British English
Native toUnited Kingdom
Early forms
Standard forms
Latin (English alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
United Kingdom (originally England)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

British English is the standard dialect of the English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom.[5] Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland, North East England, Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken,[6] so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".[7]

Colloquial portmanteau words for British English include: Bringlish (recorded from 1967), Britglish (1973), Britlish (1976), Brenglish (1993) and Brilish (2011).[8]


English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the northern Netherlands. The resident population at this time was generally speaking Common Brittonic—the insular variety of continental Celtic, which was influenced by the Roman occupation. This group of languages (Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric) cohabited alongside English into the modern period, but due to their remoteness from the Germanic languages, influence on English was notably limited. However, the degree of influence remains debated, and it has recently been argued that its grammatical influence accounts for the substantial innovations noted between English and the other West Germanic languages.[9]

Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. The original Old English language was then influenced by two waves of invasion: the first was by speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family, who settled in parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries; the second was the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke Old Norman and ultimately developed an English variety of this called Anglo-Norman. These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to some degree (though it was never a truly mixed language in the strictest sense of the word; mixed languages arise from the cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid tongue for basic communication).

The more idiomatic, concrete and descriptive English is, the more it is from Anglo-Saxon origins. The more intellectual and abstract English is, the more it contains Latin and French influences e.g. swine (like the Germanic schwein) is the animal in the field bred by the occupied Anglo-Saxons and pork (like the French porc) is the animal at the table eaten by the occupying Normans.[10]

Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance branch of the European languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and with a huge vocabulary.


Dialects and accents vary amongst the four countries of the United Kingdom, as well as within the countries themselves.

The major divisions are normally classified as English English (or English as spoken in England, which encompasses Southern English dialects, West Country dialects, East and West Midlands English dialects and Northern English dialects), Ulster English in Northern Ireland, Welsh English (not to be confused with the Welsh language), and Scottish English (not to be confused with the Scots language or Scottish Gaelic language). The various British dialects also differ in the words that they have borrowed from other languages. Around the middle of the 15th century, there were points where within the 5 major dialects there were almost 500 ways to spell the word though.[11]

Following its last major survey of English Dialects (1949–1950), the University of Leeds has started work on a new project. In May 2007 the Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded a grant to Leeds to study British regional dialects.[12][13]

The team are[a] sifting through a large collection of examples of regional slang words and phrases turned up by the "Voices project" run by the BBC, in which they invited the public to send in examples of English still spoken throughout the country. The BBC Voices project also collected hundreds of news articles about how the British speak English from swearing through to items on language schools. This information will also be collated and analysed by Johnson's team both for content and for where it was reported. "Perhaps the most remarkable finding in the Voices study is that the English language is as diverse as ever, despite our increased mobility and constant exposure to other accents and dialects through TV and radio".[13] When discussing the award of the grant in 2007, Leeds University stated:

that they were "very pleased"—and indeed, "well chuffed"—at receiving their generous grant. He could, of course, have been "bostin" if he had come from the Black Country, or if he was a Scouser he would have been well "made up" over so many spondoolicks, because as a Geordie might say, £460,000 is a "canny load of chink".[14]


Most people in Britain speak with a regional accent or dialect. However, about 2% of Britons speak with an accent called Received Pronunciation[15] (also called "the Queen's English", "Oxford English" and "BBC English"[16]), that is essentially region-less.[17][18] It derives from a mixture of the Midlands and Southern dialects spoken in London in the early modern period.[18] It is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners.[18]

In the South East there are significantly different accents; the Cockney accent spoken by some East Londoners is strikingly different from Received Pronunciation (RP). The Cockney rhyming slang can be (and was initially intended to be) difficult for outsiders to understand,[19] although the extent of its use is often somewhat exaggerated.

Estuary English has been gaining prominence in recent decades: it has some features of RP and some of Cockney. In London itself, the broad local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Caribbean speech. Immigrants to the UK in recent decades have brought many more languages to the country. Surveys started in 1979 by the Inner London Education Authority discovered over 100 languages being spoken domestically by the families of the inner city's schoolchildren. As a result, Londoners speak with a mixture of accents, depending on ethnicity, neighbourhood, class, age, upbringing, and sundry other factors.[citation needed]

Since the mass internal immigration to Northamptonshire in the 1940s and its position between several major accent regions, it has become a source of various accent developments. In Northampton the older accent has been influenced by overspill Londoners. There is an accent known locally as the Kettering accent, which is a transitional accent between the East Midlands and East Anglian. It is the last southern Midlands accent to use the broad "a" in words like bath/grass (i.e. barth/grarss). Conversely crass/plastic use a slender "a". A few miles northwest in Leicestershire the slender "a" becomes more widespread generally. In the town of Corby, five miles (8 km) north, one can find Corbyite, which unlike the Kettering accent, is largely influenced by the West Scottish accent.

In addition, many British people can to some degree temporarily "swing" their accent towards a more neutral form of English at will, to reduce difficulty where very different accents are involved, or when speaking to foreigners.[citation needed]