Wednesday, 15 April 2009

It's All in the Accent

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.


menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I had a good laugh at your 'turrrrn reeettt' comment! People ask me as a lapsed Glaswegian living down south if I am American a times! That's Brits asking me that! Thick as mince. I did spend a lot of time in the States as I worked for an American IT firm for a long time so I may have pic ked up some slang hee and there.

A very interesting post and point of view from an objective observer. I do like to see the world through your lens!

Fire Byrd said...

Well tomorrow, you'll just sound glamorous to the Cheshire set, dauwling, and I'll just be as common as muck....

Siobhán said...

Great post.
I find accents fascinating and always love to know where people are from, though sometimes it's a bit awkward to ask.

Kaycie said...

I had a terrible time understanding the bus drivers in London but found that I could understand most of the people around Slough and Windsor.

J said...

Accents are absolutely fascinating.

I've lived in the western, southern and northeastern US, and all have regional accents and quirks within them. It's going to be fun to think about them for the next few hours.


Anonymous said...

The only accent I've had trouble with was with an Aberdeen taxi driver.



DogLover said...

Two things I have always wanted to know:

1. Why other people have accents and I have none and

2. Why it is that the different accents arise in the first place (as you say, WakeUp, in such a small area geographically).

NB The first question is just a joke!

darth sardonic said...

lol nice. i dig accents alot.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

MOB: Thank you. I think the confusion over the American/Scots accents must be because many American accents have their origins in the Scots/Irish settlers.

Fire Byrd: I so enjoy your company! We must go back and observe the Cheshire set again.

Siobhan: I always ask, awkward or not. But then again, I'm a loud, vulgar American.

Kaycie: There's a big difference between Windsor and London, and you picked it up in the accents. Very perceptive.

J: Unfortunately, some regional American accents are disappearing, thanks to TV. Still, a Southerner and a Northerner will always sound different.

Not Waving: Occchh! Aberrrdeeeen! Totally different language.

Doglover: 1. Me too. And how come no one ever understands me?
2. I've heard the Scouse accent came about because of the damp climate creating a lot of mucus; hence, the ccchhhh sound. But it is a question worth pondering.

Darthman: Yeah, me too.

trousers said...

I enjoyed reading this (hello again by the way!) - especially bewk, cewk and lewk.

Accents and language fascinate me, and one thing I always remember was being in the company of two Chinese people who could only converse in English - their native dialects were so different as to be mutually unintelligible.

Exmoorjane said...

LOVE accents. Collect them like stamps or postcards. Used to be able to do a darn good variety of Boston accents....and at least four different Somerset ones. Agree though that sometimes they can get in a muddle.
Suffered hugely at college (Manchester) for having typical RP Surrey accent (considered posh and rich, neither of which - sadly - was the truth).