February 5, 2019
Looking for a British Accent? Turns Out, There’s No Such Thing
Year after year, the demand for voice over actors who speak with unique accents and dialects continues to increase. However, the British accent appears to be more sought-after than most. In 2017 alone, the demand for ‘British English’ voices grew by 12%.
If you find this interesting, you might find this next bit even more surprising: Despite the fact that many of us refer to the sounds of England this way, it turns out there’s no such thing as a British accent.
Chances are, what most people are thinking of when they imagine a British accent, is actually called ‘RP’ or Received Pronunciation. In truth, the names of the different accents of the United Kingdom are as diverse as the populations and regions of this culturally-rich group of countries.
So whether you’re looking to hire a British voice, or you consider yourself a bit of an anglophile, it’s worth it to read on, as we walk you through the unique and diverse sounds of the UK.
The Myth of the British Accent
Because so many people use this term ‘British accent’ when they’re searching for an English, or UK sound, we’ve titled several articles and webpages as featuring ‘British accents,’ so that they can be found. Perhaps one of the best web pages on the topic is our interactive, audio-based UK Accent Map.
Note: In this article, we’ll explore UK accents – including their characteristic sounds and origins, but we do not address dialects. An accent relates to how you sound when you speak, whereas a dialect refers to the words you use. With a dialect, there can be variations in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Different Types of UK Accents and the Countries they Belong to
Many people are surprised to learn that the UK is more than Great Britain – and in fact, consists of four countries, which are listed below. Here are some of the accents you’ll find in each UK country.
- Northern Ireland
- Accent example:
- Northern Irish accent
- Accent example:
- Accent examples:
- Estuary – sounds almost Australian
- Accent examples:
- Accent examples:
- Accent examples:
- Accent example:
- Accent example:
Note: This list is far from all-encompassing! There are many, many more that are not mentioned.
What UK Accents Sound Like
As a fun way to help people discover and sample UK accents and dialects from a few of the different regions, we hired Voices voice actors to provide sample readings of a few of Aesop’s famous Fables. We then wove the audio samples throughout the story, so you can hear how each brings the tale to life in its own distinct way.
Here is Aesop’s North Wind and the Sun, as narrated by several British-English actors.
UK Accents and Dialect Descriptions
If you’ve had fun clicking around Expedia’s UK accent and dialect map, you may notice that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the different sounds. This is normal, especially for the untrained ear.
Here are a few descriptions of some of the accents and dialects to help you tell the difference between various UK accents.
Received Pronunciation or RP Explanation
When the rest of the world thinks of a ‘British accent,’ Received Pronunciation or ‘RP,’ is usually the sound that they’re imagining. RP does not have a link to any particular region. Unlike some of the other distinguished sounds of the UK, RP is an accent and not a dialect (speakers are communicating in Standard English).
Characteristics of the RP Accent
While many other accents tend to drop or modify the sounds of certain letters, an RP accent is more apt to hit the sounds of each letter in a word. However, a speaker may occasionally drop the sound of certain letters – like dropping the ‘t’ in water.
RP Accent Example: Kate Middleton and Prince William
The Manchester (Mancunian) Accent
Appropriately, the Manchester dialect and accent, Mancunian, originates from those who reside in the North West England city of Manchester, and its surrounding area.
Characteristics of the Mancunian Accent
Some characteristics of this sound include dropping the ‘r’ and ‘t’ at the end of words, (roar). The ‘t’ is also dropped when it’s in the middle of words, and is substituted with a ‘glottal stop’ (e.g. letter becomes le’ah). Another characteristic also includes dropping the ‘h’ sound at the beginning of a word, so a word like ‘hand’ becomes ‘and.’
The Cockney Accent
This East-London accent is technically reserved for those who are born within earshot of Bow Bells, which are the bells of St Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district. However, Cockney is also sometimes used to describe the accent of London’s working class.
Characteristics of the Cockney Accent
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Cockney is the replacement of the ‘th’ sound with an ‘f’ sound – for example, ‘thank’ sounds more like ‘fank.’ They may also drop the ‘h’ sound as well, making words such as ‘have’ sound more like ‘ave.’
The Birmingham or ‘Brummie’ Accent
You may have already guessed it, but the Birmingham or ‘Brummie’ accent is linked to those from Birmingham, although the geographic delineations aren’t exactly precise. There are a wealth of other accents that are close to Birmingham and can seem similar to the untrained ear (for example, just 31 miles away from Birmingham, people may have a Coventry accent).
Characteristics of a Birmingham Accent
Brummie is famous for its difficulty to master. It tends to be that you’re either born into it, or you’re going to spend years trying to learn it, and even then, you may not be successful. This accent has been described as both gruff, and lilting. A common mistake for those who are trying to pick up the accent, is to make it sound similar to a drawl, when really it’s fast, and urban. You simply just have to hear it to understand (tip: the Expedia map above has a sample for you to try!)
The London Accent
Now that you’re starting to get an image of the diversity of accents in the UK, you may not be as surprised to learn that a London accent isn’t a real thing either… Or rather, it’s not just one sound, but at least three.
Cockney, mentioned above, originates from East England, and ‘Estuary’ is another accent from London, referring specifically to those who live around the river. RP (mentioned above) is the third accent you’re likely to find in London.
Characteristics of the Estuary Accent
According to Pronunciation Studio, “Estuary speakers would certainly drop the /h/ in function words, particularly where they appear in the middle of sentences. For example, “Where’s he gone?” may sound like “Where’s ‘e gone?”
The Wales or Welsh English Accent
Wales is a country within Great Britain, and like many of the other countries and territories, the speakers from this particular geography have a very distinctive sound.
Characteristics of the Welsh Accent
According to Babbel Magazine, the melodic Welsh English accent places a slight trill on the letter “r.” This is also a trait of Scottish accents, and illustrates the Celtic influence that underpins a Welsh English accent. Interestingly, the Welsh accent doesn’t tend to place emphasis on any particular part of the word (e.g. standard English might hit the ‘lang’ in language harder than the rest of the word, whereas Welsh emphasizes the entire word equally).
The Glasgow or Glaswegian Accent
The Glasgow accent of Scotland is often described as gruff and guttural, although it’s also quite pleasant! In a recent survey, British Airlines uncovered that Glaswegian is one of America’s favorite accents.
Characteristics of the Glaswegian Accent
Glaswegian is famous for its use of a glottal stop while dropping a ‘t’ from words. For instance, a phrase like “Pass the water bottle,” quickly becomes “Pass the wa’er bo’le.” Because Glasgow has had a historical role as a major port, the influence of immigration from Scottish Highlanders, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European people have all contributed to its unique sounds and dialect.
Glaswegian Accent Example: Scottish Actor James McAvoy
The Scottish Accent of Edinburgh
Compared to Glasgow, Edinburgh is farther West. And even though it’s only about an hour’s drive away, the accent is different from Glasgow’s.
Characteristics of Edinburgh Accent
Edinburgh’s accent is slightly softer than Glasgow’s, and has also been described as ‘rounder,’ almost as though there’s an influence from London, England. Interestingly, and similar to London, Edinburgh has a range of accents, from those characterized as ‘posh’ or upper-class, and those that are linked to the working class.
Edinburgh Accent Example: David Elliot is from Edinburgh
The Northern Irish Accent
With its close proximity to Scotland and England (it’s only a ferry ride away), the Northern Irish accent is influenced by surrounding populations.
Characteristics of Northern Irish Accent
All Irish accents tend to pronounce the ‘ru’ sound after a vowel, such as in words like ‘first,’ and ‘farther.’ However, the ‘r’ sound is closer to the English West Country accent than the rolled ‘r’ that is characteristic of Scottish English. According to the British Library, “Northern Irish English has a distinctive intonation pattern and a broad Northern Irish accent is characterised by a very noticeable tendency to raise the pitch towards the end of an utterance, even if the speaker is not asking a question.”
Note: This is just one of several Irish accents. Northern Ireland and its neighboring country, the Republic of Ireland are very diverse!
Northern Irish Accent Example: Actress Laura Donnelly
Test Your British Accent Knowledge: Take the British Slang and UK Colloquialisms Quiz
You may notice that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the different accents and the specifics of British pronunciation. This is normal, especially for the untrained ear. If you want to have a little fun and see how well you know the accents of the UK, you can take our British Slang and UK Colloquialism Quiz!
What Other UK Accents Do You Know and Love?
What we’ve listed out above is just a drop in the bucket and doesn’t give full credence to the diversity of accents and dialects in the UK.
Which ones would you like to see included? How would you describe them?
Are there certain accents that you feel drawn to more than others?
Bonus: If you’re a voice over actor, you might be interested in learning more about the UK Voice Acting Industry.
For over a decade, Tanya has been helping organizations and individuals alike tell their stories. A graduate of Western University, Tanya holds a Bachelor of Science degree, as well as a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations. As an experienced marketing and communications professional, she has helped individuals, start-ups, and multinational corporations craft and amplify meaningful communications across the arts, culture, entertainment, health, wellness, and technology industries.
Why are all fantasy shows with British accents? ›
Martin has said English accents work best for fantasy, as the genre is rooted in the Middle Ages. "It's full of castles and lords and swords and knights and all the other trappings that we associate with England in this country.Why do all foreigners have British accents in movies? ›
Thus, this explains that the reason why the film industry relies on the British accent is because it's most familiar to English speakers, which makes up the majority of viewers. “The idea of learning a bunch of different languages when we were very young [lets us] have the ability to understand what someone is saying.Why do British singers not sound British? ›
In singing, syllables are lengthened, air flow is increased, articulation is less precise. Thus we get a more generic, neutralised accent that happens to share features with American varieties of English.Why do ancient movies have British accents? ›
The real answer is rooted in the obsession with Empire—and how accents were actively cultivated by society elites as signifiers of global power and stature.Why do I randomly switch to a British accent? ›
Foreign Accent Syndrome: What Is It? Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) happens when you suddenly start to speak with a different accent. It's most common after a head injury, stroke, or some other type of damage to the brain. Although it's extremely rare, it's a real condition.What is the most authentic British accent? ›
Received Pronunciation (RP)
Nevertheless, RP remains the national standard and has traditionally been considered by many to be the most prestigious accent of British English.
It is also believed that the actor has developed Foreign Accent Syndrome. According to Marca, it is a, “speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a foreign accent.” This rare condition develops after traumatic head injuries.Why do British accents exist? ›
The rich variety of dialects in Britain can to a large extent be attributed to the fact that English has been spoken on this island for more than 1500 years. This long time period has allowed for the language to develop into regional varieties of English.Did Abraham Lincoln have a British accent? ›
Lincoln's accent was a blend of Indiana and Kentucky. “It was hard to know whether it was more Hoosier or blue grass,” says Holzer. The way he spelled words, such as “inaugural” as “inaugerel,” gives some clue as to how he pronounced them. Despite his twang, Lincoln was “no country bumpkin,” Holzer clarifies.Why do British people sing like Americans? ›
That's partially because of the way we round off certain words when we sing, and partially because the world is so used to hearing American accents in pop songs, it requires more effort and concentration to sing in a different accent.
Why do English lose accent when singing? ›
In singing, some syllables and vowels naturally get stressed to go with the cadence, rhythm, and melody of the music. As a result, some singers tend to naturally drop the accent without even realizing it.Did British English used to sound American? ›
The “how” – British accent vs American accent
In all reality, the standard British accent was the one that changed significantly in the last two centuries while the American accent stayed more or less the same. During the American Revolution, the English language started to change in Britain.
Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars including Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Orson Welles employed what's known as a “Mid-Atlantic accent,” a sort of American-British hybrid of speaking that relies on tricks like dropping “R” sounds and softening vowels, in order to convey wealth and ...Why do old American movies sound British? ›
The Trans-Atlantic Accent (or the Mid-Atlantic Accent) was a style of speech taught in affluent schools along the East Coast and in Hollywood Film Studios from the late nineteen tens until the mid-forties.How did accents start UK? ›
Dialects and accents developed historically when groups of language users lived in relative isolation, without regular contact with other people using the same language. This was more pronounced in the past due to the lack of fast transport and mass media.What age do accents stick? ›
Research has shown that accents become permanent around the age of 12 years old. That being said, it is possible for accents to change over time or for adults to develop a subtle accent after living in a foreign country for an extended period of time.Can you wake up with a different accent? ›
Foreign accent syndrome is a rare phenomenon where someone begins speaking in a different accent after something happens to part of their brain, Dr Karl told Hack. "It can be related to head injuries, stroke, surgery, diabetes...or something we don't even know.Can you accidentally get an accent? ›
Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent. FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury.Which British accent is the hardest? ›
Geordie. People from Newcastle speak a dialect called Geordie, which is one of the strongest and most distinctive accents in England.Which English accent is clearest? ›
Some people believe that RP (Received Pronunciation) is the most standard or general accent in British English. Many EFL (English as a Foreign Language) schools teach it because it is supposed to be the most “polished” pronunciation. It is typically referred to as “Queen's English” or “BBC English”.
What accent did Jack Sparrow have? ›
Masters of Accents had this to say about the larger-than-life actor's English accent: “It's well-known Depp based his Jack Sparrow accent on Keith Richards and the result is pretty impressive. The British accent is almost meant to be slurred, and Depp pulls it off admirably in four films.”What is chameleon effect accent? ›
We unintentionally mirror others when interacting by copying the other person's gestures, body language, tone of voice and accent, in order to bond with others and feel safe in social interactions. This is called the Chameleon Effect and it's embedded in human nature.What accent does Thor have? ›
Thor, Loki, Odin, Heimdall, and Valkyrie, all speak with a rough English accent.When did America lose its British accent? ›
Most scholars have roughly located “split off” point between American and British English as the mid-18th-Century. There are some clear exceptions.What countries love British accents? ›
The British accent was voted the absolute hottest on earth, coming top in countries as far-flung as Sweden, China, India and the USA. A British brogue was particularly desirable in Asia, with South Korea and Malaysia also finding UK accents too hot to handle.Why do British people say bloody? ›
Bloody. Don't worry, it's not a violent word… it has nothing to do with “blood”.”Bloody” is a common word to give more emphasis to the sentence, mostly used as an exclamation of surprise. Something may be “bloody marvellous” or “bloody awful“. Having said that, British people do sometimes use it when expressing anger…What accent did Queen Elizabeth have? ›
Anyone who has heard the Queen's speeches will recognise her distinctive British accent. This is RP – 'Received Pronunciation'.Did George Washington have a British accent? ›
Considering all of this and his farmer upbringing, it is safe to speculate that Washington's natural accent was, as Morse portrays it, predominantly American with a detectable English influence.Is Johnny Depp American accent? ›
Long story short, he (and at least his base accent) is as American as they come. Has his accent changed? Throughout his career, Depp has been accused of changing his accent or dipping in and out of British, Scottish, even dabbling in an Australian lilt every now and again.Why do British sound different? ›
But after the Revolutionary War, upper-class and upper-middle-class citizens in England began using non-rhotic speech as a way to show their social status. Eventually, this became standard for Received Pronunciation and spread throughout the country, affecting even the most popular British phrases.
Why are the Brits so good at music? ›
Because they are generally more musically literate, and more authentic. In America, music is more commercial, a little more simplistic, designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. 'Pro production values' tend to be high in America - the best example would be Taylor Swift.Can a foreigner lose their accent? ›
Though it's challenging to lose your accent entirely, it is possible to change it. To improve your pronunciation skills, you'll need to exercise both your mouth and ears. There's actually a whole field of language coaching dedicated to this called accent reduction or modification.Does Adele speak Cockney? ›
Adele is a famous British singer and who better to learn English with than her. She has a distinctive cockney accent at times and at other times she speaks with received pronunciation.What is Adele's accent? ›
Adele is not a cockney (The joy of small things, 20 November). Adele is from north London, which has its own accent, and is definitely not within the sound of Bow bells.What American accent is closest to British? ›
While the accent of the American South might be difficult to comprehend for many students of the English language, its original form was actually much closer to British English, albeit with a playful inflection.What did America call the British? ›
The term 'lime-juicers', considered hilarious by Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, gradually became 'limeys', describing British land-lubbers as well as sailors and eventually losing any connection with the sea. It was then adopted by Americans in the early 20th century.Why do British people say Zed? ›
The primary exception, of course, is in the United States where “z” is pronounced “zee”. The British and others pronounce “z”, “zed”, owing to the origin of the letter “z”, the Greek letter “Zeta”. This gave rise to the Old French “zede”, which resulted in the English “zed” around the 15th century.Why does every villain have a British accent? ›
The reason, as linguist Chi Luu recently explained in JSTOR Daily, is that the accent lends itself well to the particular qualities that make for a compelling movie villain, a cocktail of traits more nuanced than just “pure evil.” Research has shown that speaking in the received pronunciation accent — the “posh” ...How do British actors get rid of their accent? ›
In order to sound American, she said, British actors have to master the rhotic "R" sound — the hard R — and form vowels differently, shifting the focus away from the roof of the mouth. And then they have to learn regional dialects. New Yorkers drop the hard R.Is the Joker British? ›
The Joker is American. The accent used by The Joker is an American accent clearly. But as Usama said in his answer the accent is obviously a high class American accent that can be mistaken for a British one.
Do Americans speak like old British? ›
As a result, although there are plenty of variations, modern American pronunciation is generally more akin to at least the 18th-Century British kind than modern British pronunciation.Why do Romans always have British accents in movies? ›
The roles had British accents in plays about those periods because the actors in the plays were British, and it became a familiar part of the portrayal. For whatever reason a lot of English-speaking audiences seem to feel that a British accent imparts a sense of seriousness and artistry and respectability.What was Audrey Hepburn's accent? ›
The way it strikes me, her accent is British but it has a tiny bit of Dutch influence and, after years in America, some American English influence.What country has most accents? ›
Spoken English shows great variation across regions where it is the predominant language. For example, the United Kingdom has the largest variation of accents of any country in the world, and therefore no single "British accent" exists.How many accents does Britain have? ›
There are more than 40 accents in use across the British Isles. Blame travel, but also not travelling. BBC History Revealed explains… As an island, Britain has juggled two conflicting influences on its languages.Why are there American versions of British shows? ›
Quick Answer: American television networks like to port successful British material because it's proven to have a market with audiences. They tend to Americanize the shows, using the stories and characters in an American setting in hopes that people will better identify with the stories.Why does everyone in Game of Thrones have an English accent? ›
Originally Answered: Why do characters in the TV series Game of Thrones speak in British accents? The production company and the cable network HBO may be American, but the series is filmed primarily in Belfast and on location in Northern Ireland, plus locations in the British Isles, Iceland and Europe.Is Game of Thrones a British or American show? ›
Game of Thrones is an American fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for HBO.Why does Angelina Jolie use a British accent? ›
Though the accent was rooted in the dialect of a fantasy kingdom, Jolie based it on Eleanor Audley's, who created the voice for the original animated version in Sleeping Beauty.What British shows did America copy? ›
|UK original||US remake|
|Mr. Men and Little Miss||The Mr. Men Show|
|Never Mind the Buzzcocks||Never Mind The Buzzcocks|
|Not the Nine O'Clock News||Not Necessarily the News|
|The Office||The Office|
What is the oldest British TV show still running? ›
|No. of broadcast years (after year of first broadcast)||Title||Airing between|
|77||Lord Mayor's Show||1937–1938, 1946–present|
|66||Eurovision Song Contest||1956–present|
|65||The Sky at Night||1957–Present|
A telly is a television.Are English accents genetic? ›
Unlike perfect pitch, accents are not influenced by a person's genetics. Generally speaking, the way we pronounce words can be molded by regular interaction with people in our environment.Can your accent change from watching TV? ›
However, the study also concluded that simply being exposed to television is not sufficient to cause accent change; for someone's speech to alter, they need to regularly watch the show and become emotionally engaged with the characters.Why did Johnny Depp develop an accent? ›
It is also believed that the actor has developed Foreign Accent Syndrome. According to Marca, it is a, “speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a foreign accent.” This rare condition develops after traumatic head injuries.What accent does Arya Stark have? ›
Wait a minute: not all of the Starks speak with the Northern accent. Arya, Bran, and Sansa have somewhat generic Southern accents, in fact. How to spot it: These accents are referred to as Southern British English.Is the House of Dragons British? ›
House of the Dragon is an American fantasy drama television series created by George R. R. Martin and Ryan Condal for HBO. A prequel to Game of Thrones (2011–2019), it is the second TV show in the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik served as the showrunners for the first season.Do Americans watch British TV? ›
If you watch television in America, you're probably a fan of British TV -- and might not even realize it. U.S. audiences have long enjoyed programs from across the Atlantic.Why did Katharine Hepburn have a British accent? ›
Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars including Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Orson Welles employed what's known as a “Mid-Atlantic accent,” a sort of American-British hybrid of speaking that relies on tricks like dropping “R” sounds and softening vowels, in order to convey wealth and ...What accent Harry Potter has? ›
British accent is an accent commonlyspoken by the people from the United Kingdom (UK) that has several kinds. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone is famous film starred by the British actors who use different kinds of British accent.