Map of British English Dialects.

Ryan Starkey has an impressive map of British English dialects, about which he says:

The diversity of English dialects in the United Kingdom is enormous.

It’s common for people from either side of a river, mountain, or even town to speak noticeably different ways, with particular features that immediately mark someone out as being from a specific area, to those who have an ear for it.

This is pretty normal in any large region that has been speaking a language continually for 1600 years. You will find the same thing in Germany, Norway, France, and countless other countries. Languages evolve over time, and physical distance between regions means that new features often spread slowly, leading to dialectal differences. Sometimes these differences are small, and only easily recognised by people from the relevant region. Other times there are very clear distinctions, with neighbouring dialects sounding almost like different languages to those unaccustomed to them.

Here I have tried to capture as much nuance as possible. I’ve spent the last few years pooling together every study, survey, map, and database I can find, and then subjecting my image to several rounds of peer feedback. The members of my Facebook group, “Ah yes, the British accent”, were also a huge help in trying to make these borders as accurate as possible. The end result is an image which is, to my knowledge, the most detailed map of British dialects ever made. But it is still very much unfinished, and it always will be.

He then has a heading “Why this map is wrong, and always will be” that (ironically) inspires confidence, with sections titled “There’s no precise definition of a ‘dialect’,” “Borders between dialects are rarely hard lines,” and “Some dialects are not geographically specific at all.” He explains why he included Northern Ireland but not Scots/Doric, and ends with a link to his earlier post Every Native British and Irish Language. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Brilliant!

    more than anywhere geography is not how London dialects are arranged. Cultural and socioeconomic background is a much bigger deciding factor, and dialects like Multicultural London English aren’t found in one area, but all across London.

    Preach it, brother! Ref recent discussions.

    @Hat “Why this map is wrong, and always will be” that (ironically) inspires confidence

    Exactly. Hooray for _not_ making overblown claims.

  2. Smoggie! What did they call it before smog? Smaugie? And before Tolkien? Rees-Moggie, after a prominent local landowning family?

  3. Along somewhat the same lines, this
    is entertaining.

  4. Having grown up in the irregular light blue splotch labelled “Southern English,” I would say the map misses the urban and rural differences. I spoke something that might be called Thames Valley, with glottal stops and ‘th’ tending to f or v, whereas in the surrounding villages there was an older way of speaking that tended toward a West Country sound, slightly rhotic and with ‘down’ similar to ‘dane.’

    I don’t know how much these differences have been smoothed over — or not — since the 1970s.

  5. He seems to have done a lot of work to get it right, so I’m guessing your memories are out of date. Lots of things have changed since the 1970s, I’m afraid!

  6. My memories are most certainly out of date! I’d be curious to know more about the current situation, though.

    ETA: And as he says, the boundaries are obviously porous, so there could still be areas where accents are mixed or variable.

  7. Sure. I wonder if he’ll try to do one in more detail? He’s obviously obsessed enough…

  8. “I spoke something that might be called Thames Valley, with glottal stops and ‘th’ tending to f or v, whereas in the surrounding villages there was an older way of speaking that tended toward a West Country sound, slightly rhotic and with ‘down’ similar to ‘dane.’”

    Hear, hear. And in general the map is not very good and seems to use a combination of guesswork and county boundaries.

  9. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It’s impossible to include every local difference, but I’m a bit surprised by Edinburgh being lumped in with everything around it, Falkirk being in with places as far over as Berwickshire rather than with the places around Glasgow, and Bute not making it into Argyll.

    And a bit suspicious – although willing to be convinced – about the boundaries exactly lining up with the Scottish border. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to map the divvent/dinna line…

  10. Dialects are porous and their borders fractal, but IIUC the border between English and Scots/SSE hews close to the political border in the west, but used to be much further (up to 100 miles) south in the east, but has now moved northward to the political border. (Unfortunately I can’t find a reference for this right now.) If true, this is perhaps a matter of “We are English and so should not speak Scottishly.” Across the Water, similar things have happened around the U.S.-Canada border with the development of the Inland North accent, which stops short at the border.

  11. Starkey writes: “During my research for this image I talked with many people…” But he says nothing else about how he researched it. I’m curious about how he went about it, because it seems to me that to assemble a reliable accent map, you’d need a pretty big survey crew to collect, compare and analyze language samples.

  12. There’s always something interesting on LH! I didn’t care that much for the map of dialects. Others have shared their criticisms, I’m not well placed (or educated in linguistics) to evaluate the map itself, but simple visual displays of dialects don’t mean much to me: if there were sound files linked into it…. that I could get behind!

    But this did turn me on to Starkey’s website, which I was unaware of before. I really LOVE the etymological charts, especially when they show how one PIE root diverged into several languages, but then the reflexes somehow ended up in English with (usually) related but distinct meanings.

    So thanks again LH community!

  13. We aim to please! And yes, there’s a lot of good stuff on his site.

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