Do you and your friends or family have a secret code?

A “language” that you speak: inside jokes, turns of phrase, or other unique features.

These idiosyncrasies bond us and distinguish our in-group from “others.”

Dialect and accent work similarly. They occur naturally when any localized group comes together, forming its own code.

Sometimes the code evolves into a whole new language.

The Proto-Germanic language is just one example.

You can see the linguistic branches grow from the Proto-Germanic trunk which, itself, is rooted in Indo-European language.

Dutch, Swedish, and English are all branches springing from this one Common Germanic mother tongue.

As the regions grew isolated, their language evolved over centuries into different Germanic languages, just as those of the Dravidian languages in Southeast Asia or the Ibero-Romance group of languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese), which sprung from Vulgar Latin.

This is why the structural features – and oftentimes the vocabulary – of Proto-Germanic languages are similar.

Last week, we talked a little about how accents form in isolation.

Let’s explore this further by looking at the variances in English accents and dialects that exist across the UK today.

The Many Dialects of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a treasure trove of language.

From its single base language of English, dozens of accents and dialects have sprung up.

Tom F. of Education First writes:

“There are almost 40 different dialects in the UK that sound totally different from each other, and in many cases use different spellings and word structure. In fact, there’s pretty much one accent per county.”

This is due to both the UK’s long history with the language, reaching back through 1400 years of English, as well as to its isolation as an island.

Further, rural inhabitants were largely immobile across many generations, making their villages even more isolated from outsiders.

Accent vs. Dialect

Before we go further, let’s differentiate between accents and dialect.

An accent is the way in which words are pronounced, while dialect is the specific vocabulary used in a region.

When examining accents and dialect under the microscope, the UK, in particular, is an interesting specimen.

In a country the size of Oregon, dozens of unique accents and dialects exist, including Cockney, Brummie, Geordie, Scouse, West Country, Yorkshire…you get the picture.

Although each is speaking a version of English, some accents and dialects are difficult for even other Brits to understand.

They are coded.

Next week, we’ll try to unlock some of these codes.

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