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British Accents – A Comprehensive Guide - The British Flag
British Accents – A Comprehensive Guide - The British Flag
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Apr 16, 2024

British Accents – A Comprehensive Guide

Contrary to popular belief among many people outside the country itself, there is no singular British accent.

In fact, the United Kingdom features the highest diversity of accents found anywhere in the English-speaking world.

This is important to understand, especially if you’re aiming to convey a message to people of a certain location or want an actor who speaks with a distinctively sounding regional dialect.

Here at Voice Crafters you can hire experienced British English voice over artists, each capable of bringing their own unique vocal sound and linguistic range to your projects.

So, you may be wondering, what types of British accents are there?

Take our hand as we guide you through the variety of accents, all of which are as diverse as the landscapes of the United Kingdom itself.

Let’s begin our journey by answering one of the most popular questions about British English, and we’re sure you will find the answer quite surprising.

 

How Many Different British Accents Are There?

Truth be told, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint an exact number, although the most recent estimates claim that almost 40 different British accents exist today.

Incredibly, that number could also be much higher according to some academic study groups, who focus on the diversity of local and regional dialects within the United Kingdom, suggesting that closer to 100 different British accents are spoken throughout the whole country.

However, such studies also consider dialect variants among many individual rural and urban locations, and this map of the British Isles only scratches the surface of those accents.

British Accents – A Comprehensive Guide - A map of Briitish accents in Great Britain

But generally speaking – if you’ll excuse the obvious pun – there are two main categories of British accents.

These are usually referred to as Received Pronunciation (RP) and Regional Dialects.

 

What is the Received Pronunciation British Accent?

The clearest and most concise way of speaking the English language is typically referred to as Received Pronunciation (RP), although alternative terms like “General British” or “Non-Regional Pronunciation” and “Standard English” are sometimes used.

“The Queen’s English” or “Posh English” are other terms you will often see used to describe RP, but such references are actually misleading and inaccurate.

They refer to another distinct kind of British accent used by the archetypal upper classes of society in British history.

While the Received Pronunciation accent can historically trace its origins back to the upper classes of British society and prestigious academic institutions, cultivated at universities like Oxford and Cambridge, RP has evolved to become a modern standard for clarity of speech.

Essentially, the modern Received Pronunciation style reveals little about the social status or the regional origins of the speaker, intended to convey the utmost clarity for dictation and narration.

For a simple and practical summary of the Received Pronunciation accent in British English, we asked voiceover artist Maxim R. to explain:

British voice actor Maxim R.

British voice actor Maxim R.

RP, or Received Pronunciation, tends to come with a lot of connotations – posh, aristocratic, Shakespeare, period dramas, old school newsreaders – which are often not particularly helpful.

I certainly don’t speak like that in my everyday life!

Unless a brief asks for a specific kind of heightened RP, chances are your best Downton Abbey impression is going to sound very odd against a corporate explainer or charity video.

So what are clients looking for in an RP voice?

In my experience, a lot of RP breakdowns, particularly those coming from international clients, tend to use one of two references: Benedict Cumberbatch or David Attenborough; not because they want an impression, but because they want a voice that has similar qualities – clarity, calm, authority – and a neutrality which allows it to be understood by a global audience, English speaking or otherwise.

To me, RP isn’t so much putting on an accent as making sure your natural speaking voice is as clear as it can be; pronouncing every consonant, differentiating every vowel sound, putting the emphasis in the right places, and delivering it with conviction at a measured pace.

You can dial up for heightened RP or back down for soft conversational, or tweak to suit a character type if needed.

Maxim R. – British English & RP Talent at Voice Crafters

Now that we have a better understanding of Received Pronunciation among British accents, let’s continue our journey and explore the regional accents and dialects you’re likely to hear spoken across the United Kingdom.

 

What Are The Most Common Regional British Accents?

As we highlighted earlier, the United Kingdom is home to the most diverse variety of regional English dialects anywhere in the world, which means that you will hear distinct accents from different locations throughout the British Isles.

Let’s focus on some of the most commonly recognized accents, each of which characterizes specific regions of the British Isles, beginning with those around the UK capital.

 

Cockney and Estuary English

The lively sound and slang of the Cockney accent is instantly recognizable, and also deeply ingrained in British pop culture.

But according to locals, the only true Cockney accent is found in the East End of London, specifically among people “born within the sound of the Bow bells” as this video explains:

Distinct vocal sounds include starting words with similar sounding letters, such as ‘think’ becoming ‘fink’ or dropping ‘h’ at the beginning of words. For example, ‘home’ becomes ‘ome’ and ‘have’ becomes ‘ave’ instead.

Another characteristic of the Cockney accent is using rhyming slang.

Great examples include ‘apples and pears’ to say stairs or ‘dog and bone’ for phone.

Likewise, the Cockney accent has spread beyond East London origins, shaping the sound of Estuary English in locations around the River Thames and nearby counties like Essex.

 

West Country

Have you ever wondered where the classic movie pirate accents came from?

Well, the most notorious pirate of them all was Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, and he was originally from Bristol.

Actually, locals tend to pronounce their city name as ‘Brizzle’ when speaking.

While the city itself has a distinctively sharper and quicker urban sound these days, the broader West Country accent has a melodic laid-back rural charm, often associated with farmers and countryside folk of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall.

However, that’s mostly due to popular drama productions like ‘The Archers’ or ‘Poldark’ from the BBC, although there’s far more nuance to the West Country accents than we hear in TV shows and movies, as this video featuring British impersonator Alistair McGowan explains:

When listening to varied West Country accents, most notable is the softening of consonants, emphasis on elongating vowels and the rolling ‘r’ to make ‘err’ and ‘arr’ sounds, which is actually quite similar to American and Canadian rhotic speech patterns.

Think about how American actor Sean Astin voiced Samwise Gamgee in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies.

 

West Midlands, Brummie & Black Country

Native to Birmingham and the West Midlands region of England, the Brummie accent can sound quite dry and matter of fact to some listeners, even monotone for long stretches of speech.

But what makes the accent truly distinctive is the intonation, especially when putting emphasis on a word or phrase, lengthening the delivery with sharp rises or falls in tone at the end of sentences.

Such is the unique sound of the Brummie accent, people from elsewhere around the UK often poke fun and how the dialect of the West Midlands can sound, especially when pronouncing words like ‘you’ as ‘yow’ and the sudden switch in tones.

Arguably one of the strongest accents and hardest to lose, legendary rocker Ozzy Osbourne still retains his thick Brummie accent, despite many decades of living in the United States.

Based on his native regional knowledge and VO experience, James B. offers us his insights:

A lot of people have watched the BBC show Peaky Blinders and actually believe the accent to be a Birmingham one, so I often get asked for ‘Peaky Blinders’ style reads.

British voiceover artist - James B

British voiceover artist – James B

What most people don’t realize is that it’s actually more of a Black Country (Walsall/Wolverhampton) accent that’s used on the show.

Cillian Murphy and quite a few of the cast are not native to the West Midlands area and are in fact putting the accent on.

To me as a local of the region, the Brummie accent is a lot more dulled down than what is portrayed in the show.

A Black Country accent is a lot stronger than a Brummie one, using a lot more local dialect, phrases, and local slang.

For example ‘Yam alrite’ duck’ when someone is asking ‘Are you okay?’ or ‘Yow gowin’ down d shops’ that means ‘Are you going to the shops?’

Thanks to Steven Knight, who created Peaky Blinders, he really has put the West Midlands accents on the map, and he himself actually went to school just a stone’s throw from where I live… Now, if only I could track him down for a coffee!

James B. – British English & West Midlands VO Talent at Voice Crafters

North West, Lancashire, Scouse & Mancunian

There was a time when the accents of Liverpool and Manchester sounded the same.

Residents of both cities spoke with a Lancashire dialect, which prevailed throughout the North West of England in rural and urban locations.

But following the industrial revolution and rapid urbanization, accompanied by an influx of people from Wales and Ireland, residents of the two cities began to develop their own unique accents despite being just 30 miles apart.

We often think of The Beatles, the original super group from Liverpool who made the Scouse or Liverpudlian accent famous overseas. Whenever we hear the Scouse accent, the most notable are the elongated vowel sounds and intonation patterns with rising inflections.

Meanwhile, the Mancunian accent is known for the flat vowels and glottal stops replacing ‘t’ sounds, and dropping ‘g’ at the end of words, such as when listening to Noel and Liam Gallagher of rock band Oasis fame.

So with these musical references, we asked talented VO artist and North West resident Jenny M. to share her thoughts on performing the varied local accents:

As I’m surrounded by these accents daily through friends and family, it’s more of a ‘feeling’ or a visualization to be honest.

British voiceover artist Jenny M.

British voiceover artist Jenny M.

I kind of embody the accent, how I hold my body, my face, my mouth. I’ll actually stand like Liam Gallagher if I’m doing a strong Mancunian accent.

But more often than not, if it’s corporate work, it’s very subtle.

With the Scouse accent, there are quite a few ways to do it. If I’m in character, there’s the high-pitched ‘scally’ that’s very abbreviated, quick and throaty on the ‘k’ sounds. But then you’ve got the old, lower-toned, quite drawly Scouse accent, embodied by the Beatles.

Both Scouse, both very different.

Wigan/Lancashire accents are also very abbreviated. If we can say a 10-word sentence in 4 words, we will, so ‘Are we going to Wigan on the bus?’ would be spoken as ‘We goin’t Wigin on’t buzz?’ instead.

If I were to think about the Mancunian accent, the biggest difference would be changing words ending in ‘y’ to have an ‘eh’ sound.

For example, ‘lady’ would sound like ‘laydeh’ and the vowels are always elongated too, so ‘Laaaydeh’ when pronounced.

Mancunians never say the ‘th’ sound either, so ‘thought’ would sound like ‘fort’ and ‘the‘ sounds like ‘ver’.

Rounding up those pronunciations, ‘I never thought about the lady’ would sound more like ‘Ah never fort about ver laydeh’ when spoken with the accent.

Jenny M. – British & North West English VO Talent at Voice Crafters

Yorkshire

As the biggest county in the United Kingdom, there are quite a few variants in the ways that people from Yorkshire speak, although they do share many common traits.

The dialect also traces its roots back to Old English and Old Norse, still retaining elements of both in terms of word usage and pronunciation.

The speech pattern of the Yorkshire accent resonates with a robust, no-nonsense quality, marked by striking phonetic features.

Words that end with an ‘ee’ sound or ‘y’ are pronounced with ‘eh’ instead, so ‘money’ would become ‘moneh’ when spoken.

Slang variants are also commonplace, such as ‘owt’ meaning ‘anything’ or ‘nowt’ implying ‘nothing’ instead of the original words.

It’s also another accent that’s hard to completely hide, with actor Sean Bean as living proof, “no matter ‘ow ard tha tries in’t movehs” over the years.

Just to highlight the complexity, this YouTube video was posted by an American guy traveling around Yorkshire, recording his interactions with the locals:

North East & Geordie

Native to Newcastle and the surrounding areas in the North East of England, the Geordie accent is instantly recognizable for its distinct features.

It can be characterized by clipped consonants, such as ‘wor’ for ‘our’ and elongated vowel sounds, like saying ‘hoose’ instead of ‘house’ when speaking.

Another distinct trait is replacing the ‘r’ at the end of words with an ‘ah’ instead.

Good examples are ‘mothah’ or ‘fathah’ for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ while using rising inflections.

Sometimes a thick Geordie accent can be difficult to understand, particularly for non-native speakers, especially when accompanied by the local tonal sounds and slang.

Irish actor Liam Cunningham is actually from Dublin, but famously used a strongly impersonated Geordie accent in Game of Thrones for his role as Davos Seaworth, although this caused problems for Spanish voice over actors.

They really struggled to translate his words and phrases correctly for the dubbed version.

But if you want a better grasp of how the Geordie accent sounds, and what some of the local slang means, musician Sam Fender produced this amusing video as a quick guide:

Welsh

The people of Wales have their own unique Welsh language, which can be traced back to the Brythonic group of southern Celtic languages, and continues to be spoken today.

When speaking English, most of the same Welsh language speech patterns are retained, including intonations and emphasis, while the original Welsh language has also shaped the dialect and slang used in everyday speech.

Nevertheless, there are variations from north to south and east to west.

But generally speaking, Welsh accents in the north tend to be quite thick and from the back of the throat, whereas in the south, word pronunciation can sound clipped yet melodic.

Iconic singer Tom Jones is a fine example of the southern Welsh accent, and his way of speaking is typical of an area known as The Valleys in this region.

But as VO talent Hannah L. explains, there’s far more diversity to explore and enjoy throughout Wales:

One of the biggest comments working with clients I get is how much variety there is within Wales itself.

A lot of people are aware there’s a big difference between the North and the South, however in reality there is so much more variety.

British voiceover artist - Hannah L.

British voiceover artist – Hannah L.

I am based in Carmarthen (South West Wales) and I can drive half an hour away, and then listen to someone with a “Welsh accent” that is totally different from mine, so that kind of variety is exciting to share with people.

I have been a voice artist since 2012. What has changed a lot in a positive way is far greater acceptance and demand for regional accents. At the beginning of my career, I would often have to use my neutral/RP accent far more for corporate, E-learning, and medical narration.

But as time has moved on, there has been a real shift towards embracing the different regional accents of the UK and I am finding that increasingly more often, my native Welsh accent is being used for VO jobs that in the past, would have been recorded with a more neutral /RP voice.

As mentioned before, I am a Carmarthen girl, and one of our “specialties” is adding extra syllables into words, sometimes I still get caught out!

Hannah L. – British & Welsh VO Talent at Voice Crafters

Scottish Accents

Akin to the variety of British accents heard in England or Wales, the same can be said of Scottish accents and speech variations, which is an important observation to make when hiring suitable voice actors from Scotland.

From north to south, east to west, there’s a diverse variety of Scottish accents, and each with their own unique sound and nuances.

If you’re not accustomed to them, each of those accents and dialects can be quite tricky to understand, especially when infused with local slang.

While writing this article, I actually recalled my service in the British military, working alongside three Scotsmen who became great friends, all from different parts of Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen), each with their own distinct sounds and complexities.

Mindful of those memories, we asked Scottish VO talent David H. to give us his amusing and informative take on the accents you’ll discover throughout Scotland:

For a worldwide client base, I would try to simplify Scottish accents as follows:

Glasgow

Gritty, real, natural, no pretensions, can be heard as assertive > antagonistic.

Historically portrayed as hostile and malevolent, and very strong. In fact, the Glaswegian accent is very nice but, as it’s often spoken at great speed, can be confusing when visiting the city itself!

Edinburgh

“Posh” sounding, more diction, clean, languid, may be heard as educated or even sometimes condescending.

British voiceover artist David H.

British voiceover artist – David H.

West Central

This is probably closest to “Standard” Scottish and has the accents from Glasgow, and the diction from Edinburgh, sounding softer and with a kind intonation.

Borders

Typically very close to West Central but with more of a smile, a bit cheeky.

North East & Aberdeen

Home of the ‘Doric’ dialect, which is almost a language to itself, this accent has wider vowel sounds, a busy tongue, and can sound quite sing-song when spoken.

Highlands

Sing-song but in a less pronounced, more understated way, perhaps with an air of suspicion and caution.

Islands

Greatly varied and particular to each group of islands.

I often find that when a client wants Scottish accents, though, they tend to want something that roughly fits around one of these typical images:

  • A sturdy, elderly man in tweed with a walking staff on a rolling hillside with a bottle of fine single malt whisky and a stag at his side.
  • Scottish businessperson or parent
  • A very large, very drunk person speaking loud and fast and trying to pick a fight in a dark street
  • Robbie Coltrane
  • Sean Connery
  • Billy Connolly

Of course, I’m being slightly facetious but there is a teeny-weeny speck of truth to it.

My personal take is that these images and accents are all very valid, but I do believe there is far more subtlety to Scotland and, in fact, all the accents could lend themselves to a project but in different ways.

I pride myself on having a very clear British voice (yes, America! Scotland is part of Britain!!) with a warm, earthy Scottish edge.

Those characteristics will be perfect for a lot of projects. Whereas, if I were to be categorized by my native accent (West Central/Glasgow), I may not be considered for half of them.

In Summary:

1. Scotland is small but so highly varied (and beautiful – you should visit!)

2. Be open to the artist, not just their ‘accent category’ and see what you like… you may be surprised!

3. Don’t just select “Scottish” for one of the stereotypes above, try also selecting it when you know want something Gentle, Soft, Heartfelt, Earthy, Rugged, Sweet, or European.

David H. – British & Scottish VO Talent at Voice Crafters

Irish

Finally, as our sweeping tour of accents across the British Isles reaches its final destination, we have the unmistakable sounds and rhythms of Irish accents, featuring their own uniquely melodic qualities and tonal patterns.

Just like you’ll encounter traveling around England, Wales, or Scotland, accents and dialects can vary from place to place throughout Ireland.

Phonologists often split Irish English into four or five distinctly sounding regional dialects, all shaped by the original Irish Gaelic language, which is still commonly spoken in parts of Ireland collectively known as the Gaeltacht.

However, these tend to be the least densely populated areas.

These stretch from Ulster accents found in Northern Ireland and Belfast, West and South-West Irish accents that can vary from Wexford to Tipperary and Cork to Limerick, plus the duality of Dublin accents whether north or south of the River Liffey.

In addition, over the last several decades a non-regional standard accent has expanded.

Given the richness of diversity among Irish accents, we asked VO talent Remie M. to provide a much deeper understanding:

The majority of Southern Irish people are fiercely protective of our cultural and linguistic heritage, and quite adamant in separating that from our previous history as a colony of the United Kingdom.

However, in saying this, our histories are so closely linked that the impact of British occupation in Ireland is still evident through the accents.

Irish voiceover artist Remie M.

Irish voiceover artist – Remie M.

The ‘West British’ accent of the Irish ascendancy is still alive in Irish society today, amongst the wealthy estate owners who would have been aligned with British rule, up until their departure in the early 20th century.

This is an accent that is close to the Queen’s English but with Irish influences, such as a slightly harder ‘r’ sound or other influences, particularly to the regional accent of where they are situated – Wicklow, Cork, Waterford.

I’m from Dublin, which is typically divided into ‘North Dublin’ and ‘South Dublin’ accent groups.

The North Dublin accents are associated with ‘true’ Dubliners, so working-class Dubliners and the ‘real’ Irish, while the South Dublin accents are often associated with ‘posh’ types with ‘notions’ as we might say.

That’s a particularly Irish term that denotes people who have ideas above themselves, and I believe this might be a leftover from British rule!

Irish accents outside of Dublin are very particular and hotly guarded, more so, perhaps, when you have people like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (as just two of many examples) butchering them in the name of Hollywood ‘Oirishness’. Very few

non-Irish actors seem to be able to master an authentic Irish accent.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Daisy Edgar-Jones are the only two actors that spring to mind, able to convince the Irish that they are Irish.

Cork, for example, hailed as ‘ The people’s Republic of Ireland’ is a large and sprawling county with many diverse accents.

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly the right way to portray a Cork character, even for Irish people themselves.

Emigration is a large part of Irish history and in the present day, this still rings true.

I myself have spent a lot of my formative years in London, having family there, and my accent has absolutely been shaped by my time abroad, as well as my ability to slip into London and standard British accents a little more readily.

I think this is true for many Irish people who have found themselves settling in different parts of the world.

There’s a mercurial aspect to the Irish tongue that can adapt quite easily to new environments.

Perhaps this is why we have so many excellent actors who have managed to make a name for themselves on the international scene (?)

Remie M. – British & Irish VO Talent at Voice Crafters

Take Care When Choosing Voice Artists With British Accents

As you are now undoubtedly aware, thanks to our guided tour of accent varieties across the United Kingdom, there’s no singular British accent.

This implies careful choice and consideration when choosing and auditioning voice over artists, particularly if they are required to speak with a regional accent or your message is destined for a specific audience.

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