English language as we know it came to life through a number of different Germanic dialects from both Germany and Denmark. They came to the UK through Anglo-Saxon settlers around 1,500 years ago and now, England is home to over 30 regional dialects. After the Second World War, there was more social and geographical mobility as well as more access to broadcast media. This all had a tremendous effect on the language across England.
Findings from Accent Bias Britain show that there are certain biases and stereotypes that are reinforced across the UK. A person’s dialect reflects their social background, not their intelligence. But, because dialect is often linked to social class, ethnicity or other target discriminatory beliefs, it becomes a substitute for other forms of inequality.
There may be a view that regional dialects are disappearing, and received pronunciation (RP) has become the gold standard. However, local lingo is still prevalent in the nooks and crannies of England and will confuse even the most well-versed linguaphiles. The use of regional dialects in advertising can help get your message across to specific audiences. Although, they are also used to reinforce potentially unwanted stereotypes.
Are regional dialects making you sound friendly?
Regardless of whether we are examining dialects like Brummie, Geordie or Scouse, the English dialects show differences in speakers’ family’s social class, their age and their social networks. They are also considered more ‘real’ and therefore more trustworthy. Starting from the North and working our way South, we’ve dug into the top six most well known dialects. How do they differ and how best to use them?
Geordie – One of the hardest dialects for outsiders to understand. So hard in fact that the film I, Daniel Blake was provided with subtitles at the Cannes Film Festival. Geordies pronounce ng as n, replace r at the end of words with ‘ah’ (i.e. sug-ah) and their vowels are broad. It’s considered the most attractive and friendliest dialect in the UK – wey aye, man!
Scouse – This is one of Britain’s best known dialects, mainly due to the success of The Beatles. Scousers replaces k at the end of a word with a sound similar to the throaty sound in the Scottish word loch. They also roll their rs and have a general rising intonation. Somehow the rest of the country is putting little trust in Scouse speakers, however we think they’re just boss.
Brummie – Unfairly ridiculed throughout England. However, Brummie is soft and elastic, has a downward intonation at the end of sentences, swaps r at the end of words with a (i.e. wat-a) and ts are heavily pronounced at the end of words. Tara-a-bit, bab!
RP – Also known as the Queen’s English or BBC English and mainly spoken in the Home Counties and London. It is less used with the general public, however it still holds monopoly with villains in Hollywood movies. It’s a flat dialect where a is elongated and o is pronounced as ou. Regarded as the dialect of the aristocracy and is seen as trustworthy.
Cockney – One of the most famous English dialects other than RP. It developed as a dialect of the working class in London’s East End and is still regarded as a marker of true East London heritage. It swaps th for f, drops h in the beginning of words and elongates a and e. Another significant feature is the glottal stop where water sounds like wa-er. This is the language of the working class. It also came a close second to being most untrustworthy after Scouse.
We can’t mention Cockney without talking about rhyming slang. This was invented in the 1840s by market traders in London’s East End. It was most likely first used to disguise what was actually being said from passers by. One of the most famous rhyming pairs is ‘dog and bone’ meaning phone. As the slang developed, the rhyming part of the word was removed making it even harder for the listener to decipher – pick up the dog and give her a bell!
West Country – Often dubbed as the pirate and farmer dialect of England. You can hear r similarly pronounced as in America and Canada, th become f and -ing is replaced by -en. Different to RP, the a in the word bath is flat similar to the a in cat. Bring out the scrumpy, it’s gert lush!
Dialect bias and stereotypes
Non-standard, working-class dialects are often downrated due to the social biases they carry. Biases that can be less favourable in job interviews for example. On the other hand, dialects historically perceived as prestigious are rated more favourably. When put next to a regional dialect they are often the preferred choice.These biases and stereotypes will affect how your adverts are perceived. But, it can also be an advantage that you play to, to get a specific message across.
Scouse and Geordie are perceived as the two friendliest dialects in the UK. It is also well known that the Brummie dialect is the most disliked across England. A study by Bath Spa University showed that participants considered speaking in a Brummie dialect sounded less intelligent than someone being silent.
Cockney speakers are thought to be sounding like builders, people from the West Country like farmers and speakers of RP are perceived as being particularly posh. How do you use this to your advantage on a national level when creating captivating advertising campaigns? Do you play into the stereotypes to get your message across? Or do you try to break down these biases by using neutral voices?
How to use regional dialects in advertising
Where most national advertising campaigns benefit from neutral dialects, and to some extent neutral regional dialects, regional campaigns are more likely to do well when using local dialects and vocabulary, however not everywhere. According to a study by the Central Office of Information, listeners in Bristol and Birmingham preferred advertising using RP over their own regional dialect. The study also found that across age groups there were differences. Older generations tended to prefer RP, whereas younger people were more engaged with local dialects.
In recent years there has certainly been a shift away from only using RP. Especially the northern dialects have been utilised by advertisers who are bringing their campaigns down to earth. They are aiming to connect with their audiences through less posh, friendly voices. There is also a higher demand for voices who sound exotic to bring diversity into play.
It is well known that if you are selling a luxury product, British English is your go to. If you want to seduce your audience, French will be your number one choice. Playing up to the unwritten rules of stereotypes is being done across the globe. So, when choosing the voice over artist for your next advertising campaign make sure you know exactly what your target audience wants to hear – you don’t want to miss the mark when marketing your highly sophisticated product by using the wrong dialect. And if in doubt, aim wide with RP.
With our studio in Manchester and new location in the heart of Central London, we work with a range of talent with both broad and neutral regional dialects. Contact us to learn more!