How many native speaker dialects can you recognize?

In your native language (or a language you know well) how many dialects can you recognize?

In English, my main language, I can distinguish Boston, New York, South East, and other American, Canadian, Carribean, Southern English and Northern English, Scottish, Irish and Australian.

In Spanish, I can pick out Argentine, Spain, Carribean, and Other.

In French, I can tell the difference between Canada and Europe.

In English I can pick out someone from Darlington, Middlesborough, Newcastle, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, West Cumbria, Borders, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, general west coast and east coast scottish (though no more specific than that). Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester. Then it gets a bit fuzzier so I’d have to deal in general areas rather than 10-mile radiuses, so north and south wales, Stoke and surrounding areas, I’d struggle with Nottingham but east-anglia I’d know, Kent, east-end cockney, The home counties are a bit of a blur to me, Birmingham area, Bristol and the surrounding area and then Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset all merge into one.
I can pick out Australian from Kiwi though not specific areas within, Canadian I could have a fair stab at with the french-inflected differences. In the USA I’d know New-England, New York, Deep South, Texas, California but again, no more specific than that. German I can tell Bavarian from Austrian from Swiss. French, Spanish and Italian I have no a clue.

So I have a very good ear for accents with an accuracy that drops off quickly in those areas I’ve been exposed to very much but perversely I’m woeful at actually learning new languages.

In American English (my native language), I can pick out generic regional accents and specific city accents.

I know there are regional differences between, say, a Dallas accent and an Atlanta accent. And if you played both for me, I would be able to tell you that they were different from each other, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you which was which. Ditto for Savannah, Norfolk, Memphis, Jackson, and so on.

In the most general sense, as far as cities, I can easily identify Baltimore, Chicago, New York/New Joisey, and sometimes New Orleans (depending on how diligently the speaker is not trying to hide it). I can also pick up on the (for lack of a better choice of words) “Valley Girl” accent of Southern California, which by all rights shouldn’t still exist in 2018.

In terms of regions, I can distinguish different Southern accents, but not tell you which was which. I can distinguish Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota) from Lower Midwest (Indiana, Ohio) and General American (my own accent, which is actually a regional accent that more-or-less includes Kansas City, Des Moines, Sioux Falls, Peoria, St. Louis, and points in between).

Foreign English accents: excluding regional differences within each country, I can generally tell Australian from New Zealandian from English-English from Jamaican from Canadian, and so on.

Regional English (England) accents: I can tell the difference between, say, Geordi and Cockney and Mayfair, but almost certainly couldn’t identify them by name.

Foreign languages: if pressed, I could probably pick out a Mexican Spanish speaker from a Spanish Spanish speaker. All the rest (Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, etc.) just sounds the same to me.

Canadian French and French French sound exactly the same to me. As Og is my witness, I wish someone would make a video showing someone in Marseilles and someone in Montreal reading the same text aloud - say, a passage from Hugo or something - so see if I could pick up a difference.

Judging from the number of people in Edinburgh who used to ask me if I was American, a lot of folk are way crapper at this task than they think they are.

The Canadian are quite distinct

I’m terrible at it. Despite living in Canada for 50 years, I still cannot tell Canadian English from that of the mid-Atlantic, excluding Boston and surrounding areas, which are quite distinct. I can readily tell most NYC accents although they are declining. I cannot even tell Philadelphia (where I was raised) from any other mid-Atlantic, although in principle I know several characteristics that do distinguish it (the fact that sad and bad don’t rhyme, for example). Of course, I can hear a southern accent but cannot tell where in the south. And British, although cannot localize it. And Strine is quite different. When I spent some time in Sydney, an American who had lived there for years told me a joke and man in the hospital who, when asked if had come to the hospital to die, answered, “No, I came yesterdie.”

I can recognize (in English) if someone’s from Northern England, Southern England, Ireland or Scotland (those two might take some difficulty), Canada, Australia / NZ (telling those apart would be difficult too), the Anglophone Caribbean, the Upper Midwestern US, New England, New York, or the southern US. That’s about it.

I don’t speak Spanish but I could in very broad terms get some sense whether someone’s from Spain, Argentina, or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (those countries tend to have some distinct pronunciations).

When I lived in Madagascar I could roughly tell which “cardinal direction” of the country (e.g. north, northeast, northwest, southwest, etc.) someone was from.

If you say so. Maybe if they were saying the same words I could have noticed a difference, but it was all Greek (heh) to me.

Spanish: too many to count within Spain, including being able to differentiate multiple variants of Navarro-Aragonés (I’ve got two home dialects, both of which are variants of N-A: Ribero and Cuenco); for the Ribera area I get down to differentiating by village (I’ve had colleagues from other regions who could do the same for their own area). Argentinian, several Mexican flavors, Costa Rican, Puertorriqueño, Chilean…

Catalan: from Barcelona (my own dialect), from Tarragona, Balearic. Whether Valenciano counts as another dialect will be left for the reader to decide, it’s a heavily-loaded political issue.

English: I can tell people are speaking in different dialects, but there’s few I can actually point to in a map. Among other things, in English my memory tends to label dialects with people’s names, perhaps because I’ve often met one or two people who spoke a specific one rather than many at the same time. Before I lived in Scotland I’d hear a Scottish accent and think “that guy kind of sounds like Becky”, Becky being the one Scottish person I’d met at the time. Now I can actually tell Glaswegian from other flavors of Scottish, progress!

Mandarin: Cantonese, Taiwanese, Shanghaiese, Sichuanese and if someone is from the “north”

I can pin a UK accent down to a specific town, if I have known someone who was raised there - for example, Oldham is less than 10 miles from the centre of Manchester - I can distinguish the difference between Oldham and Manchester City accents, because I have spent time working with people from both places.

Outside of the UK, I can distinguish a number of prominent American accents, but without much precision, I can probably distinguish Parisian French from other French accents, but may have trouble placing the others


  • Canadian is extremely obvious. I bet there are many different accents but I can only distinguish two : the generic accent of people in an “official” position (tv journalists, academics and politicians) and the more “folk” accents. The former is strong but intelligible while the latter… well, I need subtitles. I have a much easier time understanding Canadian English than theses varieties of Canadian French !

  • In France, I can easily distinguish Marseille (and the South in general) from standard French. Traditional Parisian French is also noticeable. I guess I could also spot a speaker from the North, close to the Belgian border.

  • Belgium. Old-timey Brussels accent, Eastern (Liège-Verviers) accent and posh Uccle-Walloon Brabant accent. The other accents are a blur.

  • Swiss. There is a generic Swiss accent I recognize immediately but that’s about it, the finer points are lost on me.

35 Accents in the English Language

Not necessarily completely accurate, but good for a giggle.

Once or twice a year some random person, like a cashier or something, will ask me where I’m from. In an oddly confusing manner, I’ll sort of point in the direction of my house and mention whatever city I’m living in at the time (all suburbs of Milwaukee), and they’ll say 'no, your accent, where are you from?" “uhh here?”
The last time it happened I told the person that I get that question from time to time and asked them where they thought I was from to get a feel for how I must be talking but suddenly they decided I didn’t have one and it was all in their head.

The only thing I can guess is that I talk a bit fast, something I’ve always been told and they’re mishearing me and thinking it’s an accent. Somewhere North East maybe? I’m guessing it’s not foreign. But I’m going to start asking more people when they ask me.

Absolutely. And it’s more difficult now to pin down accents among native English speakers in any detail because of how TV/movies homogenize things. Australian (I assume) v US, that shouldn’t be too hard. But the general idea of people thinking they can do this better than they actually can I agree with.

The other aspect is the fallacy that accents are strictly regional, a model many though not all responses so far have adopted. Back in the heyday of accent differentiation in Britain it was recognized accents were as much by social class as location. That’s still somewhat true. Plus they are generational now also.

The ‘New York [City]’ accent for example in stereotypical form is a working class accent and somewhat generational. My ancestors for several generations are from Brooklyn and Queens (boroughs of the city of NY). My mom had somewhat that accent. My dad, his family with more middle/upper middle aspirations, didn’t, and I don’t. It’s rare that ordinary people in other parts of US let alone rest of English speaking world know I’m from NY from my accent. People who really know English language accents could tell, but the great majority of people don’t actually.

You raise some good points, which I should have mentioned in my OP.

Thinking about it, I can generally pick out an African American accent, even if the speaker is not using African American grammatical features.

My understanding is that social class is a stronger component of accent and dialect in Britain than in the United States. So, follow-up question: how well can you determine the social class of someone from how they speak?

I can hear at least 10 English regional accents, 2 or 3 regional Scottish, and I would say 20+ Irish regional accents.
I just aboot tell a Canadian from an American but a lot of people from the likes of Wisconsin sound wild Canadian to me.
American accents I can distinguish a few but not as many as I feel I should be able to, considering the vast size/population of the country.
Jamaican accents are easy enough to spot but can be mixed up easily with other Caribbean English accents.
South African English accent is generally quite distinctive but to my ears overlaps a bit with Kiwi accent.
I can usually tell a Kiwi from an Australian but there are plenty of Kiwis I’ve encountered whose accents don’t have the tells I have come to associate with that country.

On the west side of Lake Michigan, along 200 miles of US-41, I can recognize four: Chicago, Milwaukee, upstate Wisconsin and Yooper.

In the case of Spanish in Spain, the “prestige” accent happens to be a regional one, that of Old Castille and officially centered on Valladolid (people from Ávila or Salamanca sound very similar, the tiny differences are more in vocabulary than pronunciation); the prestige dialect is the same as that regional one minus one grammatical peculiarity called laísmo. One funny thing about living in Valladolid was that, while people always sounded like TV newscasters or actors speaking in so-called “neutral” accents*, their laísmo came and went depending on how relaxed they were. Planning meeting, no laísmo. What did you bring for lunch, can I try it? Laísmo aplenty. They were code-switching, but in their case the leap involved by the switch was more of a half-step.

  • neutral my ass, when it’s an accent that would make an academic faint and it doesn’t match the supposed geographic procedence of the characters

I’m Australian, from Victoria, and I can pick someone (who grew up in Aus) from South Australia with a pretty decent success rate. Other states, crap stats. :smiley: