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Can a quiz guess your English dialect?

I’ve had fun seeing if a computer program can guess my dialect. This quiz guesses which English dialect you speak after you select the most ‘correct’ sounding sentences from multiple choices. It still got my dialect more-or-less right despite me being unsure which sentences sounded fine and which didn’t! (In an artificial situation it’s hard).

It guessed that my first language is English (it is) with second guesses being Romanian or Norwegian and that my most likely dialects in order were Welsh, England English or South African (English is right, but I grew up fairly close to Wales). I’m not sure why it suggested Romanian, an Italic language, along with the two other Germanic ones, I’d have expected see the same language families!

However, it was less accurate when my boyfriend – who is from the same part of the country as me- had a go. The quiz suggested that his first language was Norwegian (with Swedish or English as second and third most likely), and his most likely dialects were Australian, New Zealandish or Singaporean. Is someone with Norwegian as a first language likely to have an Australian dialect? I guess this is one of the areas the program will need ‘teaching’ more about.

There’s a quiz which guesses which American dialect you speak (I had a go despite not being from America and while most of my answers were very unlike any of the dialects, it suggested my dialect is closest to that of someone from Yonkers, New York or Honolulu), but it would be nice to see a quiz try to guess a UK dialect. I found a not-too-terrible one , but it relies on typical slang from that region, which most of the time I knew but don’t use myself. Most of the answers screamed which region they were meant to represent so the quiz might as well have just asked me which dialect I spoke outright. Plus being able to select multiple answers would have been better.

The worldwide English dialect quiz relies mainly on grammatical structure, the American dialect quiz on vocabulary and pronunciation, and the UK dialect quiz on slang. My gut instinct tells me grammatical structure and non-slang vocabulary are going to be the most accurate when asking people which phrases or words are ‘correct’. This is because slang is perhaps likely to be associated with a particular class as well as with a region, plus its problems with obviousness I moaned about above. On the whole grammatical structures and non-slang vocabulary are perhaps less tied to class (but equally indicative of dialect) than slang, so less stigmatised when you ask people to pick one. Pronunciation is also good (as used in the American dialect quiz), as it’s a hugely distinctive factor in a dialect.

Doing these quizzes makes me want to make one of my own! If anyone finds a better UK dialect quiz it would be nice to see it.

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The importance of dialects

I’ve just finished listening to Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

I haven’t read any really enjoyable books recently so I’m so glad I ended the year with the audiobook of this one. I didn’t particularly enjoy My Fair Lady, the musical based on this play, so I didn’t have high expectations. However, I really enjoyed Pygmalion and thought it was a different entity to the musical (although I couldn’t help occasionally imagining the characters breaking into song when they said a line that some of the songs are based on!).

Great characters, nicely depicted setting and a good, humorous story. Plus it uses concepts from sociolinguistics and as a linguistics graduate I couldn’t help enjoying it! I’d certainly try to see it if there is ever a production of it at a local theatre.

I’m fascinated by accents and having lived in various places over the UK I’ve been interested to know how other people perceive my accent. I’m from South West England and although I have some identifying features, when I went to university in Scotland most people described my accent as ‘posh’. A friend later told me that when she initially met me she assumed I would be ‘stuck up’. At university, with a mix of accents from everywhere I blended in fine. However on a work placement as an Online Exhibition Assistant I felt very out of place among my Scottish work colleagues and longed to be able to tone down my ‘posh’ accent. While I’m thankful for my pretty standard accent most of the time, it would be nice to have the homeliness of non-RP accent sometimes, but maybe not quite as much of one as Eliza Dolittle’s!