You’re writing a novel and your characters are British. How would they describe each other’s accents?

We Brits rarely describe other Brits as having “British” accents. We don’t hear the British accent as uniform. Accents vary so much across Britain that we sometimes struggle to understand each other!

When describing British accents our first go to is nation.

  • A Welsh accent
  • A Scottish accent
  • An English accent

I have lived in England and Wales, but not Scotland. When I hear Scottish accents I rarely know where in Scotland they come from.

If you’re writing an English character who has never lived in Scotland, think carefully about how well he can identify Scottish accents. Only with a good ear and great observation skills will he know the difference between a Thurso accent and an Aberdeen one!

The accents I know best are English. Like many English people I can identify accents by region and sometimes by city.

English characters describing each other would use regional terms including:

  • A West Country accent
  • An East Anglian accent
  • A Midlands accent
  • A Northern accent
  • An Estuary accent
  • A Home Counties accent

Some of us use county or city terms:

  • A Norfolk accent
  • A Birmingham accent
  • A Cornish accent
  • A Bristol accent

When we know a region or city well, we can be even more precise with identifications. Did you know that there are north, south, west and east London accents?

If your character is a Londoner he’ll know that the cockney accent is local to one part of east London and dying out. So don’t make the common mistake of describing all London accents as cockney.

We watch a lot of American television in Britain. The three most common English accents on American tv are probably Home Counties, Estuary, and upper class Received Pronunciation.

The Home Counties and Estuary accents come from the southeast region around London.

Received Pronunciation is supposedly educated English without a regional accent. It is basically a southern English accent and not “accentless” at all.

If your English character comes from the southeast but not London, and is not upper class, it’s probably safest to describe their accent as Homes Counties or Estuary.

Because the Received Pronunciation accent is southern, some people outside the south struggle to hear the difference between it and other southern accents. As a result, some northerners describe southern accents as “posh.”

The word posh is sometimes good but often derogatory. When we describe a hotel as posh we mean it’s luxurious. Calling a friend posh may mean we think they are unfairly privileged.

I hope that helps. If you want to find out more about British accents try this resource from the British library.

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