Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"They don't 'alf talk funny round your way"


The UK is a small country. Come to think of it, it's a small country composed of three even smaller countries. With such a small landscape and a shared language you would think that everyone would speak the same.
Not so. We must have more regional variations in accent than anywhere else on earth. The Canucks have a propensity to say 'eh' after everything, but they all sound much the same (apart from the people from Newfoundland, who sound like Martians). The Yanks, with the exception of Bostonians and southerners, have a pretty much common or garden American accent. I'm sure that there are nuances which we cloth eared Brits can't pick up on; but all the same, they all sound very similar.
We, on the other hand, have managed to produce a micro-geography of dialect and accent. The classic example of this is the Liverpool accent, or 'scouse'. This is limited to a strict diameter around the river Mersey. At it's verges, the inhabitants of one street will speak broad scouse, while their neighbours in the adjoining street will speak in a Lancashire/Manchester accent.
Most of the bigger city accents are limited to the urban centres. Many of these; Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, Bristol, are generally unloved. Others, such as Newcastle and...er..that's about it, are generally liked.
This brings in the inevitable question of social class. George Orwell claimed that a Briton revealed the social class to which they belonged merely by opening their mouth. That's probably less true these days; but there's no doubt that someone who speaks RP (Recieved Pronunciation) is immediately percieved to be upper-middle class at the very least. This is probably why silver tongued conmen have no trouble fleecing rich widows in London.
The upper class accent of the monarchy sounds increasingly idiosyncratic. It's interesting that the younger royals have adopted RP; it just isn't done to be seen (heard) to be talking down to one's social inferiors. It's bad enough being regarded as a joke by the bulk of the populace without appearing to be a chinless wonder every time you speak.
I think local dialects and accented English are a good thing. They add to the richness and uniqueness of English as a living and developing language. As long as everyone knows how to speak and write the 'standard' form of English there's not much to worry about. If we all start speaking estuary English peppered with a smattering of Americanisms, the game will be up.

12 comments:

Herge Smith said...

I don't have an accent. Seriously, you would not be able to tell where I was from. (Obviously England - but you get the drift).

Accents are becoming a tiny bit more classless, although this greatly depends where you are from.

For example, if you have a Scottish or Irish accent then you are perfectly suited to present TV shows, if however you have a Birmingham accent then you are still a figure of amusement (appparently - I really like the Brum accent).

It's weird not having an accent, in Malvern where I was brought up, the accent is the equivilent of cowshit - think and not terribly attractive.

'Ya 'ight ma pet'

garfer said...

If you have a crap accent and move to another part of the country you tend to lose it. I was brought up in Northern Ireland but I spent a couple of years at school in England.
I have a relatively neutral accent but can slip into gutteral ulsterspeak at the drop of a hat.
I think you can only get a job with BBC News these days if you have a provincial accent.

Herge Smith said...

Bloody BBC - I sorta know one of the reporters on BBC 1 and she's from Armagh - so she definately has the requiste accent.

Which bit of NI are you from?

garfer said...

Belfast. One of the nice leafy bits. Armagh girls have soft sexy accents. You want to get in there mate.

Herge Smith said...

nah, she's taken, but you're right, it is a lovely accent.

Spent a lot of time in Belfast through work over the last couple of years - absolutely love Northern Ireland - very beautiful - fave were Belfast and Derry Londonderry (slash city - is that right?)

Sniffy said...

Even around each city you can tell where somebody is from - definitely round Manchester. You get the North Manchester accent that hardens up into Salford. Round the clock from North Manchester, you get a more Oldham twang, further round again, to the east, there's the lovely Gallagher brothers' accent. To the south of the city, you get those annoying cunts with "Sale" and "Altrincham" written all over them: their accent just screams "My house has doubled in price this year! And have you seen the latest Renault people carrier? An ideal addition for when we can't all get into the Passat". Three minutes up the road from me is where Peter Kay comes from and his accent is totally different to mine.

God, that's almost like a list again.

I don't really mind so long as people speak and write properly.

Herge Smith said...

Oh right, so what that include writing with your arse for the amusing of you and your chum?

Is that writing properly?

garfer said...

I've only been back to Belfast twice in the last ten years. The most noticeable thing is how much wealthier the place is. There is even life in the city centre after 9.00pm. Everyone my age left because there were no jobs and the nightlife was like Auschwitz on a rainy day.
There is a micro micro-geography of accents in and around cities. Only the people who actually live there can really differentiate.

Sniffy said...

Oh Herge, I've upset you again. I'm so sorry. I won't let her near my computer ever again.

pissoff said...

I have to agree about Canadian accents...There are small variations but nothing too noticeable unless you're a Newfie. The American accent differs quite a bit just going over the border. They get that American twang which is ever so irritating to us proper speaking Canucks. When you say thank you to a Yank they say Uh huh. There is quite a pronounced difference though.

On another note...I spent 6 weeks in Northern Ireland in the late '80s. Newtownabbey. When I took the bus into Belfast you had to go through a check and they'd come along with mirrors and check for bombs etc. Then there were the big armoured trucks driving around. I also was in Enniskillen (I don't know how to spell it) and Giant's Causaway (don't know how to spell that either.) I partied with the boys from the Carrickfergus rugby team. Anyway...it was nice and I loved it there. However, they had strong accents and they loved their tea.

garfer said...

Tea is the nectar of the Gods. Coffee (the instant muck anyway) is the devil's wee wee.

becca said...

I think the southern accent is very nice, and there are three different accents in Texas alone. Alabama, Mississippi,Louisiana,Kentucky, Virginia and west Virginia all have different and unusual accents based on the origins of the immigrants that settled there. The uh huh "yanks" are from Michigan and other cross the border of Canada US states. if I said "uh huh" my mother would smack me. I also had to unlearn my southern ettiquette since moving to the UK. No more happy smiling yes mam no mam for me. They might think you are crazy!!! I've always said please and thank you and your welcome. I learned how to perfect my northern pakastani accent in Calgary.

'mon the flames..please.