6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

So my maps went a little bit viral, featuring on the Independent website, The Poke and Yahoo News! Thanks to everyone who shared it, it’s been really interesting seeing all the comments reactions people have had to it.

While my maps seem to be fairly accurate for a lot of people, there has also been a lot of debate and controversy. Friends have turned against each other, whole counties have been fractured over the name they give to baked goods! I therefore feel that it is my duty to explain myself as best I can, give more information about my maps, and ensure England doesn’t rip itself apart from the confusion I have caused.

Firstly, it’s important to point out that, in all my maps, I am trying to represent an average. I’m sure there is no region of England where everyone agrees, and sometimes it can vary from town to town, and even family to family. 

For further information, read on! Here is a breakdown of all my maps:

1) Dinner, Tea, or Supper?

This is an interesting one, because geographic location is only one factor here.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on, is that breakfast is the first meal of the day. But when it comes to the midday meal and the evening meal, things get pretty complicated.

Here are the words used for meals in the UK, and their historical usages:

I think basically all English speakers agree that this is first meal of the day, eaten in the morning. To “break fast” literally means to eat after not eating for a long time (fasting).

A light meal eaten around midday. Short for “luncheon”, which originally meant “snack”. 

Can refer to 2 different meals:
1) “Afternoon tea” is a light meal traditionally eaten by the middle and upper classes between 3:30 and 5pm. Accompanied by a hot cup of tea (hence the name).
2) Tea (sometimes called “high tea”) is the evening meal usually eaten by working class people between 5 pm and 6 pm. Probably named because it happened at a similar time to the “afternoon tea” the middle and upper class were having.

Traditionally referred to the largest meal of the day, whenever it was eaten .
1) For the middle and upper classes, the largest meal was usually eaten 6:30 and 8pm, so dinner became synonymous with evening meal.
2) For the working class, a large meal in the middle of the day was important to help them keep working hard all day without a break, so dinner was eaten around midday. The word lunch was therefore not commonly used by the working class.
3) There are a few times where nearly all British people will say “dinner” for a midday meal: 
 Traditionally, Sunday dinner and Christmas dinner are large roast meals eaten in early afternoon in the UK. Additionally, meals eaten by children at school are often called School Dinners in all parts of England. This perhaps because, historically, they were the largest and most substantial meals children would eat. 

1) For the upper class, supper refers to a casual, informal evening mealThis was later adopted by lower classes in some areas too. 
) For the rest of the country, supper is a snack eaten before bed (e.g. a bowl of cereal or a sandwich).


So, if it’s caused by a class distinction, why did I make a map of it?

Well, it DOES have a definite geographical component.

Middle and upper class people in England tend to congregate more in the South East. This is the richest part of England. As a result, middle class vocabulary has had a big influence on all Southern English dialects, rich and poor. So many working class southerners use the middle class words. Working-class northerners, on the other hand, are more likely to resist anything they see as “posh”. Most northerners therefore continue to call the midday meal dinner, and the evening meal tea. 

I say: both! I’m from a working class family from eastern Cumbria, and most of my town said “tea”, but in my family we often said “dinner” for some reason. It’s a source of constant confusion and inner conflict for me.

2) Tig tag tap tick tiggy

6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

As a child, what did you call that game you always played? You know: the game where one person (usually designated as “it“), has to chase everyone else, then touch them and shout… something.

Usually the name given to the game is the same as the word you shout, and for most of the English speaking world, that word is “tag“.

In England though, it varies a lot by region, and even from school to school. I’m fascinated by the idea of a different word being used and passed on from year to year by the children of one school, while a neighbouring school uses a different one.

Note: Some people just call the game “it“, and simply shout “you’re it!”. This doesn’t seem to be specific to one particular area, but is true for many individual schools spread across England. That’s why it didn’t make it onto the map. Sorry!

I say: Tig! You’re it!

3) Bamboozling bread-buns

6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

This one was the hardest to map, especially since I wanted to use pretty circles, instead of (far more accurate) squiggly lines.

In a few places I failed to map some of the smaller differences (sorry guys):

  • East Lancashire and several parts of Yorkshire say “teacake”.
  • In Sheffield, you might hear breadcake.
  • In the area around Coventry in the midlands, “batch” is used (labelled as “roll” or “cob” on my map). The Wirrel Peninsula near Liverpool also say “batch” (labelled as “barm” on my map).
  • In Northumberland we have a large flat bread bun called a stottie, although this is a bit different from a bun, so I chose not to include it.

6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

I’m sure there are other errors I made, since this is by far the most complicated of my 6 maps.
For a far more detailed map, check out this mapping project by Linguistics and English Language undergrad students at The University of Manchester.

I say: bun usually, bap or roll `sometimes.

4) Scone or scone?6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

There are 2 major pronunciation of the small bread-like cake beloved by the English: “scon”, to rhyme with gone, and “scoen”, to rhyme with alone. (In the phonetic alphabet they can be written as /skɒn/ or /skəʊn/).

For northerners like me, it’s quite simple:
We think normal people say scone with a short sound, to rhyme with gone. We think only posh southerners say “scoen”, and it sounds ridiculously pretentious to us.

But many people in the Midlands seem to have the opposite idea:

They think normal people say scone with a long sound, to rhyme with alone. They think only posh southerners say “scon”, and it sounds ridiculously pretentious to them.

And in the south? It’s very mixed, and varies from region to region, but in nearly every southern county, “scon” is more common. And the upper class (posh people) usually say “scon”.

So it turns out this one has little to do with class, and everything to do with where you’re from!

I say: The scone is gone. (In IPA: /ðə skɒn ɪz gɒn/!)


5) “The foot strut split”.6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

Since explaining a sound difference is basically impossible, you will probably want to have a listen to the different pronunciations here.
As for the reason for this split:
Between 1100 and 1500, England spoke a language called “Middle English”, which later evolved into the standard English used in England today. In Middle English, words like foot, strut, put, but, sun and butter all had the exact
same vowel sound. We can represent that sound using the phonetic alphabet, and it looks like this: ʊ. But at some point, that sound started to split in southern England. It gave birth to a new sound, represented by this symbol: ʌ. This then became common in many words that had previously had the /ʊ/ sound.

So /fʊt/, /strʊt/, /pʊt/, /bʊt/, /sʊn/ and /bʊtə/, became
/fʊt/, /strʌt/, /pʊt/, /bʌt/, /sʌn/ and /bʌtə/  in southern dialects. This is called “The Foot-Strut Split”. When the colonial era began, the split was exported across the world, and it exists in every English speaking country outside Britain and Ireland. But in northern England and a few parts of Ireland, the split never happened, and these words all still have the same vowel.

I say: put and but rhyme, there is no /ʌ/!

6) Why are English dialects so incredibly varied?6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

Many of the dialects in the orange area can be very strong, and difficult to understand for outsiders (see here). Why?

To understand that, lets have a look at a very brief history of the English language!

English has been evolving in England for a long time.

Old English was brought to England by the Anglo-Saxons about 1500 years ago, and quickly became the dominant language of the region. Then, suddenly, Vikings! They came over from Denmark and took over the northern half of England. The vikings spoke Old Norse, and many loanwords from Norse entered the northern dialects of Old English. After the English had finally fought off the Vikings, they united into a single nation called England. They spoke several different dialects of Old English, including Old Northumbrian in the north (with all those Viking words!).

England was united and safe for 140 years, until: disaster! In 1066 the Normans from northern France invaded, conquering all of England. The influence of Norman French on Old English was large, and the language began to change, forming Middle English. The influence of French was stronger in the south, but had an effect on all English dialects. The north still had many Norse words, and retained lots of Old English words that were being forgotten in the South. At about this time, the Northumbrian dialect spread into Scotland, and began evolving into the Scots language.

In the south of England, the English language kept evolving and eventually became modern English, which was seen as the “correct” way to speak: “Standard English”. This dialect was spread around the world, and forced upon the rest of Britain and Ireland. But in Scotland and the north of England, many Old English, Middle English and Norse words survived, despite being forgotten by the dictionaries of Standard English.

Here is an example of a sentence from the modern Northumbrian dialect:

“Me bairn’s gan hyem for is bait”

“bairn” and “hyem” are from Old Norse, and mean “child” and “home” respectively. They are almost identical to the modern Scandinavian words. “Bait” means “snack” or “lunch”, and also comes from old Norse.

“gan” was the Old English for “go”, and has been retained in Northumbrian and other northern dialects for over 1500 years.

So the sentence means: “My child has gone home for his lunch”.

So now you understand why Northern England English can be so strange to southerners and foreigners! It has had 1500 years to evolve separately.

I speak: Fairly standard English, with a few northern words thrown it. My dialect was a bit stronger when I was younger, but it’s died out a lot since I left the UK. It’s just easier to be understood by foreigners when you say “Give me a look!” instead of “giz a deeks!”.

For another post I made on British Dialects, have a deeks at “100 British Words For Rain”

6-ways-to-divide-English-Dialects-840x1024 6 Ways to Divide England Linguistically: Explained

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