Language vs Dialect. What’s the difference? And What Are Some Common British Dialects?

Language. Dialect. Dialect. Language. Are they the same? Are they different? Generally speaking, a language is a system of communication, either spoken or written, that is used by a particular country or nation. On the other hand, a dialect can be defined as different spoken forms of a language that is particular to a specific region or social group. A dialect becomes a language when it develops a standardised written script, when it is classed as a national identifier, and when it can be used for political purposes at a national and international scale. As such, we can label language as the parent category with various dialects stemming from it. Dialects are formed as a result of geographical isolation. So, despite the fact that English is the current lingua franca, the way that each individual community speaks is distinguished by its unique speech patterns and accents. In other words, a community can be characterised by its dialect. 

Discerning Between British Dialects

We have already established that English has dozens of varieties due to its global status. But how about we zone into British English and see how dialects vary on the British Isles alone. If you have ever tried to imitate the British accent and its way of speech, you were most likely basing your imitation on standard English (received pronunciation), or Queen’s English. The truth is, standard English is far from being standard as the UK is made up of at least 37 different regional dialects. These regional dialects differ to standard English in terms of vocabulary, accent, grammar, phraseology and slang. So, if you have ever come across a word, a phrase, or a grammatical structure that you are not familiar with, just think that it may belong to one of the many regional dialects.


The Brummie dialect is spoken by people who live in the city of Birmingham and the surrounding areas. Opinion polls consistently suggest that Brummie is the most disfavoured regional dialect as it comes across as quite harsh and unpleasant! Regarding grammar, you will tend to hear many people in Brum using “I ain’t” instead of “I’m not”. Indeed, this may come across as poor grammar, however, “I ain’t” is never used in written English. Accent and grammar aside, there are many traditional expressions that are not used elsewhere in the country, for instance “Babby” (baby), “Cob” (crusty bread roll), “Scrage” (a cut), “Island” (roundabout), “Bab” (babe), “Ennit / Innit” (isn’t it) and “Pop” (fizzy drink).  


Apart from Received Pronunciation (standard English), the Cockney dialect is perhaps the most famous as it is spoken by Londoners. What makes Cockney speakers unique is that they occasionally use rhyming slang and coded language. In other words, they may refer to a “telephone” as “dog and bone”. It’s bizarre, but common practice particularly throughout East London. Another example is “use your loaf”, which means “use your head”, and this derived from the rhyming slang “loaf of bread”.   

Received Pronunciation

Received Pronunciation (standard English) is closest to what people call Queen’s English and is often spoken in areas such as Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Surrey, just to name a few.

 It is a relatively monotone accent that emphasises vowels, for instance, car would be pronounced as cAHr and snow as snOHw. It is also one of the few dialects that implement full and proper grammar in everyday conversations. For this reason, those who speak R.P. tend to come across as posh.


The Geordie dialect is spoken by those in the north-eastern parts of England and is perhaps the most distinctive. The speakers of this dialect have changed all the rules associated with standard English, and as such, nothing is pronounced like how you would expect. Some unique words include, “Nee” (no), “”Toon” (city centre), “Propa” (really, very), “Geet walla” (really big, very large), “Scran” (food) and “Gob” (mouth). It is also common for Geordies to not employ plural verb forms when they speak. For instance, you may hear someone say “There is cars over there. / They was hungry.”. Now, this doesn’t mean that Geordies are awful at grammar, rather it’s simply just a way of speech.


People from Liverpool and Merseyside are called Scousers, and just like Geordie, the Scouse dialect is distinct and very strong. Scousers are, in fact, one of the very few groups of people in the UK who actually roll their Rs naturally. Similarly, Scousers make a unique sound whereby a K sound comes from the throat as opposed to the upper part of the mouth. Scouse vocabulary include, “’ar ‘ey” (oh no), “Bevvied up” (drunk), “Butty” (sandwich), “Clobber” (clothes), “Ta” (thanks) and “Deffo” (definitely).


Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK and home to the Yorkshire dialect with roots in Old English. Generally speaking, this dialect is not as stigmatised as other regional dialects (i.e. Brummie, Geordie and Scouse) and studies have shown that it is a well-liked way of speaking. The Yorkshire dialect shares some similarities with northern dialects, for instance, the vowels are elongated but it is not as strong and distinct as it is with Geordie. Common words include, “Tea” (dinner), “Lass” (girl, female), “Lad” (boy, male), “Chuffed” (happy), “Snicket” (alleyway) and “Sarnie” (sandwich).   


This county’s dialect is so distinct and you can immediately tell if someone comes from Essex. For example, people pronounce -th as -f and they often drop words such as to and the from their speech. In other words, it’s common for those from Essex to say something like “I’m firsty, let’s go (to the) café.”. This dialect has become a lot more well-known thanks to reality TV shows that often star typical Essex individuals.


Glaswegian is a Scottish dialect. In short, Glaswegians have developed many unique sayings that are alien to the rest of the UK, and they also tend to use contracted words. Common sayings include, “Clatty” (dirty), “Pish” (not good), “Hoachin’” (busy), “Gallus” (arrogant person), “Wrap it” (stop doing something) and “Shady” (dodgy).

"Norn Iron"

Just like the many other regional dialects in the UK, people from Northern Ireland have a particular way of speaking. When locals banter, they may use expressions such as, “Aye” (yes), “Dander” (walk), “Grand” (good), “Jammie” (lucky), “Minger” (ugly), “Spuds” (potatoes) and “Naff” (stupid, crazy).


Welsh English is a younger dialect. In smaller remote towns and villages in West Wales, many people use words and grammatical structures that derived from the Welsh language. Meanwhile, the East and South of Wales are heavily influenced by the West Country and even West Midlands dialects.

Essentially, although the line between “language” and “dialect” may appear blurred, both persist as two separate speech realities.

Have you heard of any of the above mentioned dialects? If so, let us know which one is your favourite!