We have already gone over some strange English dialects on this site in past posts. One tiresome canard that is oft-repeated is that US English speakers have a hard time understanding other US English speakers. This is usually said by Europeans. This is a misunderstanding of the dialectal nature of US English. The most divergent dialects of US English have long ago merged in something called dialect convergence. We already discussed New York English on the site.
As I noted, a young Italian man from Queens came to the Sierra Nevada in California recently and enrolled at a local college. For 3 months, people could hardly understand him. He finally learned to speak California dialect and make himself understood. Really, what he did was drop his outrageous New York English dialect.
What was interesting was that the guy could not seem to accomodate the listeners very well. People would ask him to repeat, speak slower, etc. but nothing seemed to work. And after 3 months of regularly listening to him, most listeners hardly understood him better than on Day One.
To me, these are strong suggestions that we are dealing with a separate language (albeit a very closely related one) and not simply a dialect. Speakers of a separate language have a hard time adjustting their speech to make it understood better, and listeners of a separate language usually don’t understand it much better with time than on the first day. With dialects, things are different. Dialect speakers can modify speech and be understood and listeners of dialects can start to pick it up a lot better in a short period of time.
An example of a dialect of English would be South African English. I recently met a fellow speaking a very thick S.A. English dialect. I could understand him all right, every word in fact, but it was one Hell of a thick accent! To show you how these things go, the woman behind the counter couldn’t really understand the guy, and I had to interpret for him.
AAVE (Ebonics) is quite different, and I think it’s a separate language in its hard form. I recently spent a few hours with two young Black women speaking AAVE. I didn’t understand them any better at the end of 3 hours than at the start. And they may as well have been speaking Greek. They couldn’t really adjust their AAVE to make it better understood (I think they don’t want to be understood, really) but they could drop the AAVE at a moment’s notice and speak perfect English.
There is actually some support among linguists for splitting off AAVE into a separate language. It’s probably not happening for political reasons. Could you imagine the howls from the rightwingers and the gales of laughter from the anti-Black racists if they did? I can see it now: “Niggers speak a foreign language! LOL! I always thought so myself!”
My Mom recently heard a fisherman from the coast of Newfoundland on the radio for several minutes and she said she couldn’t understand a word. There are some Newfoundland English dialects that are quite hard to hear.
There is a Youtube video about continuing slavery in the US. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but it looks like work in return for room and board in the deepest Mississippi Delta. There are Blacks on that video speaking a very deep Mississippi Delta Black dialect that can scarcely be understood.
We can understand almost all Australian and New Zealand English. It’s often one Hell of an English accent (especially with the Australians), but they can definitely be understood. However, on the radio I recently heard a speaker of a Tasmanian Australian English dialect. She was from a rural forested area and was protesting logging in her area. I had a hard time understanding that dialect.
We’ve already discussed the Scots language on this site before. That Scots is now judged a separate language and not an English dialect drives many English speakers into wild conniptions. You can Google the controversy on the Net and watch the wild, raging debates unfold over many pages. I’m not sure why it pisses speakers of a major language so much when divergent dialects are split off into separate languages. Maybe it’s a primal thing.
There’s only been one scientific study done, but it found 42% intelligibility of Scots by a US English speaker. Sounds about right, but I’m surprised it’s that high. I can often barely make out much of anything of Scots, just words here and there.
At this point it ought to be quite clear that Scots is more than one language. In the heart of Scotland, you go 20 miles in any direction and the other Scots speakers won’t understand you. I wonder if there is some kind of “Standard Scots” that could be spoken that would be understood everywhere?
I would like to start the debate off by proposing that Shetlandic Scots and Orcadian Scots be split off from Scots proper. It’s uncontroversial that these are the most wildly divergent Scots dialect, and they have poor intelligibility to speakers of the rest of Scots. Orcadian Scots is spoken on the Orkney Islands and Shetlandic Scots is spoken on the Shetlandic Islands.
Shetlandic and Orcadian Scots have poor intelligibility with Standard Scots.
As far as the rest of British English, we can understand most of you Limey bastards, believe it or not. However, I have a very hard time with Midlands English. I definitely get less than 90% of it and I don’t get better with time either.
Two of the most infernal English dialects have to be Geordie and Scouse. They are also quite famous.
Geordie is spoken in the far northeast of England near the Scottish border in and around Newcastle. Other dialects around that region like Cumbrian and Northumbrian are similar. Geordie is famous for being one of the hardest English accents to understand. There is actually some support among linguists for splitting it off to a separate language.
Scouse is the notorious, but delightful, dialect of Liverpool. In mild forms, it’s what comes out of the Beatles’ mouths in interviews. In hard form, it’s extremely difficult to understand. There is a report on the Net of a US English speaker who spent 7-8 years in Liverpool and never learned to understand Scouse very well. He said that young working class women were the worst. I’d be in favor of splitting this infernal dialect off into a separate language, but it’ll probably never happen. Can you imagine the shrieks?