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British English

British English refers to the different forms of English spoken in the United Kingdom. In particular it often refers to the written Standard English and the pronunciation known as Received Pronunciation (RP).

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Written language

The written language is known as Standard English and dates back to the early 16th century in its current form. It is primarily based on dialects from the South East of England and is used by newspapers and official publications. Standard written English is basically the same in every English-speaking country, apart from a few minor points of spelling, such as colo(u)r, travel(l)er.

Written accents

Despite common assumption, English is an accented language; even if most of the accented words are imported from other languages.

Some examples: ångström, appliqué, attaché, blasé, bric-à-brac, naïve, résumé. Please add to this list.


The British Isles is the most linguistically diverse area in the English-speaking world. Significant changes in accent and dialect may occur within one region.

The three major divisions are normally classified as Southern English dialects, Northern English dialects and Scots dialects.

The various English dialects differ in the words which they have borrowed from other languages. The Scottish and Northern dialects include many words originally borrowed from Old Norse and a few borrowed from Gaelic.

There are thus many differences between the various English dialects. These can be a major impediment to understanding among the older dialects, generally found within the United Kingdom. However, modern communications and mass media have reduced these differences significantly. In addition, speakers of very different dialects may modify their speech, and particularly vocabulary, towards Standard English.


The accent known to many people outside the United Kingdom as British English is Received Pronunciation, which is defined as the educated spoken English of southeastern England. Earlier it was held as better than other accents and referred to as the King's (or Queen's) English, or even "BBC English". Originally this was the form of English used by radio and television. However, for several decades other accents have been accepted and are frequently heard, although stereotypes about the BBC persist. English spoken with a mild Scottish accent has a reputation for being especially easy to understand.

Even in the south east there are significantly different accents. The local inner east London accent called Cockney is strikingly different from Received Pronunciation and can be difficult for outsiders to understand.

There is a new form of accent called Estuary English that has been gaining prominence in recent decades: it is has some features of Received Pronunciation and some of Cockney. In London itself, the broad local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Black speech. Londoners speak with a mixture of these accents, depending on class, age, upbringing, and so on.

English outside the British Isles

American English, Canadian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, Indian English and Pidgin English are among the many newer English dialects that have emerged since the period of emigration from Great Britain during the expansion of the British Empire. Dialect differences are not, in general, an impediment to understanding among the newer overseas dialects, which are for the most part, linguistically very close to each other since, apart from Pidgin, they are all based on Standard English. For examples of differences however, see American and British English Differences. A literate, educated English speaker will generally know many forms. Due to the wide reach of US media vis-à-vis the more limited impact of contemporary British culture in the US, knowledge of American English in Britain is more common than the reverse.

For more on borrowed words, see the Articles on English language, American English, Australian English, etc.

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