Yesterday we saw hubby's brother and wife and two daughters. As the girls walked in the house, they started talking and didn't stop till they left four hours later. In between I was fascinated by their accents -- Leicestershire. Very different to my children's -- almost-but-not-quite Scouse.
Since I moved to this country 17 years ago, I have been amazed by the number of different accents within such a small geographic area. To the untrained ear, an English accent is an English accent, and a Scottish accent is a Scottish accent. And South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders sound like the English. But they don't. And sometimes even the English don't sound like the English. Try talking to a Scouser on the phone sometimes. To me, when I first moved here, they sounded German.
After my ear became more attuned, I was able to pick out Geordies from Glaswegians (though I still struggle to understand both). I could distinguish the differences between a Southern accent and a Northern accent. I could even place where the Northern accent originated (Manchester, Yorkshire, Liverpool, etc.)
All very My Fair Lady. Remember the scene where Rex Harrison moans about why can't the English speak properly? "Aw, gwon," said Eliza Doolittle. But even Londoners have variations in their accents.
But because of all these different accents and variations in how some words are pronounced, I don't always understand what's being said. Many people think I have a hearing problem, which I probably do. But a lot of it, I'm sure, is because I still have to concentrate on what's being said just as I did during my first encounter with a Glaswegian. I'd asked for directions on a visit there and understood only two words -- "Turrrrrnnn rrreet." I had to learn what my mother-in-law meant when she said bewk, lewk, and cewk.
I have trouble with Irish accents as well, but for different reasons. Northern Irish accents sound somewhat Welsh or Scottish to me sometimes. Southern Irish, depending on the origin, can sound American. Oh yes, I have embarrassed myself by asking an Irishman if he was American. And I have been asked if I'm Irish or Scottish. By the English.
Accents matter a lot in the UK. People make assumptions about you based on your accent -- whether you're intelligent or stupid or rich or poor or honest or dishonest. This happens in the U.S. and elsewhere too, I'm sure (I'm thinking about In the Heat of the Night).
Apparently, even dogs in the UK growl in regional accents. Now that's taking things a bit too far.