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  1. Adverbial
  2. Agentive ending
  3. Ain't
  4. American and British English differences
  5. American and British English pronunciation differences
  6. American and British English spelling differences
  7. American English
  8. Amn't
  9. Anglophone
  10. Anglosphere
  11. Apostrophe
  12. Australian English
  13. Benjamin Franklin's phonetic alphabet
  14. Bracket
  15. British and American keyboards
  16. British English
  17. Canadian English
  18. Certificate of Proficiency in English
  19. Classical compound
  20. Cockney
  21. Colon
  22. Comma
  23. Comma splice
  24. Cut Spelling
  25. Dangling modifier
  26. Dash
  27. Definite article reduction
  28. Disputed English grammar
  29. Don't-leveling
  30. Double copula
  31. Double negative
  32. Ellipsis
  33. English alphabet
  34. English compound
  35. English declension
  36. English English
  37. English grammar
  38. English honorifics
  39. English irregular verbs
  40. English language learning and teaching
  41. English modal auxiliary verb
  42. English orthography
  43. English passive voice
  44. English personal pronouns
  45. English phonology
  46. English plural
  47. English relative clauses
  48. English spelling reform
  49. English verbs
  50. English words with uncommon properties
  51. Estuary English
  52. Exclamation mark
  53. Foreign language influences in English
  54. Full stop
  55. Generic you
  56. Germanic strong verb
  57. Gerund
  58. Going-to future
  59. Grammatical tense
  60. Great Vowel Shift
  61. Guillemets
  62. Habitual be
  63. History of linguistic prescription in English
  64. History of the English language
  65. Hyphen
  66. I before e except after c
  67. IELTS
  68. Initial-stress-derived noun
  69. International Phonetic Alphabet for English
  70. Interpunct
  71. IPA chart for English
  72. It's me
  73. Languages of the United Kingdom
  74. Like
  75. List of animal adjectives
  76. List of British idioms
  77. List of British words not widely used in the United States
  78. List of case-sensitive English words
  79. List of commonly confused homonyms
  80. List of common misspellings in English
  81. List of common words that have two opposite senses
  82. List of dialects of the English language
  83. List of English apocopations
  84. List of English auxiliary verbs
  85. List of English homographs
  86. List of English irregular verbs
  87. List of English prepositions
  88. List of English suffixes
  89. List of English words invented by Shakespeare
  90. List of English words of Celtic origin
  91. List of English words of Italian origin
  92. List of English words with disputed usage
  93. List of frequently misused English words
  94. List of Fumblerules
  95. List of homophones
  96. List of -meters
  97. List of names in English with non-intuitive pronunciations
  98. List of words having different meanings in British and American English
  99. List of words of disputed pronunciation
  100. London slang
  101. Longest word in English
  102. Middle English
  103. Modern English
  104. Names of numbers in English
  105. New Zealand English
  106. Northern subject rule
  107. Not!
  108. NuEnglish
  109. Oxford spelling
  110. Personal pronoun
  111. Phonological history of the English language
  112. Phrasal verb
  113. Plural of virus
  114. Possessive adjective
  115. Possessive antecedent
  116. Possessive me
  117. Possessive of Jesus
  118. Possessive pronoun
  119. Preposition stranding
  120. Pronunciation of English th
  121. Proper adjective
  122. Question mark
  123. Quotation mark
  124. Received Pronunciation
  125. Regional accents of English speakers
  126. Rhyming slang
  127. Run-on sentence
  128. Scouse
  129. Semicolon
  130. Semordnilap
  131. Serial comma
  132. Shall and will
  133. Silent E
  134. Singular they
  135. Slash
  136. SoundSpel
  137. Space
  138. Spelling reform
  139. Split infinitive
  140. Subjective me
  141. Suffix morpheme
  142. Tag question
  143. Than
  144. The Reverend
  145. Third person agreement leveling
  146. Thou
  147. TOEFL
  148. TOEIC
  149. Truespel
  150. University of Cambridge ESOL examination
  151. Weak form and strong form
  152. Welsh English
  153. Who
  154. You

This article is from:

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Languages of the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The United Kingdom does not have a constitutionally defined official language. English is the main language (being spoken monolingually by more than 70% of the UK population) and is thus the de facto official language.


Complication arises from language ability. Some low ability learners/users record themselves as speakers of various languages, while some who are (near-)fluent may choose not to, due to the stigma attached to some minority languages. [citation needed]


Bilingual road sign in Cardiff.
Bilingual road sign in Cardiff.

According to the 2001 census, Welsh is spoken by about 20% of the population of Wales, giving it around 600,000 speakers. However, there is some controversy over the actual number who speak Welsh. Some statistics choose to include people who have studied Welsh to at least GCSE standard, not all of whom could be regarded as fluent speakers of the language. Unlike Scottish Gaelic, which is sometimes viewed as a regional language even in Scotland itself, Welsh has long been strongly associated with nationalism. This phenomenon, also seen with other minorised languages outside the UK, makes it harder to establish an accurate and unbiased figure for how many people speak it fluently. Furthermore, no question about Welsh-language ability was asked in the 2001 census outside Wales, thereby ignoring a considerable population of Welsh speakers - particularly concentrated in neighbouring English counties and in London and other large cities.


Main article: Language in Scotland
Bilingual sign (English and Scottish Gaelic) at Partick railway station, Glasgow
Bilingual sign (English and Scottish Gaelic) at Partick railway station, Glasgow

Scottish Gaelic has about 60,000 speakers according to the 2001 census (roughly 1% of the population of Scotland). (Lowland) Scots is spoken by 30% of the Scottish population according to the 1996 estimate of the General Register Office for Scotland (approximately 1.5 million speakers).

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, about 7% of the population speak Irish according to the 2001 census (around 110,000 speakers) and 2% regional forms of Scots according to the 1999 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (around 30,000 speakers). Alongside British Sign Language, Irish Sign Language is also used.


Cornish is spoken by roughly 3,500 people (about 0.6% of the population of Cornwall), as a result of recent revival. Before that, it died out: see Dolly Pentreath.

British Sign Language

British Sign Language is understood by less than 0.1% of the total population of the UK.


Certain nations and regions of the UK have frameworks for the promotion of their autochthonous languages.

  • In Wales, the Welsh Language Act 1993 requires English and Welsh to be treated equally throughout the public sector.
  • In Scotland the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 gave the Scottish Gaelic language its first statutory basis; and the Western Isles region of Scotland has a policy to promote the language.
  • In Northern Ireland, Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English (mainly in publicly commissioned translations).

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of:

  • Cornish (in Cornwall)
  • Irish and Ulster Scots (in Northern Ireland)
  • Scots and Scottish Gaelic (in Scotland)
  • Welsh (in Wales)

Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (which is not legally enforceable, but which requires states to adopt appropriate legal provision for the use of regional and minority languages) the UK government has committed itself to the recognition of certain regional languages and the promotion of certain linguistic traditions. The UK has ratified[1] for the higher level of protection (Section III) provided for by the Charter in respect of Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish. Cornish, Scots in Scotland and Northern Ireland (in the latter territory officially known as Ulster Scots or Ullans, but in the speech of users simply as Scotch or Scots) are protected by the lower level only (Section II). The UK government has also recognised British Sign Language as a language in its own right[2] of the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland, the department responsible for culture displays official administrative identity in English, Irish and Ulster Scots
In Northern Ireland, the department responsible for culture displays official administrative identity in English, Irish and Ulster Scots

A number of bodies have been established to oversee the promotion of the regional languages: in Scotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig oversees Scottish Gaelic. Foras na Gaeilge has an all-Ireland remit as a cross-border language body, and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch is intended to fulfil a similar function for Ulster Scots, although hitherto it has mainly concerned itself with culture. In Wales, the Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg) has a statutory role in agreeing Welsh language plans with official bodies.

Kesva an Taves Kernewek, the Cornish Language Board, has local government involvement but does not enjoy statutory status.


Language vs dialect

There are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing languages from dialects, although a number of paradigms exist, which render sometimes contradictory results. The exact distinction is therefore a subjective one, dependent on the user's frame of reference. (See Dialect)

Scottish Gaelic and Irish are generally viewed as being languages in their own right rather than dialects of a single tongue but are sometimes mutually intelligible to a limited degree - especially between southern dialects of Scottish and northern dialects of Irish (programmes in each form of Gaelic are broadcast on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta), but the relationship of Scots and English is less clear, since there is usually partial mutual intelligibility.

Since there is a high level of mutual intelligibility between contemporary speakers of Scots in Scotland and Ulster (Ulster Scots), and a common written form was current well into the 20th century, the two varieties have usually been considered as dialects of a single tongue rather than languages in their own right. The government of the United Kingdom "recognises that Scots and Ulster Scots meet the Charter's definition of a regional or minority language"[3]. Whether this implies recognition of one regional or minority language or two is a question of interpretation. Ulster Scots is defined in legislation (The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999) as: the variety of the Scots language which has traditionally been used in parts of Northern Ireland and in Donegal in Ireland [4].

Notwithstanding legal definitions, Scots and Ulster Scots are considered dialects of English by some.

While in continental Europe closely related languages and dialects may get official recognition and support, in the UK there is a tendency to view closely related vernaculars as a single language. Even British Sign Language is mistakenly thought of as a form of 'English' by some, rather than being language in its own right, with a distinct grammar and vocabulary. The boundaries not always being clear cut can lead to problems in estimating numbers of speakers.


In Northern Ireland, the use of Irish and Ulster Scots is sometimes politically loaded, despite both having been used by all communities in the past; according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 1999, the ratio of Unionist to Nationalist users of Ulster Scots is 2:1. Also, some resent Scottish Gaelic being promoted in the Lowlands, although it was once spoken in the majority of Scotland, though perhaps not the extreme south-east of the country, which had been part of Northumbria.

Two areas with mostly Norse-derived placenames (and some Pictish), the Northern Isles (Shetland and Orkney) were ceded to Scotland in lieu of an unpaid dowry in 1472, and never spoke Gaelic; its traditional vernacular Norn, a derivative of Old Norse mutually intelligible with Icelandic and Faroese, died out in the 18th century after large-scale immigration by Lowland Scots speakers. To this day, many Shetlanders and Orcadians maintain a separate identity, albeit through the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects of Lowland Scots, rather than their former national tongue. Norn was also spoken at one point in Caithness, and possibly the Western Isles, apparently dying out much earlier than Shetland and Orkney. However, Gaelic replaced Norn entirely in the Western Isles; to what degree this happened in Caithness is a matter of controversy, although it was spoken in parts of the county until the 20th century.


Scots within Scotland and the regional varieties of English within England receive little or no public support, and are often used for comedic purposes in British media. The dialects of northern England share some features with Scots that those of southern England do not.

Public funding of minority languages continues to produce mixed reactions, and there is sometimes resistance to their teaching in schools. Partly as a result, proficiency in languages other than "Standard" English can vary widely.


The status of Cornish is also highly controversial. For example, it is commonly claimed in literature to be dead. Or that the entire body of speakers are "learners", or are mostly of low proficiency.

Certainly, a number of children are being brought up to speak the language, and their Cornish may be viewed as being analogous to the position of speakers of the revived form of Hebrew. Cornish has also had problems with factionalism, which has led to some infighting.

There is some public resistance to Cornish as a dead language, something which also affects minority languages in areas they are no longer commonly spoken.

Languages and dialects in the United Kingdom



  • English (British English)
    • Cant/Shelta
    • Cockney rhyming slang
    • English English [1] (as spoken in England)
    • English English [2] (the Germanic elements of English, pre 1066)
    • Estuary English
    • Geordie
    • East Midlands English
    • West Midlands English
    • Hiberno (Irish) English
      • Mid Ulster English
    • Polari
    • Scouse
    • Scottish Standard English
      • Scottish Lowland English
      • Highland English
    • Sign Supported English (a sign language based on English, not BSL)
    • Tyke
    • Cumbrian
  • Scots [5]
    • Ulster Scots[6]
    • Doric
    • Glaswegian

Celtic languages

  • Brythonic languages
    • Cornish[7]
    • Welsh[8]
  • Goidelic languages
    • Irish[9]
      • Ulster
    • Scottish Gaelic[10]
      • Galwegian

Other Indo-European

  • Romany
  • Angloromani
  • Welsh Romani

Sign languages

  • British Sign Language
    • Makaton
  • Irish Sign Language
  • Northern Ireland Sign Language
  • Sign Supported English
  • Tic-tac


Sign in English and Punjabi at Southall railway station, Southall, Middlesex
Sign in English and Punjabi at Southall railway station, Southall, Middlesex

Communities migrating 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 school children. Among the more widespread languages spoken are:

  • Afrikaans
  • Arabic
  • Bengali
  • Cantonese
  • Various Caribbean languages
  • French
  • Greek
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Somali
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Turkish
  • Urdu


  • Anglo-Norman
  • Flemish
  • French
  • Insular Celtic languages
    • Brythonic languages
      • Breton
      • British (Celtic)
      • Cumbric
    • Goidelic languages
  • Latin
  • Old English
  • Old Norse
    • Norn

Historic (hypothesised)

  • Ivernic
  • Pictish
  • Southwestern Brythonic

Some UK placenames (e.g. Tardebigge) show evidence of a pre-Indo-European language.

Other official languages

Norman French is still used in the Houses of Parliament for certain official business between the clerks of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and on other official occasions such as the dissolution of Parliament.

Latin is also used to a limited degree in certain official mottos e.g. Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, legal terminology (habeas corpus, and various ceremonial contexts. Latin abbreviations can also be seen on British coins. The use of Latin has declined greatly in recent years.

Languages of Channel Islands and Isle of Man

The Channel Islands and Isle of Man are not part of the UK, but are closely associated with it. Their languages are recognised as regional languages by the British and Irish governments within the framework of the British-Irish Council.

  • Manx (Isle of Man)
  • Jèrriais (Jersey)
  • Dgèrnésiais (Guernsey)

The Sercquiais (Sark) dialect is descended from Jèrriais, but is not recognised under this framework. Auregnais, the dialect of Alderney, is now extinct.

See also

  • Regional accents of English speakers
  • British literature
  • Languages of the European Union
  • European languages
  • Celtic languages
  • History of the Scots language
  • Gaelic road signs in Scotland


  • Trudgill, Peter (ed.), Language in the British Isles, Cambridge University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-521-28409-0
  1. ^
  2. ^ Hansard, 18 March 2003
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Charter that it recognises that Scots and Ulster Scots meet the Charter's definition of a regional or minority language for the purposes of Part II of the Charter."
  6. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Charter that it recognises that Scots and Ulster Scots meet the Charter's definition of a regional or minority language for the purposes of Part II of the Charter."
  7. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 1, of the Charter that it recognises that Cornish meets the Charter's definition of a regional or minority language for the purposes of Part II of the Charter."
  8. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 2 and Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Charter that it will apply the following provisions for the purposes of Part III of the Charter to Welsh, Scottish-Gaelic and Irish."
  9. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 2 and Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Charter that it will apply the following provisions for the purposes of Part III of the Charter to Welsh, Scottish-Gaelic and Irish."
  10. ^ "The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 2 and Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Charter that it will apply the following provisions for the purposes of Part III of the Charter to Welsh, Scottish-Gaelic and Irish."
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