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"Gee, I just love your accent."
March 21, 2007 7:03 AM   Subscribe

BBC News: "Gee, I just love your accent." The American nation may be more wary of crossing borders, but their love affair with the British accent continues unabated. Despite the fact that there are multiple variants therein, and what may be considered a "low-class" accent in the UK is still considered a "high-class" posh accent in the US. Naturally, the Brits will play this up to the hilt - and it may help in getting them jobs, credibility, Oscars and Emmys, by no less an authority than Stephen Fry.
posted by badlydubbedboy (178 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shouldn't "more wary of crossing borders", "love affair continues unabated", "multiple variants", "low-class", "still considered" and probably all of "jobs" through "Emmys" be links to something providing examples or backup?
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I shouldn't be saying this, high treason really, but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren't fooled by our accent into detecting a brilliance that may not really be there."

Not when it's you speaking Stephen, you great big dreamy brainbox you [NOT LATENT].
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:11 AM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


The BBC did a project recording different modern British accents.

I know that I, personally, can tell the difference between a posh accent and a gross Footballers' Wive$ accent. Not that I know how they're described in England.
posted by mckenney at 7:13 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


An Irish accent is even better. As a student working sumers in Missouri I thought all my Christmases had come at one. Free drinks, lots of sex, invitations to spend dinners, cruises, weekends with colleagues families .... all because they "love your accent" and "love Irish people" (even though some had never met one!). And I have a nasty, rough Dubbilin accent!

(Unfotunately you also have to hear a lot of "my grandnmother was born in a small town in Sligo ...", but that's where the free drinks help).
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:14 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


what may be considered a "low-class" accent in the UK is still considered a "high-class" posh accent in the US.

Somebody (I forget who) once said that you could be a wino in the gutter but if you have an English accent (any kind) people will still think you classy and dignified. The opposite effect would come from a Brooklyn accent or a Southern drawl, where you could be a Nobel prize winning physicist and people would still think you a crude meatball of dumb hick, respectively. Odd that.
posted by jonmc at 7:15 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't "more wary of crossing borders", "love affair continues unabated", "multiple variants", "low-class", "still considered" and probably all of "jobs" through "Emmys" be links to something providing examples or backup?

No, they shouldn't. Please do not perpetrate the mindless and mistaken bias against "OMG single-link posts" that is responsible for so many needlessly cluttered linkfests. This is a link to a BBC story on English accents. If you don't like it, move on.
posted by languagehat at 7:16 AM on March 21, 2007 [9 favorites]


As an American who is a huge fan of British TV, I often find that I am missing out on jokes about the perennial UK favorite topic, class differences, because to me, they all sound..... British.

And as much as I know intellectually that there is a huge difference between, say, Rose Tyler and Sir Humphry Appleby, I still file them both in the same "british accent" category in my head.

More on topic, British accents are awesome, and I would kill to have it. Not sure why that is, but the poster is right.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:20 AM on March 21, 2007


mistaken bias against "OMG single-link posts"

I'm not objecting to the singility, I'm objecting to the claims made with not even an anecdote to back them up. Are Americans more wary of crossing borders? I hadn't heard that. Who says Americans consider low-class accents posh? What are some examples of each? Etc. Without these links, it's just editorializing.
posted by DU at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2007


I think this is probably less the case these days than, say, 20 years ago. I think most reasonably well-read Americans can tell you that the blue collar east-ender brogue (think Bob Hoskins in the Long Good Friday or the GEICO gekko) isn't a "posh" accent.

As much as I generally prefer to hear British accented English (from whatever region other than that godawful Geordie accent) than the American nasal drawl, Simon Cowell's accent is as charmless as he is.

Just taking the piss, Geordies!
posted by psmealey at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2007


It's such and old stereotype that Yanks are bowled over by an British accent (whatever the fuck that is...) but it is true. When I first moved to the states I was afraid to open my mouth in public places as people would look at me like I was a circus freak. It's taken me a few years, but I've seen what the accent can do (a friend describes it as possessing authority, it makes statements definitive and he still has to remember that I'm mostly talking crap), now when Mrs ob and I go out I always call to book the table, etc. This tends not to work in NYC, but, in my experience, that's about the only place in the US, where the accent doesn't do much.
posted by ob at 7:22 AM on March 21, 2007


With planeloads of Brits relocating to the US - not to mention three million tourists who visit the country every year - the stereotype of floppy fringes and plummy vowels must surely be due an overhaul.

I knew it wasn't just the Mexicans taking all our jobs. Hey! RIMSHOT!

Most accents have a stereotype attatched to them and not all of them negative.

I mean I for one think a Texas accent has an innate down home folksy wisdom to it. Don't you guys?
posted by SinisterPurpose at 7:22 AM on March 21, 2007


Pish posh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:24 AM on March 21, 2007


What a coincidence. I just finished reading this absolutely brutal attack on British expats in NYC.

Stephen Fry's got a lot of nerve, though. Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, and Judy Dench have all had truly fine movie careers, taking on a wide range of roles, and the respect they receive is not due to any American illusions about Britain. Fry's the one who's been busy hawking stale bits of Englishness. Jeeves and Wooster (those later episodes in America are criminally stupid), that awful adaptation of Vile Bodies, Gosford Park, etc.
posted by otio at 7:24 AM on March 21, 2007


Just to comment on the article for a minute, this paragraph disturbed me:

Then there's the perception that a British accent equals a brain the size of a planet - a perception reinforced by the not-uncommon belief that for the British, English is a second language.

Umm... what?
posted by ob at 7:25 AM on March 21, 2007


What are some examples of each? Etc. Without these links, it's just editorializing.

Yes, but with the links you end up with a cluttered link-fest,where no one would know what to click, etc.
posted by Paris Hilton at 7:25 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


That attack on Brits in NYC is hilarious otio! I actually don't know that many fellow countrymen here and I rather like it that way.
posted by ob at 7:31 AM on March 21, 2007


A Telegraph article about transatlantic relationships. That's the London Telegraph for you Americans.
posted by veedubya at 7:31 AM on March 21, 2007


I must have got the short straw; I'm told by my American friends here that often after I leave a social gathering other USians as yet unaccustomed ask them what the hell I was saying. Or perhaps I am just a mumbling incoherent.
posted by Abiezer at 7:34 AM on March 21, 2007


Good show, old chap.
posted by caddis at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2007


Re accents, I qite liked the bit in BSG where it turned out Blatar was from the Space North and has a Space Northern accent.

And yes, a British accent allows me to pass as someone far smarter than I actually am in the US, which is nice.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2007


Oddly enough, I just finished reading a Guardian article responding to Fry's article:

http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,2038882,00.html


"On first hearing an English accent 50 years ago, Americans might have thought: stately home, private school, good manners. Nowadays, they think: low income, poor diet, alcohol problem."
posted by 40 Watt at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2007


What I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK.
posted by mckenney at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Also, Tom Scocca's takedown of everybody's favorite rag of respectability, The Economist, is worth a read.

Quote: “Americans imagine that The Economist is better written,” Mr. Stengel said, “because they impute an English accent to what they read.”
posted by otio at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2007


Check out this particularly acidic article from Vanity Fair on the subject as well, including some particularly ghastly illustrations of the offending interlopers.
posted by hermitosis at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2007


Admittedly, several British actors have enjoyed huge triumphs recently on American television shows, most notably Minnie Driver in Riches, Dominic West in The Wire and Ian McShane in Deadwood. But they are all playing Americans - so their success can hardly be attributed to their British accents.

Huh. I always thought it was unclear where Ian McShane was from in the fictional history of the show, although his real-world counterpart was indeed American. At one point, he refers to being a Mancunian, someone mistakes him for British royalty, and at another time makes reference to growing up in an orphanage in Chicago.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2007


I'm not objecting to the singility, I'm objecting to the claims made with not even an anecdote to back them up.

Ah, gotcha. But like Paris says, putting all those links in the post would have made it a godawful nuisance of a post that I would have skipped. If you want supporting evidence, just ask for it, don't complain that the post didn't have supporting links. Besides, this is a Stephen Fry piece, for God's sake, not an academic treatise.
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2007


Gad, otio has it. I have skimmed in error!
posted by hermitosis at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2007


mckenney - It depends, but I'm afraid that generally people will assume you're a bit pushy and, outside of London, probably a dumb tourist who needs everything explaining to them. That effect is trippled if you are weaing brightly coloured fleece or a baseball hat.
posted by Artw at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2007


Although American women have always sounded more glamorous to me than their British counterparts. Well not the thick ones, but the clever ones.
posted by ob at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Probably just the legacy of colonialism. The funny thing is that a vague European accent, ala "The Continental", will always sound untrustworthy to Americans.

I blame Peter Lorre.
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2007


otio - I'm really having a hard time figuring out what Tom Scoccas problem with the Economist is from that article. It seems to be basically that he doesn't like it's tone.
posted by Artw at 8:07 AM on March 21, 2007


I'd like to take Heather Mills's fake leg and beat her with it after that Larry King interview.
posted by phaedon at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2007


As a student working sumers in Missouri I thought all my Christmases had come at one. Free drinks, lots of sex, invitations to spend dinners, cruises, weekends with colleagues families .... all because they "love your accent" ...

Just so you know: around here a "good shag" means a carpet that has worn well through the years. Aunt Bessie is asking to be complimented on her good taste; not led to the bedroom.
posted by hal9k at 8:10 AM on March 21, 2007 [5 favorites]


After living in England for 2 years I have a particular peeve about English speech. Aside from the peeve about there being hundreds of accents in an area smaller than Ontario that is (I'm glad their aren't a lot of west midlands mefites because a meetup with Black Country folk would leave me just as confused as I would be in Tokyo).

My big peeve is that English people seem to love wit and cleverness far more than preparedness and thought out speech. This is fine in the pub over a pint or on the silly panel TV shows but the extended pauses of the experts as they just then, at that moment, for the first time ever, consider the topic of their supposed expertise drives me up the wall. You're the expert. You should know this stuff cold. You should have thought up your answer to likely questions in advance.

My life ebbs away in those pauses. All the extended life benefits of clean living, exercise and proper nutrition evaporate into the gaping pauses of calculated tentativeness. I don't care much about taxes (pretty much the same everywhere IMO) but this oxbridge social tax is infuriating. It's a culture gap because the deliberately misleading offhandedness is clearly meant to functions as some sort self handicapping that will be overcome by cleverness just makes me think that English experts are lazy and not to be trusted at all but it seems to work on the locals. Or at least the experts think so.
posted by srboisvert at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


Artw - Well, he seems to have a problem with its dullness and its arrogance (an especially damnable combination), and is wondering why exactly other mags would want to emulate it. He gives plenty of examples, which are pretty embarassing. I read The Economist weekly because for world news and its book section is usually good. I think Scocca's pretty clear, though, and he does have a point.

The audience for this is not people who care about the world, but people who believe it is important to care about the world. When other magazines say they want to be like The Economist, they do not mean they wish to be serious. They mean they wish, by whatever means, to be taken seriously.
posted by otio at 8:17 AM on March 21, 2007


I always respond well to an Appalachian accent; I blame it on a particularly well-mannered Peace Corps volunteer I once met who was the epitome of a gentleman, plus a lonesome pining for bluegrass.
posted by Abiezer at 8:17 AM on March 21, 2007


I've always thought that the only reason public television networks specializing in educational programming, such as PBS or TVO, get away with broadcasting British dramas and mysteries is because everyone speaks in a British accent. They all sound so smart- it must be educational!
posted by Kirjava at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2007


Mckenney: I'm afraid Artw probably has that nailed, but it has little to do with the accent I suspect. Just, well, expectations from some situations are different and that's never going to be more exposed between our two cultures as well as it will be in the service industry. I don't think I can fully explain that but I know what I mean.

I held that view for a long time fwiw. I'm not sure how I acquired it, I think it's just a long standing view of Americans acquired during the war. I've known Americans in the flesh for a long time now though. I've met several through the internet, I know a great many through working at a university and I also know a huge swathe of people from MA & NH thanks to my girlfriend who has a tendency to make lifelong friendships with anyone she bumps in to. Based on that experience, my new attitude is that Americans are the most ridiculously polite people anywhere on the planet. Seriously. I always get the impression, possibly incorrectly, that this is one stereotype Americans hold about us. I now hold it about you.

I'm not sure how representative my sample is. I've never been to the US so I've never seen you at loose in the wild. I've known you as visitors to my home whilst 'doing Europe', young students in a far off land, colleagues who rely on me for help and, in the case of the MA & NH people, a bunch of nutcases who travelled thousands of miles to gate crash an impromptu party and who made my girlfriend extremely happy in the process.
posted by vbfg at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2007


I'm from Chicago, and recently had to call York to make a reservation. I had a hell of a time understanding what the man on the phone was saying, especially trying to confirm dates, times and reservation code numbers. Certainly didn't sound glamorous or cultured to me. He seemed to slush every word in each sentence together, then ended almost every sentence with a "...yeah?"

On the other hand, I have a friend from Essex, and though everything she says sounds a bit like a question to me, I love her and enjoy listening to her speak.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2007


i've taken a particular dislike for most english accents. *shudder*
posted by sxtxixtxcxh at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2007


btw, I suspect if asked to do an American accent that any Brit who could get over the performing in public part would either do a New York or Texas accent. At least that's what they would be intending to do. They'd fail badly.
posted by vbfg at 8:25 AM on March 21, 2007


I used to work for a company that had recently hired a CIO from England. The woman was brainless, but between her severe blond hair and her accent, folks just gobbled up her inane pronouncements. Being as this was 1999, trying to compensate for her attempts to kill the corporate network while concentrating on the Y2K dress code rather than server standards was not fun.

Gods, we Americans are gullible twits sometimes.
posted by QIbHom at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2007


I think your 'pushy' characterisation is a bit negative, Artw. I think English people associate an American accent principally with being well-off, full of enthusiasm and energy, sometimes misdirected, and having, loving, and trusting, perhaps excessively, fancy technology: a pretty positive image overall. They expect, based on films and television, that Americans will be either fountains of sharp one-line putdowns, or motormouthed purveyors of Californian psychobabble. That's why when Brits meet real Americans who think before they speak and say what they mean, they're sometimes disappointed and conclude that the Yanks have no sense of humour/irony.
posted by Phanx at 8:27 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


an American accent

which one? there's literally hundreds.
posted by jonmc at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2007


On the other hand, it's interesting how many bad guys/girls in American movies are distinguished by British accents. Even Disney cartoons - Scar in the Lion King, for example. Like it implies a "higher class" of evil, or a threatening intellectualism, or something.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:32 AM on March 21, 2007


As an Englishman in New York: otio's link nails my countrymen perfectly. I hope it doesn't describe me though. I do find that my accent, which I think would be described by a fellow Brit as a vile, neither-North-nor-South affair, is surprisingly well regarded. It doesn't seem to have helped much with the procurement of poontang, though.
posted by nowonmai at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2007


My father tells an anecdote about a visiting a Scottish friend in Scotland:

"James, your Scottish accent is so much less pronounced here in Edinburgh than when you we were students together in the states!" James turns, and with a twinkle in his and in full accent, replies, "Aye, but in America, a Scottish accent is a social advantage!"
posted by Joe Invisible at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2007


Yowza. That Vanity Fair piece was harsh.
posted by ninjew at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2007


The perception of an American accent will very largely depend on the context in which you hear it.

Living now as I do in a relatively remote but heritage-touristy part of the UK, any American accent I hear now is probably going to come from a middle-aged American tourist relatively clueless about the place they're visiting and local "customs", but eager to see ye olde castles and see the ancient "swell" buildings. Before they look for the nearest McDonalds.

Contradicting that, when I was in London, Americans who weren't on holiday were by and large, intelligent, optimistic, ridiculously well-connected with gadgets galore, and I had a hard time reminding myself that they were not Gods but human beings who had to use the toilet.

Then Bush/2001 came along, and I have literally seen Americans generally slowly retreat into themselves, be less optimistic and a bit more defensive of their country, if not their administration. Personal observations of course. Where did all the "cool" Americans go to?
posted by badlydubbedboy at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2007


Fry is about 2 or 3 decades behind the curve.

Maybe Podunk, Nebraska still gets goose-pimply over a Brit accent, but in 2007 most of us don't quantify it with anything.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2007


The British speech affectation that I'm curious about is when a person substitutes the "th" sound with an f, as in "I'm going wiff him." It also seems like this is young-person speak.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2007


I tend to pick up accents way too easily, kinda spongelike. When I'm traveling, the linguistic sounds that go into my ears will, without effort or thought, work their way into my own conversation. I found that when I was in England it was actually much easier and better for me to let my American voice take a subtle slide into the accent of the people around me than to stop myself. (And I got much better service, to be honest.) More often than not I had people tell me "You're brilliant for an American!" and I am still pretty sure part of that compliment was simply that my Yank accent wasn't hurting their ears.

Anyhow, when I lived in LA, my friend Janis (upper London) and I would go out and just for the hell of it I'd agree to put on my accent so we would be two Brit girls out on the town. Amazing how different people treated me. Once in a while I'll still do an accent just to screw with people when I'm bored. It can be a fun & entertaining little sociological experiment. Although that said, since only 20% of Americans have a passport it's sad some of the RIDICULOUS questions people will ask you if they think you're from overseas. It's depressing to me how ignorant some people are of anything that exists more than a few hours from where they live.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2007


jonmc: I agree completely. Saying, 'an American accent' is as redundant as saying, 'a British accent'.
posted by MrMustard at 8:49 AM on March 21, 2007


I say!
posted by seanyboy at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2007


I tend to pick up accents way too easily, kinda spongelike.

Like Madonna? Oh, how I hate her put-on British accent.
posted by ericb at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


It doesn't seem to have helped much with the procurement of poontang, though.

You know why?
posted by ericb at 8:52 AM on March 21, 2007


Shouldn't "more wary of crossing borders", "love affair continues unabated", "multiple variants", "low-class", "still considered" and probably all of "jobs" through "Emmys" be links to something providing examples or backup?
posted by DU at 11:08 AM on March 21 [+]
[!]


Oh god, no. Are you seriously asking for the inclusion of filler links for the sake of them?
posted by Space Coyote at 8:53 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


The British speech affectation that I'm curious about is when a person substitutes the "th" sound with an f, as in "I'm going wiff him." It also seems like this is young-person speak.


Its not an affectation. Its just our accent. (Although I'd say "wiv", in that case - and "alvough", too, and "vat". I do say "fink" instead of "think".).

Interestingly (or not, maybe) when the media want to make someone who speaks like that look stupid - David Beckham, for example - they'll spell those words phonetically, to show you how uneducated they are. Similar things are done with various northern accents, too, to reinforce classist sterotypes. Class hatred - its our national sport

On the other hand, I have a friend from Essex, and though everything she says sounds a bit like a question to me

I do this as well, even though I hate myself for it. It sounds horrible, as if I'm really needy and desperate for you to validate my opinions by agreeing.

I probably am
posted by ZippityBuddha at 8:56 AM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Like Madonna? Oh, how I hate her put-on British accent.

Madonna is just speaking in what a British accent sounds like to an American girl from Michigan. It's actually kind of a neat metaphor for her entire career: reinterpreting social phenomena through her own very limited lens.
posted by psmealey at 8:57 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I like the "lower class" English accents much better than, say, the Upper Class Twit Of The Year* type.

*YouTube
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:58 AM on March 21, 2007


Late response, but unless the gag was used in both, (certainly possible, I'm working my way through BSG and am still early in the run,) artw was thinking of Doctor Who, not Battlestar Galactica.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:02 AM on March 21, 2007


For 'an' read 'any'. Perhaps there are millions of American accents, but I don't think most Brits could distinguish more than two of them, or would entertain any different expectations as a result.

That'll teach me to try being nice to you fat, pasty, dumb, pushy, ignorant, loud-mouthed, ill-mannered yokels... ;)
posted by Phanx at 9:05 AM on March 21, 2007


We had a receptionist at my work for a a number of years that grew up around London. She had a great phone voice and people always asked me what she looked like, assuming her to be very attractive and sexy. She was attractive - in a short chubby kind of way (but she was very sweet).

I always made a point of not bursting their bubbles :)
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:07 AM on March 21, 2007


You make a sound for your th's for the word with.
Shame, I say, shame on you.

It's pronounced wi'

I love this conversation. I'd easily be one of those over eager Brits playing up to my eccentric values. I'd probably look down on Americans too. Refuse to call trousers "pants" and all that.

On the "More ironic than thou" arrogance. I've experienced a bit of this. There's an uncomfortable process for the witty Brit abroad which goes something like...

1) "Everyone's laughing. They understand me."
2) "They've stopped laughing. It was just my charming accent they liked."
3) They don't find the same things as me funny. Don't they realise that I just told a joke.
4) ????
5) Fuck it. I'm just going to go on with this.

I think there's an uncanny valley for cultural experience which Brits in America fall right in to.
posted by seanyboy at 9:10 AM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


You reckon phanx? I'd have thought we're exposed to a lot more US culture than vice versa, so I would think a lot of people would get at least the distinction between the coasts, north/south and familiar ones like Brooklyn or Boston broadly right.
posted by Abiezer at 9:10 AM on March 21, 2007


I don't think most Americans find a low-class UK accent charming, just distinctive.

Like the character "Onslow" from "Keeping Up Appearances":
http://youtube.com/watch?v=4KhPqBrwXLY

It's obvious he's low-class from his dress and manner, and I don't find it charming. Funny, yes. A great deal funnier than Larry the Cable Guy, but not posh at all.
posted by WerewolvesRancheros at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2007


ericb: I always thought it was the whole fat and ugly thing, but I'm sure you're right. Time to make amends!
posted by nowonmai at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2007


I'd probably look down on Americans too. Refuse to call trousers "pants" and all that.

Aren't you from Halifax? And you say 'trousers' rather than 'pants'?
posted by vbfg at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2007


On American Accents. I can definitely tell:

- Noo Yawkers.
- The South.
- Lloyd Grossman.
- Canadians.
- The rest. (I call that accent "the midwest")
posted by seanyboy at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2007


Wheres our charming Canadian accent will earn you a slightly bemused twitter, no matter where you go.
posted by generichuman at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Madonna is just speaking in what a British accent sounds like to an American girl from Michigan.

If you are one of those types of people such as miss linster, you do end up having a modified accent, without it being an affectation (which I consider to be put on/intentional). I'm not suggesting that Madonna hasn't taken weekly lessons to tweak her drone, but she might also have picked at least part of it up by osmosis.

Then there are those people whose accent you couldn't modify with a blow torch to a family member. I worked with a guy who came to Oz aged 16 from Glasgow. I knew him when he was aged 60. Even after working with him for 2 years I had to get him to repeat stuff because his accent was so thick.
posted by peacay at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2007


vbfg. I've got a feeling there is a different word for trousers but for the life of me, can't think what it is. I have heard people call them pants, but I think that's more a Lancashire thing.

There's also keks, but to me keks is pants. I've heard keks used to mean trousers, but keks is pants.

Dunno? I feel like I'm losing credibility here.
posted by seanyboy at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2007


you say 'trousers' rather than 'pants'?
If you really want to throw 'em, call them kegs.
posted by Abiezer at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2007


I'm English and have lived in the US for eight years now. I'm from the South of England (Portsmouth) and had a moderate southern accent (which I definitely don't think is a "high class" accent) before I moved to the US. When visiting my family in the UK they tell me I'm beginning to pick up an American accent, I can't see that and my US family can't see it either - but there you go (although I do use American phrases/terminology more than I'd like, e.g. pants instead of trousers etc).

I must say the accent is both a blessing and a curse. It definitely helps in a lot of situations and I have the feeling it has possibly been a slight help when job interviewing. My wife's friends all like it when I answer the phone because they get to hear my accent. But for the most part I prefer to not stand out from the crowd and the accent can be a pain sometimes especially when shopping or at a restaurant.
posted by schwa at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2007


Its not an affectation. Its just our accent. (Although I'd say "wiv", in that case - and "alvough", too, and "vat". I do say "fink" instead of "think".).

So is this accent regional then? If so, from where?
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2007


Here's a little rhyme to help you remember:

Underpants go under yer pants.

Well, it's not really a rhyme but it's saved my blushes on a few occassions. The last time I used 'keks' was in the context of 'de-kek him'.
posted by vbfg at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2007


I have another question (I, apparently, can not get enough of discussing British accents) - what's with that crazy blueblood "Wewease Bwian" accent thing? Why does nobody think that is completely insane? It seems like it's only for rich-ass aristocrats - is it taught at some poncy school, is it an affectation, or some kind of cwazy speech impediment?
posted by mckenney at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2007


I always had "keks" down (so to speak) as more Scouse. Definitely ended with a 'g' sound in south Cheshire.
posted by Abiezer at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2007


So is this accent regional then? If so, from where?

The south, London and its environs mainly...
posted by ob at 9:32 AM on March 21, 2007


I'm not suggesting that Madonna hasn't taken weekly lessons to tweak her drone, but she might also have picked at least part of it up by osmosis.

I suspect it's the latter. But her use of it is so uneven, so inconsistent, and so frequently wrong that it suggests a tin ear. It's the accent of an American college girl who spent a semester at the American University in London.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with affecting the accent. I have done so myself in other Anglophone nations in an effort to make conversation partners or business colleagues feel more at ease. But having been a student of languages my entire adult life, it's not that difficult to pull off. Learning how to emulate speech patterns, enunciation and local argot in whatever British accent you choose, is not completely different from learning how to speak French in a Parisian, Provencal, or Luxembourgeois accent.
posted by psmealey at 9:34 AM on March 21, 2007


I'm only doing this so that you can tell me I don't have a Suffolk accent
posted by ZippityBuddha at 9:44 AM on March 21, 2007


Us sophisticated folk can probably tell different American accents, Abiezer, granted. But I do honestly think your average Brit could probably only just tell New Jersey from Texas, and even then wouldn't have any different expectations of the two.

True, the British audience is exposed to a pretty fair sample of American voices, but generally in a contextless and mixed-up way that does not facilitate learning what's from where.

I could be wrong, of course - might be an interesting piece of research.
posted by Phanx at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2007


what's with that crazy blueblood "Wewease Bwian" accent thing?

You're absolutely right, it's called RP and it is indeed taught a some poncy school, a whole system of them in fact. Confusingly we call them 'Public' schools, but they're very private and those who go to them learn to talk and think in a very different way from those who do not.

Because such an accent will quickly get knocked out of you by rough company, particularly early in life, it is something of a badge of social isolation. In England - and even more so in Scotland, how you speak is what you are.
posted by grahamwell at 9:46 AM on March 21, 2007


Now wait a minute... I have never gone around with some shite Madonna accent. There are people who PUT ON accents. And there are people who just have a good ear. Big, big, big difference. One person is TRYING to sound like they're from somewhere else but nobody's buying it. It's totally faked. The other is just someone who happens to be good with sounds and can do it without a lot of effort. It's not that I'm trying to fake something, my voice can just change without much work on my part.

I am one of those people who automatically, when telling a story, uses different voices when I'm repeating something a friend says. When I was with my Yugoslavian ex-boyfriend, I could do a spot-on impression of him and sometimes I would do it to his face without even realizing it (At first it freaked him out, but then he slowly realized he actually sounds like that). I never said "I'm going to do an impression of my boyfriend" though. I just heard him so much that his speech patterns & accent worked its way into my brain somehow.

Some people are just very hyper aware of their accents and how they are communicating with people, and I'm one of them. Even with American English. When I'm in LA, I automatically start to talk much much faster & use way more slang. Sometimes I'll slur my words together a bit too much. When I return to the Bay area, I have to remember to go back to talking at a more relaxed & calmer pace or the barrage of LA talk & energy will freak people out (Many SF people don't like LA at all). Anyhow, those little differences count as different accents too.

Madonna's accent is just artificial self-righteous crap though. Makes me want to slap her. Gwyneth Paltrow's isn't much better. Genuine accent transitions (that aren't put on) are often so subtle and natural that you don't even noticed that someone has acquired them.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:06 AM on March 21, 2007


RP is posh, yes, but the specific business of an inability to pronounce 'r's is just a speech impediment, isn't it? It crops up even in people with demotic accents - like Jonathan Woss, for example.
posted by Phanx at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2007


noticed = notice
posted by miss lynnster at 10:09 AM on March 21, 2007


miss lynnster, I was using you as an example of the 'osmosis' and was not inferring that you intentionally adopted an accent (except where you say you did). I'm about the same - I used to take it as a compliment in the UK when people asked if I'd been overseas for a while, rather than thinking I came from abroad. And I tend to think that Madonna is bullshit. Most tin earred people don't get much if any unconcious change in their lilt imho.
posted by peacay at 10:18 AM on March 21, 2007


I am not so sure that the average US citizen, would really enjoy a conversation; with the average SUN reader.
posted by happybunny at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2007


People are beating up on Stephen Fry - but he was (modestly) talking about himself, that he feels like he gets more respect for his accent than he deserves. Also, he likes the North American acting style, which is different from the British (different kind of training).

-----------

RP isn't the upper class accent. RP is an educated accent, middle-class or upper-middle class, and used to be standard on the BBC, but the really upper class have their own, much more nasal and kind of ugly accent. I love regional accents, especially Northern ones, but my husband has a mid-Atlantic accent. (Which is what you get when you mix English and Canadian or any North American for years at a time.)
posted by jb at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2007


I, for one, could listen to Elizabeth Hurley talk all day long.
When I hear the guys talk though, i think "another uppity brit". Funny huh?

Kinda like how some people like a country accent. If there is one thing I have learned living in the south, that buttery drawl is designed to make you think that what they are saying is the truth. There could not be ANYTHING father from the truth.
posted by winks007 at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2007


Instances when an English accent definitely does not sound pleasing to the (American) ear:

. When they are pronouncing mangling Spanish words, particularly food names. They make delicious Mexican food sound so unappetizing. Greg Proops used to do a bit on this subject.

. When they say "can't" (kaant). It almost always elicites a giggle, wince, or "Beg your pardon?!" in the U.S.

. That very annoying intentional posh stammering. I wonder if Hugh Grant affected it while he was solicting that hooker.

. Ending every sentence with "Yeah?" or "Innit?", as someone mentioned upthread.

Data Point: I was born and raised in Iran until we moved to England when I was around twelve years old. I lived there for five years, three of which were mostly spent in a boarding school , so I'd developed, for the most part, a London accent -- not Cockney but certainly not posh public school prat either... that doesn't help much, does it? -- by the time I moved to California at age seventeen . I didn't make a conscious decision or effort to shed my English accent (except for adapting the American pronunciation of "can't), but after seven years I'd completely lost any trace of it. I now sound Californian, except if I spend a lot of time speaking Farsi to my family, after which I pronounce some words with a definite trace of an Iranian accent (the accent also seems to blossom in conjunction with consumption of copious amounts of alcohol), much to my American girlfriend's amusement.

.
posted by Devils Slide at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2007


What I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK.

The perception surely varies as much as the accents, but if you want a wild lunging generalization, I'd say Brits don't think twice about hearing an "American accent" in London and other tourist traps, but elsewhere you're likely to be treated as something special and interesting. That may turn out to be good or bad.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2007


posh stammering...Hugh Grant

And the fluttering of his eyelids. Friends and I refer to him as "Blinky."
posted by ericb at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2007


What I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK.
posted by mckenney

No you don't.

I am (un)fortunate enough to have a bastardized accent that tends to jump back and forth over the Atlantic, so most assume I'm initially American but that notion fades quickly in extended conversation. Americans just look at me funny.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:55 AM on March 21, 2007


The whole idea of a British accent is ridiculous. It changes in the small distances between towns never mind across swathes of the country. People from Coatbridge (a small former mining town outside of Glasgow) are often described by those from neighbouring towns as having a "half and hauf" accent. The locals bear a lovely, lilting, West of Scotland accent that is simulatenously combined with the guttural, almost Germanic , harsh Glaswegian accent so beloved of London-centric tv dramas when they need someone to sound hard (Trevor from Eastenders or any non-descript minor character in an episode of the Bill being good examples). As someone from around those parts I can often hear when someone is from the town before being told.

What people from Coatbridge think of the people from Airdrie (never mind accents) doesn't bear repeating.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:07 AM on March 21, 2007


The first time I went overseas, I was backpacking in England & had never left America before. I met two guys in a pub in Bath, Ashley & Paul, who proceeded to teach me British 101. (Sweater = jumper, trunk = boot, etc.) I drank Newkie Browns and tried bangers & mash & I actually beat Ashley at snooker once. Ashley was from Norrich, Norfolk. Paul was cockney through & through. Because of my ability to pick up accents, I kept wondering how they could be best friends & not sound more like eachother. But I immediately knew the difference between the class of the two. Paul had a Sid Vicious kind of swagger to him, and Ashley was more of a proper young gent. Paul taught me a bit of rhyming slang, and it sounded more natural coming out of his mouth than 90% of the people I've heard try to use it. By the time I stopped hanging out with them, I forgot what my American accent was because I had been so surrounded by people without one.

I went to Ireland later on, and was camping near a family from Northern Ireland. I sat in the tent & listened to them and HAD NO CLUE what the Hell they were saying. Yeah, I know it was english. There was english SOMEWHERE in there. Damned if I could figure it out. It actually made me want to go to Northern Ireland just to see if I could get myself to understand their accents in time.

I flew from Cork to London on Aer Lingus (worst airline name ever. sorry.) and the flight attendants were so sweet. Lilting irish voices asking me if I'd like another pillow or if I wanted black sausage for breakfast. Then I transferred onto a United flight from London to NEWARK.

I had heard very few American accents in 40 days. Suddenly I'm heading for Newark & surrounded by hard Rs that were making my head actually hurt. I remember that I hadn't had good orange juice in forever and I asked the flight attendant for a second glass. She cracked her gum and responded in a VERY hard Long Island accent, "Honey, I don't have enough ORANGE juice for YOU AND the REST of the people on the PLANE."

Yeah, I wasn't super excited about coming home at the time.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


where someone is from even.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2007


black sausage = black pudding. whoops.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:14 AM on March 21, 2007


I for one love listening to Kirstie Allsopp on Relocation Relocation (UK real estate show, and a particular vice of mine). The way she says "he-ah" or "the-ah" makes me all woobly. It's so "release the hounds, there are poachers on the estate" posh.
posted by jokeefe at 11:19 AM on March 21, 2007


The BBC Voices site is briliant. Thanks for the link. Check out this one and see if you can figure out anything in Scots.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


And the fluttering of his eyelids. Friends and I refer to him as "Blinky."

Ha. Grant and Zellwegger should have been billed as Blinky and Squinty in Bridget Jones's Diary.

I should really read my ramblings before I press post. I meant "elicits" and "adopting", not "elicites" and "adapting".
posted by Devils Slide at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2007


"What I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK."

I'm an American who has lived and worked outside the US for about one third of my adult life. Since I'm a banker I've developed that so-called International Accent; folks that have been all over the place and hence have an accent that is at once from nowhere and everywhere Most of the time folks can't really place me by accent nor vocabulary alone.

That being said, I know how to turn on the American accent when needed - sharpen up my vowels and consonants, much like the reference to Brits "will play this up to the hilt".

When doing so I've been complimented on my by American standards run-of-the-mill accent (Western New York native who spent thirteen years living in Manhattan), its been called "adorable" and "sexy" and I ain't complaining.
posted by Mutant at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2007


One of my favorite bits on Arrested Development was when Micheal was dating the retarded girl but he didn't realize it because her british accent made her sound "smart".
posted by 2sheets at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2007


I for one love listening to Kirstie Allsopp on Relocation Relocation

So true. My university holidays have just started, and I've spent the last couple of days slouched on the settee on a total Relocation, Relocation binge. I giggled all the way through an episode the other day where a working-class builder wanted a house with a "garridge" — she helped him find a house with a "garahge".
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2007


I agree about the international accent. It's kind of like taking all of the clutter out of your accent. Definitely makes it easier for non-native speakers to understand what you're saying, as well as to bypass regional judgments. Helps people to listen to what you're saying & not distracted by how it sounds.

Hardest thing for me was exorcising the native San Diego high school girl out of my voice. Oh my God like totally. Now there's an accent that scares people.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2007


How would people describe Sara's accent in CSI? 'SoCal'?

I like to think I'm quite tolerant of accents, but her's is so incredibly whiny, nasal and grating that it drives me insane.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2007


The whole idea of a British accent is ridiculous. It changes in the small distances between towns never mind across swathes of the country.

This blew me away. The difference between the Birmingham dialect (which I can more or less understand) and Wolverhampton one (which I say "huh?" to three times and give up and then just try to nod politely) is bigger than the difference between Toronto and Halifax. Birmingham to Wolverhampton is about 20 km. Toronto to Halifax is just short of one astronomical unit (1857 km).

English people must have a great deal of inertia to build up that kind of dialect localization. Mind you I grew up in a suburb that was built when we moved in. Here the suburb I live in is hundreds of years old.
posted by srboisvert at 11:56 AM on March 21, 2007


Wonders, nervously, what Americans think of Australian accents...
posted by Jimbob at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2007


Yep, Aloysius Bear... that's my native accent in a nutshell. I have a hard time shopping in San Diego malls because when I hear the girls in the shops I feel physical pain... I'm horrified & embarassed by the possibility that I ever sounded like that.

Worst of all? Dude. The staccato ending? of everything? with a question? Makes me? Want to hurt people. Y'know? Like totally.

posted by miss lynnster at 12:18 PM on March 21, 2007


Wonders, nervously, what Americans think of Australian accents...

Apparantly if you do a cockney accent in the dark for six months and then step out on to a beach bathed in brilliant sunlight, the effects of screwing your eyes up so your retinas don't get burnt to a crisp alter the shape of your throat and an Aussie accent comes out. I imagine it's the same for newborns.

But then I'm a pom so you're not interested in my opinion. ;)
posted by vbfg at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


This blew me away. The difference between the Birmingham dialect (which I can more or less understand) and Wolverhampton one (which I say "huh?" to three times and give up and then just try to nod politely) is bigger than the difference between Toronto and Halifax. Birmingham to Wolverhampton is about 20 km. Toronto to Halifax is just short of one astronomical unit (1857 km).

So is that not true in the US/Canada, do accents not vary wildly within towns/very small areas? I grew up on the Wirral, a seven mile wide peninsula, and can easily tell the difference between someone from Heswall and someone from Thingwall, which are less than two miles apart, at least when it comes to older people who've lived there all their lives. And your average American visitor could definitely tell the difference between someone from Thingwall and someone from, say, the North End of Birkenhead, which are about 5 miles apart. (After a decade in Scotland, I'm just a beginner when it comes to the differences ClanvidHorse is talking about - Coatbridge v. Airdrie is a bit of a no-brainer, mind you!)

My big peeve is that English people seem to love wit and cleverness far more than preparedness and thought out speech. This is fine in the pub over a pint or on the silly panel TV shows but the extended pauses of the experts as they just then, at that moment, for the first time ever, consider the topic of their supposed expertise drives me up the wall. You're the expert. You should know this stuff cold. You should have thought up your answer to likely questions in advance.

My life ebbs away in those pauses. All the extended life benefits of clean living, exercise and proper nutrition evaporate into the gaping pauses of calculated tentativeness. I don't care much about taxes (pretty much the same everywhere IMO) but this oxbridge social tax is infuriating. It's a culture gap because the deliberately misleading offhandedness is clearly meant to functions as some sort self handicapping that will be overcome by cleverness just makes me think that English experts are lazy and not to be trusted at all but it seems to work on the locals. Or at least the experts think so.


So you're saying you don't trust people who think before they speak? I'll take the expert who pauses to mull over a thought before passing on their expertise over the expert who glibly trots out a rehearsed stock answer, thanks.
posted by jack_mo at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2007


The opposite effect would come from a Brooklyn accent or a Southern drawl, where you could be a Nobel prize winning physicist and people would still think you a crude meatball of dumb hick, respectively.

I love listening to Richard Feynman, who sounds like Ed Norton
posted by MtDewd at 1:15 PM on March 21, 2007


So is that not true in the US/Canada, do accents not vary wildly within towns/very small areas?

It's very pronounced in your part of the world. The difference between Wigan, St Helens, Newton-Le-Willows and Warrington is unbelievable. Every single one of those towns has a different accent and you can drive down the same road for ten miles and pass through the centre of each. I can tell the difference between Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield but I wouldn't expect too many from outside the region to pull that off. To the west of Manchester though there must be hundreds of accents.
posted by vbfg at 1:28 PM on March 21, 2007


Spend some time in LA and you'll find the opposite... people who start talking and giving expert opinions long before a question is finished even though they may have no clue what the topic of conversation actually is.

I'm honestly not sure that one extreme is better than the other.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2007


miss lynnster: I tend to pick up accents way too easily, kinda spongelike. When I'm traveling, the linguistic sounds that go into my ears will, without effort or thought, work their way into my own conversation.

Me, too! It's crazy. We were in Maine visiting family for a few days and I unconsciously started slipping into full-on Mainer-mode like my (native) cousin. To the point where, in private, my mom asked me to cut it out 'cause she thought I was trying to be funny. I think this skill is what's made it pretty easy for me to learn languages over the years, too. If you can unconsciously absorb the sounds and cadence without putting too much Madonna-esque effort into it, the gist of the language comes to you much better.

In German, educated people can tell I've lived in Bavaria and Austria. Apparently, I've got the equivalent of a southern accent...which is pretty funny to my friend's friends in Berlin.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2007


Tickety-boo.
posted by Cobbler at 1:38 PM on March 21, 2007


What I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK.

I'd say the Grim Reaper scene in Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life answers this nicely.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


I love Catherine Tate's Lauren character...and also Mrs. Taylor-Thomas....

As for the US Southern accident...I grew up there, but I talk too fast for it to come out...I know how to turn it on, though, and one things Southerners know is how to use it to an advantage--sometimes it has the power to disarm, and at othe times there is a real advantage in being underestimated...
posted by troybob at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2007


"I agree about the international accent. It's kind of like taking all of the clutter out of your accent."

It's nothing I've consciously done nor an accent that I've adopted intentionally. It seems more like something that just sorta happens if one has been living outside their native country for an extended period of time, and away from the dominant aural cultural influences (TV, Radio, etc). We get a regular supply of fresh blood at The Bank, and country specific accents sharply mellow after maybe five years or so of living abroad.

I don't watch Television at all, and sometimes wonder what my accent would be like if I did. Most of the women I date are from "the continent" and add their own unique influence to my already totally confusing accent.
posted by Mutant at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2007


The local quality of British accents is class related. Working class accents are very different in different places, middle class less so, and posh people speak the same wherever they were born. This is because worling class people stay in the same place forever, middle class people move around a bit, and aristocrats all go to Eton and Oxford and have a house in London even if their family mansion/castle is in Scotland.
posted by Phanx at 2:12 PM on March 21, 2007


Working class accents are very different in different places, middle class less so, and posh people speak the same wherever they were born.

It's not so different in Noo Yawk, where there are still discernible differences between the working class accents of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and northwestern Jersey. In some cases there are even subtle differences within these indigenous borough accents. Used to be at least a couple in Manhattan, as well, but Manhattan has been so homogenized in the last 30 years, it mostly doesn't exist anymore. Boston has similar diversity in its own local accent.

I think as you push out of the major east coast American cities, the differences are fewer and further between and become more regional. Chicago is probably something of an exception as it there is a distinct local accent, but by and large most of the midwestern region speaks similarly.
posted by psmealey at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2007


Bart: 'You're watching PBS?' Homer: 'Hey, I'm as surprised as you, but I stumbled across the most delicious British sitcom.' Bart: [reading title] 'Do Shut Up'? Homer: 'It's about a hard-drinking yet loving family of soccer hooligans. If they're not having a go with the birds, they're having a row with the wankers.'

Betty White: If you like great PBS programs like "Do Shut Up" and "Shut Your Gob" you'll want to support our pledge drive.
posted by svenx at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2007


When in London I definitely tired of the regular "Sorry?" and allowed my vocabulary, idiom, and accent to drift a little Britward. Frankly, it made me more intelligible to the friends I was visiting, not to mention every waiter, cabbie, and shopkeep I met.

A thing to keep in mind regarding "American" or "British" accents - so I've just finished working my way through five seasons of "Spooks" ("MI-5" on BBCA) and marvel at the occasional Brit actor cast as "an American" whose "American" accent wanders from Texas to Brooklyn to Minnessota to the nasaliest Californian - this is a hearty endorsement to the "most Brits are as bad with American accents as Americans are with Brits" theory.

(As much as I love him, Eddie Izzard's "American" is a smidge inconsistent in "The Riches" as well.)
posted by abulafa at 2:35 PM on March 21, 2007


As much as I love him, Eddie Izzard's "American" is a smidge inconsistent in "The Riches" as well.

Ah, yes, but name the actor/movie that contains that Worst Ever American Accent by a British Actor/Actress.

Answer: Jude Law / Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
posted by psmealey at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2007


That I want to know is what the perception of an American accent is in the UK.

I'd say the Grim Reaper scene in Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life answers this nicely.


Holy shit, it still funny. Watch it. Bugger hehehhehlol I'm wetting my self
posted by econous at 2:47 PM on March 21, 2007


vbfg speaks the truth. I live about 12 miles away from him and yet our accents probably differ wildly. My favourite is the Halifax No which is sort of pronounced "n ooohr".
posted by seanyboy at 2:53 PM on March 21, 2007


Mutant I didn't mean that it was done on purpose. It just happens naturally sometimes.

I'm told that my accent now is hard to place (which admittedly is better than the So Cal accent I started with), probably because there are so many influences swirling around inside of it without me trying to sound any particular way. Every once in a while I can distinctly hear myself using some language styles that I absorbed from my british, canadian & australian friends, my Yugoslavian ex, friends from austria, new york, boston, france, tennessee, various places on the west coast, iran, south africa... and for the last year I've become close to my friends in Egypt -- we skype all the time -- so I've picked up on some of their english slang too.

My accent is often a melting pot... a big fat linguistic mess, really.

posted by miss lynnster at 3:14 PM on March 21, 2007


I'm pretty sure that in that Monty Python scene the American man is being played by Terry Gilliam, who is actually American. The American woman is being played by Michael Palin, and yes, it's terribly exagerrated.
posted by jb at 3:38 PM on March 21, 2007


But to answer the Brits - no, accents in North America are not as varied as they are in Britain. The variation in an accent has to do with how mobile people were when the area was first settled. Eastern Canada, the Eastern US and the Southern US have distinctive accents because they were settled early with less mobility than other areas because they pre-date trains. Newfoundland was so isolated that it has its own distinctive dialect, separate from the rest of Canadian English. But the variation tends to be on a regional level, over the hundreds of miles. And there is a Canadian urban accent which is shared through English Canadian cities from Halifax to Vancouver - people just move so much and there is so much communication across the country that the accents have either blended, or perhaps never separated in the first place (considering the West was largely settled from Ontario and even in the last generation many people in BC were born in Ontario).
posted by jb at 3:47 PM on March 21, 2007


Ah, yes, but name the actor/movie that contains that Worst Ever American Accent by a British Actor/Actress.

Answer: Jude Law / Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
posted by psmealey at 10:42 PM on March 21


Piss off. It's Jason Statham doing his Cocklin (Cockney/Brooklin) accent in The One. It's the mirror image of Dick van Dyke's staggering performance in Mary Poppins.

Though can think of more British actors doing extremely good American accents than vice versa.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:48 PM on March 21, 2007


My pussy is often a melting pot... a big fat cunning linguistic mess, really.. So mother told the Arch Bisho0P. *hick*
posted by econous at 4:37 PM on March 21, 2007


this is a hearty endorsement to the "most Brits are as bad with American accents as Americans are with Brits" theory.

I work with more than a few brits. Go to lunch with some of them frequently. I've asked them on more than one occasion what they would do to mimic an midwest (meaning: bland) American accent, since it seems obvious to me how to do a British one (I can't do one well, but I'd know what to do if I had to work on it.)

They're just awful. Can't even get close without comical exaggeration. Plus they can't help but slip in some Southern twangs since we live down here, which just makes it all the funnier.

Also, I was surprised as hell when I found out that Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama on Battlestar Galactica) and Damian Lewis (Major Winters on Band of Brothers) are both British.
posted by Cyrano at 4:39 PM on March 21, 2007


Actually, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Hugh Laurie. Naturally, he has a British upper-class accent (Dragon School and Eton), but is entirely convincing (to me, at least) as an American on House.

I read a recent interview in which he emphasised the huge amount of thought and effort required to keep the accent convincing even through unfamiliar medical terminology — 'how would an American pronounce emphysema?' etc.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:45 PM on March 21, 2007


And for worst wtf British accent ever... may I present Kevin Costner.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:46 PM on March 21, 2007


And I agree... Hugh Laurie ROCKS that accent.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:47 PM on March 21, 2007


My friend had an aunt who emigrated to the US about thirty years ago who returned to Ireland for the first time last year. Their family were originally from Gweedore in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) parts of Donegal. This would be an area where the natives have extremely thick accents. (Miss Lynnster already mentioned how difficult the Northern Irish accent is for foreigners, well these guys would give most of their more southern brethren, a hard time understanding them!)

When his aunt returned she had lost all traces of her Irish / Donegal accent and now spoke with an american (dunno what area) accent, which seemed natural after thirty years. At some point they got to speaking Irish and the pure Gweedore accent returned instantly.

It was interesting to me that her accent didn't seem to cross the language barrier.
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:18 PM on March 21, 2007


Ah, yes, but name the actor/movie that contains that Worst Ever American Accent by a British Actor/Actress.

Recently I watched "Stay" with Ewan McGregor. It's not that his American accent is bad, you can tell he worked hard on it, it's just somehow off. It's hard to put a finger on it.

Naomi Watts, btw, does a fantastic American accent.
posted by zardoz at 5:19 PM on March 21, 2007


Naomi Watts, btw, does a fantastic American accent.

True, but she's Aussie (born in England, raised in Oz). For whatever reason, it seems easier for Aussies (Anthony LaPaglia, Nicole Kidman, etc) to pull it off than it is for the Scots and the English... Although Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson do it well, but both still sound a bit upper crust when they try.

The best worst accent I've ever heard is Hugh Grant's in Mickey Blue Eyes (and otherwise awful film that James Caan tried gamely to life). Grant has such a huge block with trying to do it, they actually wrote it into the film. It was the only funny bit in the entire steaming pile.
posted by psmealey at 5:46 PM on March 21, 2007


Brits are far better at American accents than the reverse. The Brits are exposed to the foreign earlier, for longer and more convincingly than the Americans. Maybe it even matters more to them.
posted by econous at 5:51 PM on March 21, 2007


From 40 Watt's link upthread:
Take my own adventures as a single man in New York. On one occasion I was at a party on the Upper East Side when I found myself talking to a beautiful young heiress. I'd been trying to impress her by chastising Americans for misusing certain English words - and, God help me, it seemed to be working. She stood before me, open-mouthed in amazement. "Can you say that again?" she asked, after I had pointed out that "snogging" is the English equivalent of "sucking face" not "knocking boots". I happily obliged, at which point she beckoned her friend over: "Hey, Mary-Ellen, come check this out. This guy has English teeth." Needless to say, "English teeth" is not something Americans ask for when they visit their orthodontists.
Ouch.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:58 PM on March 21, 2007


I've got a generic southern middle-class British accent (in that nobody, even Professor Higgins types, can tell where I was born or grew up. There's a clue to one of those in my mefi name but no, I don't sound like the Wurzels).

It works a treat in the US. Not so long ago, I got free drinks for an hour in an LA hotel bar just for saying "That shit's fucked up. That's some fucked-up shit, right there" in my best public school voice. The people I was with, Californian media types who really should have known better, creased up every time. I rationed it to twice per martini, and they just kept coming.

Beats me. But I'm going to try it again.
posted by Devonian at 6:07 PM on March 21, 2007


Huh. Well that's some fucked-up shit, right there.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:18 PM on March 21, 2007


I tend to pick up accents way too easily, kinda spongelike. When I'm traveling, the linguistic sounds that go into my ears will, without effort or thought, work their way into my own conversation.

Ah, it's nice to see a few more folks who have shifting and unidentifiable accents...makes me feel less of a freak. Growing up with constant exposure to Hawai'i pidgin, mom's upstate-NY rez lilt, military and tourist sorts from various parts of the US, and tourists and recent immigrants from all around the world, oh and lots and lots of UK programming by way of a PBS addiction, I somehow wound up with a blended accent that doesn't quite sound like anyplace specific. And when I got a retail job in my late teens, at some point I realized, with a bit of horror, that when talking with customers my accent would often tend to shift a bit to echo theirs. It was always particularly noticeable to me if I was chatting with an Aussie or a Brit, but an ISP job years later where I'd sometimes wind up taking phone calls from all across the country showed that I tend to do the same with a lot of different US accents too.

I'm always worried when I catch my voice slipping like that for fear that folks will think I'm trying to make fun of their accent, or worse yet that it's deliberate pretension...but of course by the time I realize it's happening I have to keep it up, as trying to force my speech back to the default seems like it would just draw even more attention to the shift...
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:28 PM on March 21, 2007


From curiosity, which Americans' playing at English accents do the native British here find most and least convincing? Are Ms Zellweger and Ms Paltrow to be the goods or no?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:04 PM on March 21, 2007


Here in Canada we have four accents that I know of: People who live in Quebec and either speak or hear Quebecois French most of the time; The accent of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, et al; The stereotypical accent of the Maritimes and most of rural Canada, which is the way "that Canadian guy" always talks on American TV, and everybody else. Toronto has aboot about 10% of Canada's population, and we're so close to being Americans that you can't even tell the difference, eh?
posted by tehloki at 7:15 PM on March 21, 2007


For some reason, they can always tell that you're Canadian, though. Maybe it's all about the figures of speech.
posted by tehloki at 7:17 PM on March 21, 2007


For whatever reason, it seems easier for Aussies (Anthony LaPaglia, Nicole Kidman, etc) to pull [an American accent] off than it is for the Scots and the English

We might be exposed to more American TV from a very young age...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:27 PM on March 21, 2007


tehloki, there was a whole AskMe thread devoted to all the different Canadian accents - there's more than you think! (there's definitely more than I thought!)
posted by melissa at 7:29 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Are Ms Zellweger and Ms Paltrow to be the goods or no?

Ms Zellweger puts the British to shame.
posted by cillit bang at 8:03 PM on March 21, 2007


Yup, I'm EXACTLY the same way, Smilla. I know just what you mean... you catch yourself in the middle of mirroring someone else's vocal patterns and suddenly get really self conscious because you aren't sure whether to fight it or go with the flow.

Funny enough, there was a while where people in LA used to always think I was from the east coast. I finally realized it's because for about 4 years I worked for two jewish New Yorkers & had picked up some of their vocal habits. I even peppered my slang with very occasional yiddish phrases without realizing it. It's not like I was speaking yiddish to impress anyone (duh!) or because I grew up with it -- I was a waspy former beach girl -- it just came out because I had automatically absorbed it by osmosis.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:13 PM on March 21, 2007


As for the Canadian accent... all you have to do is say "out" and I can usually tell if it's not American.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:14 PM on March 21, 2007


Re assimilated accents: I bought the audiobook of Bill Bryson's Thunderbolt Kid, read by the author, and it was quite noticeable that at the start of the narrative he had a mid-Atlantic accent, with precise consonants and British vowel qualities, but by an hour or so into the book his voice had become much more the Midwestern accent he grew up with. I don't think this was the least intentional, rather a function of an unconscious drift from the accent he's grown into after living in England for 20 years back to the accent he inhabited during his childhood.

I'm a native Californian now living on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, where many of the local have very strong old-timey Appalachian accents, and I still find it can be one of the hardest native-English accents to understand next to strong Glaswegian. (I recommend Limmy's Worldl of Glasgow for an education in the various accents of that town, BTW.)
posted by Creosote at 8:37 PM on March 21, 2007


I should have mentioned props to Hugh Laurie and Bob Hoskins (at least in Roger Rabbit - go figure).

Hugh Laurie is so good that despite years of Black Adder, I find it physically painful to hear him interviewed out of character. (Or maybe I have a man-crush on House.)

Lee Adama is a brit? Okay, props to him as well.
posted by abulafa at 8:44 PM on March 21, 2007


I can't believe that no one linked to the Stephen Fry valet alarm clock. I so want one of these. I just wish it weren't so ugly.
posted by painquale at 9:34 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, I sooo love that clock.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:47 PM on March 21, 2007


"The rising and the shining cannot be postponed indefinitely. Though shining isn't compulsory in this intractable world, the rising eventually is."
posted by painquale at 9:53 PM on March 21, 2007


For some reason, they can always tell that you're Canadian, though. Maybe it's all about the figures of speech.

If you think the are Australian offer up New Zealand as your first offer. If perhaps you think they're America use Canadian. If in utter doubt try Dutch. Only a Canadian or New Zealander will give a shit if you get it wrong, American or Aussies really don't mind. The Dutch? Well those guys will just adjust the price accordingly, so in Holland always.. seriously never be a Yank.

If American say Ouut rather than out. You might just pass as Canadian or something, and get a discount.
posted by econous at 10:05 PM on March 21, 2007


Wow.

I read all the way through that thread and not one person picked up that A.A. Gill wrote that scathing vanity fair piece.

He may be a scot but his accent could cut glass. Poshest of the posh...
posted by gergtreble at 10:05 PM on March 21, 2007


So you're saying you don't trust people who think before they speak? I'll take the expert who pauses to mull over a thought before passing on their expertise over the expert who glibly trots out a rehearsed stock answer, thanks.

That's not what I am saying at all. When the person is enough of an expert in their field that they are the go to guy on TV news then they are not thinking before they speak. They are only pretending to mull over a thought because in order to be the expert they have already had the thought and written and published on it. The pausing and stammering is a dramatic affectation intended to convey that they are thinking. It says look at me I can give you an expert opinion off the cuff with just a moment or two of reflection because I am clever.
posted by srboisvert at 1:33 AM on March 22, 2007


Interesting. I read the same situation as the BBC hiring clueless fuckwits.
posted by vbfg at 1:38 AM on March 22, 2007


Just to answer econous we only adjust the price for tossers land wankers, with their union jack tshirts and their our booooyze attiude.
posted by happybunny at 2:01 AM on March 22, 2007


As far as British accents goes I love one the south Wales valleys accent!

People sing rather than speak. They enjoy talking so much they add words where they are not needed.

My favourite phrase:
"Whose coat is that jacket, hanging up down there on the floor?"

love it.

I am from South England, and to be honest i know my accent is bland and relatively non offensive, how boring.
posted by informity at 3:00 AM on March 22, 2007



He may be a scot but his accent could cut glass. Poshest of the posh...


And Scots cant be posh, like?
posted by the cuban at 3:34 AM on March 22, 2007


Hardest thing for me was exorcising the native San Diego high school girl out of my voice. Oh my God like totally.
posted by miss lynnster


And with that phrase you started Frank Zappa's "Valley Girl" in my head. Ha!
posted by Termite at 4:27 AM on March 22, 2007


I think that Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama on Battlestar Galactica) has an American parent, so he's a little more transatlantic. Same with Gweneth Paltrow (having a British parent). Mel Gibson, as well, grew up in Australia, but I believe that his parents were American (he was born in the States).

But Hugh Laurie is just a brilliant actor - I nearly didn't recognise him. There is a great story about his casting - he had sent in his tape, and the casting people had been complaining about the loss of quality of American acting, but on seeing his tape said "That's the sort of good American actor I'm talking about." They didn't know he was British until after they cast him.

----------------

You can tell Torontonians from Americans, but only with difficulty. I (as a Torontonian who has lived in the States) generally would say that we sound like many Northern American accents (especially Michigan, but not Wisconsin), but people still pick me out after a while, especially when I say "out". It's one of those things that you notice when you know, but it's not strong enough to make you guess/assume where someone is from without them saying. And I never expect other English speakers to pick up on it - it's far too subtle. It's like the difference between a Sydney accent and a Queensland accent in Australia.
posted by jb at 5:08 AM on March 22, 2007


Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't have a British parent. They're both American.
posted by mckenney at 6:27 AM on March 22, 2007


Although born in London of Irish parents, I grew up in Chicago until the age of 10. There was a flow of "Returned Yanks" to Ireland in the early 70s, and my parents followed suit, moving back to Galway.

For the first year or so at school, I hung around with other returned yanks just like me. Naturally we gradually started to go native, and picked up local words and phrases, and later still, accents. Some transitioned faster than others - with jarring results in the meantime.
posted by Sk4n at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2007


Oh, I'm mistaken then. She did live in England for a time, that might have helped.

Not that it has helped me - I have lived in England for collectively about 2 years, and married a English/Canadian, and my attempts at an English accent are atrocious. Almost as bad as his attempts at a Canadian accent (after living there for 13 years).
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2007


I like to think of myself as a well-read, knowledgable, worldly person about these issues, and yet even I have misidentified an acquaintance after several months as "Australian", when he was from Yorkshire.

The variation in an accent has to do with how mobile people were when the area was first settled. Well stated, and I'll add a little. In the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc.) there were fairly broad swaths that were settled quickly by people who often didn't have English as a first language. A town would be known as the Danish town, or the Czech town, or the Bavarian town. People needed to learn English to do business with each other, but when they did, they'd all learn the same mid-American variety at the same time. The result was a big area without much variation within it. (Although I do like to think that the stereotyped Minnesota/Wisconsin "o" without an offglide--think about the movie "Fargo"--oh yah--is a Scandinavian influence.)

And yes, Hugh Laurie is utterly brilliant. No-one has ever made a more convincing transformation, ever.
posted by gimonca at 9:01 AM on March 22, 2007


gimonca,
And yes, Hugh Laurie is utterly brilliant. No-one has ever made a more convincing transformation, ever.
bet you didn’t know that John Mahoney (Marty Crane in Frasier) was born in the north of England and moved to the US as an adult …
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 9:23 AM on March 22, 2007


I like to think of myself as a well-read, knowledgable, worldly person about these issues, and yet even I have misidentified an acquaintance after several months as "Australian", when he was from Yorkshire.

I took a call at work the other day thinking I was talking to an African woman. I couldn't get that out of my head, I had no idea why. I kept asking the person to repeat themselves and finally, with one vowel sound, I realised I was talking to a young German man. Bizarrely, I suddenly understood every word he was saying. I can understand every word most African women I speak to say as well so I can only assume there was something between my initial assumption and the sounds I was hearing that was preventing genuine comprehension. Very odd.
posted by vbfg at 10:52 AM on March 22, 2007


While not about really about accents, I thought this Guardian story about the success of black and asian british actors in the US was far more interesting than the Toby Young effort. I knew most of the actors were British, but the fact Eamonn Walker is came as a surprise.

The US industry may well love British accents, but there seem to be a hell of a lot more opportunities for black and asian actors there than in the UK.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 1:54 PM on March 22, 2007


The guy from Toronto in Melissa's Link sounds like somebody has just killed a puppy in front of him. Then again, maybe I do too.
posted by tehloki at 4:52 PM on March 22, 2007


I should have mentioned props to Hugh Laurie and Bob Hoskins (at least in Roger Rabbit - go figure).

Funny, I was just thinking of Hoskin's rabbit gig the other day. Haven't seen it in years, but I think it works because the accent for the role itself is artificial, that is to say, 1930's movie gangland speak. Nobody talks like that, possibly nobody ever did. So there's no standard against which to call him out. Did a good job, though.

As to Laurie- sorry, I like him a lot, but his House accent doesn't work for me. He has the common British-playing- American problem of taking the r's just a tad too far. Mostly, he never sounds quite effortless.

(Whether I would have noticed anything off if I had not known him from Black Adder days is unknowable. I think I would have felt there was something a little weird. It's sort of east coast, but not quite.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:58 AM on March 23, 2007


See, I take his hard Rs not as him trying too hard, but rather as him acting like an asshole who dRRRRips with saRRRRcasm.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:21 AM on March 23, 2007


Oh, it's not the rrrs alone or even primarily I submit as evidence as trying too hard. It's the whole package, my inability to place the accent. Lo these hours later, I'm wondering, perhaps some of it's just a deliberate actorly attempt to remind us of his chronic pain (though I don't recall it abating during his brief period of painlessness). As I say, part of my problem may be too many years of Black Adder etc. Never like to disagree with lynnsters.

He's a curious choice for the part, if you think about it. Works, of course, but how did he get on the long list, never mind the short?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2007


Feel free to disagree with me any ol' time. I've actually been wrong once or twice. Probably. :)

Anyhow, according to Wikipedia: As the story goes, Laurie was in Namibia filming Flight of the Phoenix and recorded the audition tape for the show in the bathroom of the hotel — the only place he could get enough light. His U.S. accent was so convincing that the executive producer, Bryan Singer, who was unaware at the time that Laurie is British, pointed to him as an example of just the kind of compelling American actor he had been looking for. Laurie also adopts the voice between takes on the set of House, as well as during script read-throughs.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2007


I read all the way through that thread and not one person picked up that A.A. Gill wrote that scathing vanity fair piece.

He's a total fucker, but a very good writer. His piece on going to a Norfolk livestock market and buying all manner of creatures with the change in his pocket still makes me laugh. But yeah, he can bloody well talk about self-contrivance.

The accents from my part of England tend not to budge. You'll find expats who've lived in the US for decades and still only have the faintest trace of mid-atlanticism. Other accents seem to drift very quickly: Andrew Sullivan's, for instance, slips further every time I hear him speak. Conversely, Gillian Anderson's went in a flash, as if she snapped back to the way she spoke when growing up in England. Those shocked by how she speaks these days ought to distinguish it from Madonna's put-on accent.
posted by holgate at 11:01 PM on March 26, 2007


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