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The English language is the mother tongue of several countries, such as Great Britain, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. The English language is also used by the greater part of the population of Canada and the Republic of South Africa.

How we speak is influenced by many things. Firstly, there is learning to speak English itself, as a baby. Then, as you go to school, you learn a written equivalent of English speech that has standardized forms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; which is known as Standard English. Depending upon your home background, you may speak Standard English with its associated accent Received Pronunciation (RP). Or, you may speak Standard English with a regional accent.

Language has its own vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Dialects have no literally normalized form. Dialects of English differ from each other first of all in the sound system. Every dialect is a local dialect: it is rooted in a particular region of the English-speaking world.

Dialects can be defined as sub-forms of languages which are mutually comprehensible. English speakers from different countries and regions use a variety of different accents (systems of pronunciation), as well as various localized words and grammatical constructions; many different dialects can be identified based on these factors.

Dialects & Accents

Dialects can be classified at broader or narrower levels: within a broad national or regional dialect, various more localized sub-dialects can be identified, and so on. The combination of differences in pronunciation and use of local words may make some English dialects almost unintelligible to speakers from other regions.

A dialect is a variety of English that differs from other dialects or varieties in three specific ways:

  • lexis (vocabulary);
  • grammar (structure);
  • phonology (pronunciation or accent).

Accent refers to the differences in the sound patterns of a specific dialect and not its vocabulary and grammar. A speaker from Birmingham who generally speaks Standard English vocabulary and grammar, but whose pronunciation has an unmistakable hint of the Black Country, is described as having a Black Country accent.

The accent most commonly associated with Standard English is known as Received Pronunciation (RP). RP is not bound by geographical location, and the accent most commonly associated with the Royal Family, people in professional occupations and linked to upper and middle social classes.

Geographical distribution

English is spoken on all five continents. The distribution is a direct consequence of English colonial policy, starting in Ireland in the late 12th century and continuing well into the 19th century, reaching its peak at the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. The varieties of English in the modern world are divided into four geographical groups as follows:

British Isles

  • England
  • Wales
  • Ireland


  • United States (with African American English)
  • Canada
  • The Caribbean


  • West Africa
  • East Africa
  • South Africa


Asia, Pacific

  • South- and South-East Asia
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • The Pacific islands

In Britain, the standard is called Received Pronunciation; the term refers to the pronunciation of English which is accepted in English society. In America, there is a standard which is referred to by any of a number of titles, General American and Network American English being the two most common.

The varieties of English which are spoken outside of Britain and America are variously referred to as overseas or extraterritorial varieties. The label English World-Wide is used to refer to English in its global context and to research on it.




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