By Europe correspondent James Glenday
How do you say the word butter? What season comes after summer?
And is a small piece of wood under the skin a shiver, sliver, speel, spelk, spool or splinter?
If you are British, and elderly, the answers could reveal where you come from.
The questions were designed for a mobile phone app, which researchers are using to track the decline of the United Kingdom’s many varied dialects.
“What we found in our survey with the app is that local words are used much less than they were in the 1950s,” said David Britain, a professor of modern English linguistics from the University of Bern in Switzerland, who helped design the English Dialects app.
“In most cases they’re still there … but they’re only used or predominantly used by the older generation and the younger generation often don’t use them all.”
The researchers found the London, or south-east England, dialect is slowly taking over large parts of Britain, mainly because people move around so much.
But there are some exceptions.
Professor Britain believes a few language variations, like the Geordie accent from around Newcastle and Sunderland in northern England, are likely to survive for at least the next century.
“In 100 years there will probably be fewer distinctive local dialects than we have today and what we’ll have is probably fewer but potentially quite distinctive regional dialects”, he said.
Colonial Australia offers some clues
Colonial Australia was largely a diverse melting pot of different dialects from most areas of the British Isles.
Professor Britain said it was “not unusual” for well-travelled English people from the south of the country to be “mistaken for Australians”.
“The linguistic processes at play today in southern Britain are the same as the ones that were at play in Australia in the 19th century when migrants and convicts moved to Australia”, he said.
“The dominant words, those that are used the most, are taking over and the less used words are dying out”.
But that doesn’t mean all Britons will soon start sounding like Australians — far from it.
Professor Britain said the modern Australian accent “had changed enormously through other influences” and stated dialects across the Earth were likely to diverge further, even with increasing globalisation.
“There will be even more variety across the world than there is today, though within particular countries you may see very, very local features being levelled away because of regional mobility”, he said.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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