Monday, 9 June 2014

English as she ain't spoke

I find most regional and foreign accents fascinating, but I'm surprised how many people find some of them so unpleasant or repulsive they'd like to get rid of them altogether.

My mum finds the London cockney accent or "Estuary English" very unattractive. She thinks people who speak like that should have elocution lessons and learn to talk proper Queen's English.

What an awful thought. Can you imagine if everyone in London spoke like those bland BBC newsreaders, all smoothed-out vowels and slightly toffee-nosed delivery? Spoke like me in other words, with my posh public-school diction. It would give me the heebie-jeebies. I love to hear an infinite range of accents and pronunciation, it's exciting and intriguing.

I love all the regional accents too - Northern English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish. In fact in Northern Ireland there are almost as many accents as there are towns, and you can usually tell which town someone comes from by the way they speak. But some people object to regional accents as being a weird perversion of standard English. As if there's only one "normal" way of speaking the language. Variety is the spice of life, I say. Why should everything be standardised?

Then there are all the foreign accents of people from other countries. English with an Italian or German lilt. English with an American or Aussie twang. For some people, a foreign accent is an instant cue for prejudice and a show of superiority. Such arrogance! We should be admiring those people who've taken the trouble to master another language, or even several languages. And we should be ashamed of the general British inability to be multilingual.

I think it's sad when someone with a strong regional accent feels obliged to fake "standard" English for job purposes, because they think their natural accent is a liability. Sometimes the result is embarrassingly false and exaggerated. But apparently some call centres prefer staff with regional accents, which are seen as warmer and friendlier than the flat, aloof-sounding London accent. Good for them.

The more accents the better. Ain't that the troof, guv?


  1. Most Americans love to hear an accent. I could listen to an Italian speaking English everyday and never get tired of it.

    There are probably close to 100 'regional' accents in America. Some are subtle and only noticeable with a few words. When my daughter went to college (60 miles away), people identified her 'accent' right away. We didn't realize we had an accent compared to others only an hour away!

  2. Devon Dumpling here. When I am not getting my way I become more Devon. And I think I get away with things as Londoners think I am thick! lol

  3. Bijoux: 100 regional accents doesn't sound very many for such a huge country. There must be at least 20 or 30 different accents in Northern Ireland alone!

    Sol: Ooh ah, oi hear what ye be sayin! Londoners are really snotty about non-London accents, they assume anyone outside London is as thick as a plank.

  4. I have no idea! It would be hard to distinguish them, to most ears.

  5. Sol...thick as a plank...funny.

    I like all accents except my own. Midwestern American.

    I'm sure I'd like yours, Nick.

  6. Susie: Kind of you to say so! I'm sure I'd like yours too. I couldn't tell one US accent from another, my ears just aren't that sensitive.

  7. Bijoux: I had no idea either until we moved to Belfast. I can still only distinguish a few of them, but the locals have them all pinned down.

  8. As for me?
    I'm in love with the Newfoundland accents, so many, from Cornwall and all the counties of Cork and the Basque areas.

    I love it when they come up to me and tell me they love MY accent. All good for a laugh when I say "You? You're telling me this?"

    Oh the lilts. To die.


  9. I love accents, especially the lyrical ones, as long as I can understand the person.

  10. Here in Costa Rica I find it very difficult to understand U.S. expats; slurred speech without the aid of alcohol, terms from a foreign culture....
    I now speak - badly - Costa Rican Spanish with a French accent having spent twenty years in France.
    My husband speaks perfect Castillian Spanish...and no one here below university level understands a word!

    When I was working in London I used to subdue my Scots accent by way of courtesy to my clients...but the devil would out in my written submissions!

  11. www: So even with a modest population of 527,000, Newfoundland probably has a variety of accents (including as you say all the ex-pats!)

    Jean: That's the only problem. Some accents are so thick I can't understand them at all (like really heavy Glaswegian).

  12. Helen: Well, if you can speak Spanish and French, that's a lot better than many monoglot Brits! "Slurred speech without the aid of alcohol" Indeed!

  13. Can't say I am fond of accents.
    Not even my own - when on foreign shores.

    There are occasions my heart sinks. Not least when on the phone to a call centre. There are times I do have to apologize profusely, as not to upset the other person. How to hold a conversation if you have no idea what the other person is saying? It's impossible. It's embarrassing. It's counter productive.

    My English teacher was Oxford educated. Father-of-son (English) was public school educated. Crystal clear. As it should be. A slight lilt is fine. French, Italian accents - most charming. Though Raymond Blanc does lay it on thickly - and for effect - considering how long he has lived in Britain.

    One of the worst moments of my life when, in the motherland, I made friends with a farmer's daughter. My own diction is impeccable. Not by my assessment, by those of others. Never ever were I humiliated so much before and after in my life. He spoke - remember we are talking MY mother tongue - with such a heavy accent/dialect I couldn't make out a word he was saying. Let's forget that I was only nine, so my experience of the world somewhat limited. What I found hard to forgive that he laughed, he laughed and then some more - at my incomprehension. It was cruel. It was unnecessary. May he rest in peace. The bastard.

    Yes, there is something vaguely comforting when you make out someone is American, Australian - it is endearing. And give me Stephen Fry and good old Bertie Wooster any time.

    As an aside you might find enlightening: An American friend of mine (California) slinks away when trying to do business with a Scot. She doesn't have a clue what they are saying. Give me a Scot, such is our affinity of the guttural we might as well speak the same language.

    Multi faceted and very interesting subject, Nick.


  14. Ursula: I also find it hard to understand some call centre workers. If as I suspect many of their customers are equally perplexed, why don't the firms concerned make some changes?

    It's unforgivable when someone laughs at your inability to understand them. Any normal person would try to make themselves understood.

    I agree, a thick Scottish accent can be hard to comprehend. It can sound like a foreign language at times!

  15. By the way, Ursula, I've had to rescue two of your comments from my Spam box. No idea why that's happening! Luckily I also get the comments by email.

  16. there are more accents in the region of a language's birth so the UK will see a wide variation in a small area whereas in australia, on the other side of the world and well away from the cradle of English we dont have a whole lot of variation at all.

    Similarly, the Chinese language in China has a lot of variation, in other parts of the world it becomes much more uniform

  17. Kylie: You're a mine of information! I didn't know that was the case. I certainly haven't noticed much variation in Australia, although I've only been to four cities.

  18. Hah! Funnily enough, Boy and I were talking on the subject of accents this afternoon. I asked him why young, white, Norfolk boys spoke with a black, "urban" accent. As a post-teen, I figured he'd understand why.

    He said that when you get groups of teens from London and Norfolk together and the Norfolk dialect comes though, that the Norfolk teens have to put up with: "give me six!"...and other such derogatory comments.

  19. More the merrier indeed. I have Scottish relatives and love being in Scotland. I am as amused with their accents as they are with mine but we have a ball nevertheless. And, I am not exaggeration when I say that English spoken in India can produce over a hundred accents! And each regional language within India too will do that.

  20. Rosemarie: It's funny how people fake more fashionable accents. Like posh Brits who put on a yobby working-class accent.

    Give me six? What does that mean?

    Ramana: Over a hundred variations of English spoken in India? That's hilarious. There are probably even different versions of cockney English, though I've never noticed them.

  21. It's funny though - listening to old newsreels, even though I don't much care for the accent I love the clear way that people spoke.

  22. Jenny: It's true, people used to speak more clearly at one time. Nowadays people mumble so much you have to keep asking them to repeat themselves. Did you see there have been a lot of complaints about incomprehensible mumbling in TV dramas?

  23. youngsters speak too quickly. innit!

  24. Sol: How young are we talking? I don't find that myself. I think youngsters prefer not to talk to me at all, I'm one of those unfathomable oldies.