "inner voice" when thinking, as if I am never quite able to choose between or hybridise the different accents I have been exposed to over the years and cherry-pick from them as I go along (I wonder sometimes if out of laziness – to find the "minimal effort" way of saying anything!)

    However, my ear for accents could not help me with a relative's West London use of singular "we" and "us", nor the Yorkshire use of "while" to mean "until"; and that's instinctively where I draw the line between accent and dialect – when even having successfully extracted the words, the meaning is misunderstood or not apparent; I'd maybe even include elements of pragmatics, e.g. whether it is socially acceptable for a male to address another male as "love" might better be called "cultural" but (or thus), it apparently correlates with BrE "dialect". Accent and dialect are very tightly bound in my mind, though. Assimilating the new vocabulary and other differences of the local dialect when I moved to Yorkshire took me much longer than picking up the accent; but as I've learned those elements, they've always come along for the ride whenever my accent veers more towards Yorkshire. Though my idiolect is rather unstable, it always seems to maintain consistency between accent and vocabulary/grammar; so at some cognitive level, they certainly seem be to be treated as a single concept, even if intellectually I might be able to separate them.

    @Levantine
    Talking of "unusual" dipthongs, there is one aspect of the local Yorkshire accent that has never ceased to sound odd to me; the way that "oo" is sometimes pronounced as a dipthong, sometimes strongly enough to sound like two syllables separated by a "w". For example; "boots" -> "booits" or "boowits".

  56. George said,

    December 4, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    "…from my limited travels in that wonderful country I would certainly agree that it is far more prevalent there than on the mainland."

    Eh, what 'mainland'? Continental Europe?

  57. Philip Taylor said,

    December 4, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

    Er, I think that the phrase "the island of Ireland" might indicate that "the mainland" is probably a little closer than continental Europe …

  58. RfP said,

    December 5, 2018 @ 3:28 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    I guess this is more of a sociolinguistic issue, but speaking as a North American of "British" heritage (including ancestors who came here from "the island of Ireland") and also as someone who has paid a fair amount of attention to our tangled histories, it strikes me as highly significant that a Briton would regard the admittedly larger island of Great Britain as "the mainland."

    If I were Irish—and especially someone who prefers to refer to the archipelago as a whole as something other than "the British Isles"—I might be sorely offended. But at the very least, I understand George's confusion!

  59. Philip Taylor said,

    December 6, 2018 @ 8:02 am

    RfP ("it strikes me as highly significant that a Briton would regard the admittedly larger island of Great Britain as "the mainland"). I confess that it did not strike me as significant in any way — Ireland is an island to the west of Great Britain, and Great Britain is an island to the north-west of continental Europe. Just as someone on (e.g.,) Clare Island might refer to mainland Ireland as "the mainland", so someone on the island of Ireland might refer to Great Britain as "the mainland", or so it seems to me.

    As to sociolinguistic perspectives, I should clarify that I am totally in favour of Gaeilge/Gaolainn being one of Ireland's two official languages, and whilst I fully accept that many in Northern Ireland have completely valid reasons for wishing to to retain their historical connections with Great Britain, I think a solution has to be found which will allow such connections to be retained while at the same time re-uniting Ireland for the benefit of all.

  60. Philip Anderson said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 8:36 am

    Philip Taylor:
    I wouldn’t think of describing Great Britain as the “mainland” for the island of Ireland nor (continental Europe as the “mainland” for Great Britain). To me, that would imply that the island is a small dependent part of a larger entity dominated by the mainland, which is not the case for Ireland.

    But the term UK Mainland is used, e.g. in the context of parcel deliveries, to exclude Northern Island, Scottish islands and the Crown Dependencies; but those territories are both much smaller and dependent on Great Britain.

  61. Philip Taylor said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

    Philip Anderson — I respect your point of view, but respectfully cite the OED, which I tend to regard as authoritative where the English language is concerned :

    c. The continent of Europe, esp. as distinguished from the British Isles.
    g. Great Britain, as distinguished from (esp. Northern) Ireland.

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