Monday, October 13, 2008

Random Thoughts from JMB on the Topic of Accents

You may wish to watch this video before you read further. If not, do watch it afterwards. It's brilliant. Just over two minutes.

21 accents from around the world by Amy Walker





Growing up in Sydney, Australia as I did, the word accent didn't mean much to me. We all sounded the same, well maybe not my Scottish grandparents, although my father came as a child so he spoke like us too. Perhaps when those people from the country came into town for the Royal Agricultural Show, we noticed they spoke more slowly, but they still sounded like us.

After the Second World War many immigrants came to Australia from Europe but then naturally they had an accent. They were speaking a new language and of course they sounded different. So too did the many Brits who came to Australia but I think we lumped them all in together accentwise. We knew they were British by their accent but had no concept of the fact that they had regional accents other than the broader ones of English, Scottish or Irish. Well I certainly didn't.

All that changed when I went to live in London in 1960. To me, everyone sounded different and my accent was different from everyone else's. Besides the myriad of British accents I found other Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans with their very distinctive accents. The other Colonials as the British liked to call us. You Colonials, ____ , fill in the blank. Always in a slightly derogatory tone.

All those different English accents now began to mean something to me as I learned this one was from Manchester or this one from Plymouth and I actually could put into context where these people came from. How far away they were from each other or rather how close together they really were in fact but how different their accents. Even within London people born there have different accents from each other.

One of my most embarrassing experiences is centred around accents. While living in London I worked as a locum pharmacist, replacing those on vacation, moving from one pharmacy to another and staying for just a few weeks.

One of the stints I did was at a pharmacy in Holborn, right near the Law Courts. Remember these were the days before self service and if I was not busy in the dispensary I would help out at the counter at the front. On this occasion I was the only one upfront so I asked the gentleman who had entered if I could help him. Roisa bloides. Last syllable swallowed. Yes you all know what he wanted but at the time I did not. After the third time he asked, with me no wiser, I retreated in embarrassment and sent out someone else to help him. I was mortified when I was told what he had wanted. Razor blades. Yes we speak the same language but.....

Then of course there is the dreaded connotation of class that goes with accent, at least in English and I suppose it could be the same in other languages. Needless to say that is not a topic I'm going to touch in this post but I was certainly made aware of it for the first time when I went to England.

But just one word about the so called BBC accent. We subscribe to a TV channel called BBC World Service, a twenty four news and commentary channel. I'm glad to say that there is no longer a BBC accent being portrayed on that channel and the presenters are of both genders, of varied ethnic origin and definitely have many different British accents. In fact it seems that BBC English is another name for something called Received Pronunciation (RP), since RP was used on the BBC for a period of years. Fascinating stuff, check the link.

Occasionally in North America, when you see something on TV where the person is speaking English but has a "broad" accent you will see subtitles. I find that rather amusing until I see some movie with very heavy regional accents which I can't understand and I long for subtitles.

So finally we come to where I live now, Vancouver, Canada. A very young city. Founded in the 1870s, incorporated in 1886. Most everyone comes from somewhere else, even the Canadians. And trust me even they have different regional accents. They, along with all the others who are immigrants from all over the world, make this a city of so many varied accents.

In my circle of close friends, many of whom speak English as a second language, there are some delightful accents. My Spanish friend from Barcelona whose native tongue is Catalan has the most wonderful accent. It's quite delectable. My two German friends, one almost accentless in English while the other has a very heavy accent, both here for fifty years. My French friend from Paris but who was married to a German and I never knew she was French for quite sometime after I met her. My Chinese twin, even married to an English speaker for forty years has a very difficult accent to understand and the same is true of my Turkish friend who speaks so quickly in her heavily accented English that I am often lost.

But I must not forget my Italian son-in-law who had the most delightful accent of them all. He speaks almost perfect English but with the musical sounds of one whose native language is the most beautiful of them all.

For the first four years or so of their lives my children spoke with Australian accents. Why wouldn't they? They had two Australian parents. Gradually going to school changed all that. Now they speak with Canadian accents although my daughter has lived in the USA for 18 years so her accent has probably changed somewhat although I can't say I notice it.

What of my own accent? I have no idea how to describe it. I lived in Australia for 24 years, for almost two years in England and here in Vancouver for 47 years. I know I still have Australian vowel sounds and although I use many North American expressions I can't believe anyone would ever think I was Canadian. Often I am asked if I am British, even by British people, can you imagine? That always amazes me. If someone asks me, as sometimes they do, what is your accent I always reply Australian. For although I now call myself a CanAussie or AussieCan my accent leans more towards the Aussie than the Can.

Do accents matter? Of course they don't. Ellee made a comment on Miss Moggs post: I love different accents as long as good grammar is used. That is true for me too, if we are all speaking our native language. But since for so many of those I come in contact with English is a second language I am very forgiving of incorrect use of grammar.

For me the most important thing is to understand each other well enough to communicate our needs, our wishes, our ideas and our feelings. Can we have a meaningful exchange, with no misunderstanding? For me, that's the bottom line.

Accent? I don't have an accent! It's you who have the accent!



14 comments:

Crushed said...

One thing I notive with the Birmingham accent, is that ethnic factors are changing it.


Older Brummies decry the way those of us of the younger generation 'speak gehetto' as they call it. But it's not in fact that we put it on, we've picked it up by mixing.

Grammar can also say a lot about region as well.

For example, a key difference between Birmingham proper and the Black country is in the colloquial for 'you're'. A Brummie says 'You's', a Yam Yam (Black Country) says 'You'm'.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Wow JMB! You picked up the ball and ran with it. It is a big subject really though.

Did anyone notice there seems to be a new accent on the block in the UK. A mix of cockney and something of the Indian subcontinent? Mostly used by Youth of all shades.

Sienna said...

I laughed so much at the razor blades story!

Ah JMB it is so interesting, our world and people. I love accents. I was in QLD a month ago and the Far North QLDers still add "eh/ay" on the end of everything.

My accent is rural/outback Orstrayliun, it's a shocker really. I travelled through QLD to Sydney with some Californian friends and they just keep asking me; "what did you say?"

Plus, for some reason my Dad's side of the family are s-l-o-w talkers too. So, we are daggy, slow, broad Australian accents.

The good thing is the kids sound well spoken, not as bad/formal as the English, but nicely spoken-and boy, that is a relief. So in 2 generations we have gone from Chad Morgan to Rolf Harris!! LOL!

I will load up my photos I took in Sydney, was some nice pics I got there. It's as happy and as busy place as ever...

I hope March isn't too hot for you when you fly over, the summers have been incredible.

Take care, and I'll find my new Sydney pics.

Pam

rlbates said...

Marvelous video, JMB! I love accents too. Thanks

Carver said...

I enjoyed this post and the youtube video. I get more and more southern (U.S.) the older I get. I enjoy regional accents and am aware that mine gets stronger.

Perhaps since my daughter, her father, my siblings and even my parents when they were alive didn't sound anything like as southern as I do, I'm increasingly aware of how southern sounding I am. It's funny since people often think of a southern accent as a slow drawl but when I speak slowly, I can sound far more neutral and harder to place.

In professional situations I know people have had trouble placing my accent (not anymore since I know longer make any effort when I talk). When I'm relaxed, and talking fast, it is a pretty thick accent. I love the variety in accents, even within a small areas. This was an interesting post.

CherryPie said...

Loved the video and the post and found out from you link that our Birthdays are quite close together ;-)

Dr.John said...

When I was in England Betty and I went to a Methodist Church one Sunday and I couldn't understand the sermon evewn though it was in English. The accent was just too strong.
I grew up with Finnish grandparents that had one accent and Cousin Jack( Cornish) grandparents that had another. It made life interesting. But now I have to go and ang up me at.

jmb said...

Are you saying Crushed, I would not understand a word you said, if we were to meet? Would we need an interpreter? What a thought!

Yes I did Moggs, you inspired me to think about the topic myself. Thanks for that.

Hi Pam. It was not funny at the time. Eh is supposed to be a Canadianism but I haven't heard it much in these parts. It's funny when you children sound so different from you, isn't it?

Hi Ramona, isn't it great? I'll bet you have the neatest accent, from the South.

I didn't notice the southern accent so much in North Carolina but I was up in the north of the State. I suppose in South Carolina it's really strong. Well we sound the way we do and as long as we can make people understand us, that is the important thing.

Scorpio are you Cherrypie? So is Liz in around there too.

Isn't it embarrassing Dr John when you can't understand someone speaking your own language? But with your background you should be very tolerant of accents.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Liz said...

I think your accent is Australian.

Liz said...

It was pointed out to me when we were in Canada - and there was even a t-shirt explaining it - that canadians add 'eh' to every sentence. But I didn't notice it myself.

Vic Grace said...

The video is great. Very talented though the Toronto accent sounded a bit off to me.

My husband has a Liverpudlian acccent and sounds just like one of the Beatles. He ribs me all the time about my accent which is a bit upper crust I suppose, at least to him, as it comes from correct speech lessons in my snooty boarding school. I think I have lost quite a bit of it living in Canada though.

Donnetta Lee said...

jmb: You should hear our Oklahoma accent! It would sound so backward and country to your ear. My brother and I have tried to use proper English growing up here. But we haven't escaped the accent. And, I must confess, "ya'll" is just such an incredibly useful word. Of course, hubby, being from Brooklyn, prefers "use guys." Ah, well, there is something to be said for diversity. D

leslie said...

My husband and I often wondered why everyone seemed to think Canadians add "eh" to the end of everything. That was until we moved to Ottawa to live for 3 years. Then we heard it. So I think it's an Eastern thing more than anything. JMB, have you ever heard a Newfoundlander speak? Whoa!

Liz said...

I couldn't watch the video yesterday but it worked this time. Amazing: no Welsh!