Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Accent Envy

Why am I such a sucker for an English accent? Why do I wish I could speak with one? Why do I think anyone with an English accent is sooo sophisticated and well-educated, while I, complete rube that I am, suffer by comparison? Why do I wish I could use “shan’t” in a sentence without being laughed at simply because I’d have to say it with my lame-ass, generic, white bread Massachusetts accent? “I shouldn’t think so, old man.” “Jolly good!” “I’ll ring you up then.” “Cheers!” How I’d love to say those things! But, instead, I’m stuck with: “It don’t sound right to me, buddy.” “Wicked pissa!” “I’ll give you a buzz.” “Catch ya later!” Not quite the same panache.

Of the many accents that sound so much better than mine, English is right up there at the top. Even the Cockneys, ’oo ’ave problems with their aitches, sound better than my boring, plain jane accent. Maybe it has something to do with our once having been an English colony. Maybe it’s because of The Beatles and the British Invasion of the ’sixties. Maybe it’s just because the English sound so bloody good and have a habit of putting things the best possible way. Who knows? But I dig a British accent.

Here’s a little story: one of our clients is English. One time he called me up to go over some edits to a sales brochure I was doing for him. When we came to, say, page 23, he directed me to scan down the page to the penultimate paragraph. Now, look, I went to college, and I’d like to think my vocabulary isn’t half bad, but I just didn’t know what penultimate meant. I had heard it before, naturally. Maybe I thought it was something like “more ultimate than ultimate.” In any case, I was stymied. Finally, I asked, “Which one?” and he repeated, “Penultimate.” Then I asked, “But which one is that?” There was an unmistakable sigh heard on the other end, followed by: “The last paragraph but one.”

Ohhh.

Dumb Yank. Smart Brit.

My next favorite accent is the New York City accent. Pick any one you want: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens — they’re all good. Anyone who speaks with a New York accent sounds worldly-wise, sassy, hip, and about ten steps ahead of you. You can chew gum and still look urbane and uptown with a New York accent. A friend of mine once remarked that New Yorkers are funnier than anyone else in the country. I think that’s true. Maybe that explains why half the comedians you see come from New York. Maybe that explains the mystifying phenomenon that was Andrew Dice Clay, whose material definitely wouldn’t have worked for a guy from, say, Southie (hint: think Good Will Hunting). Yeah, New Yawk…

Next on my list is the French accent. The peculiar pronunciations the French have of English words alone make them enchanting to the ear, with their knack of applying stress to the wrong syllables that inevitably make these words sound so right. The French, when speaking English, have a guttural sound that, somehow, doesn’t seem harsh to the ear like you think it should. They shape words like an accomplished sculptor of wood might carve a delicate nymph with a chain saw. On top of that, the French accent just sounds so European, so continental. Say anything you want in a French accent and it’ll come off as impressively old world and cultured.

Continuing, Italian follows in my list. When I hear anything spoken with an Italian accent, it conjures in my mind a musical staff hatched up into equal measures, which are overrun with a graceful series of tiny, tightly-packed sixteenth and thirty-second notes that flow up and down and up and down like a dance of diminutive black dots. Is there any wonder so many operas have been written for the Italian tongue? Is it not the most musical of languages? I’ll never forget a trip we took to Rome one year and listening to Italian spoken all around us, like hearing a variety of birds chattering away and calling to one another in an orchard. There is no question I would be very satisfied to have that expressive accent for my own.

There are other accents which appeal to me. Some African ones I think are intriguing. I think Jamaican sounds cool. Here is the question du jour: if you could choose an accent, which would it be? Have you ever considered the question? Are you content with your own, or would you prefer something more exotic? Is there anyone in particular (in my case, David Niven) you’d like to sound like?

49 Comments:

Blogger boo said...

my favorites are australian, british, noo yawker & mine. the last of which is not quite singlish (what we call english in this neck of the woods) & not quite queen's english. its bootalk my friends say. when people tell me things i answer with 'sweet', i call people 'sweetheart', instead of byebye i say 'cya later' & i smile alot, especially when i don't understand an accent or what 'penultimate' is :)

6:26 AM  
Anonymous LL said...

I suppose the most fascinting thing about British accents is that they're speaking English, but not American... Does that make sense? Few Americans have trouble conversing with Brits because it's still English. The nouns and verbs are in the right places. Other accents (French, Spanish, etc.) tend to mix up the phrasing, making it a bit harder to understand. Is true, yes?

I'd just as soon keep the accent I've got. None. Although I can do a mean British axunt given the need...

7:18 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

I'm a sucker for the scots... as for me, I think I'd like to keep my own but speak french. (Still working on it.) Although I would like the ability to copy any accent I heard with precision.

7:45 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Boo, I would love to hear your accent. I have no doubt it would be the coolest of the cool.

“I suppose the most fascinating thing about British accents is that they're speaking English, but not American...”

Exactly! They speak the “King’s English,” while we speak a bastard tongue I suppose you’d have to call “American.” Great observation, m’lord.

BTW, Michele posted finally, and you have been tagged! She’s calling you out! So don’t act like you don’t know.


“Although I would like the ability to copy any accent I heard with precision.”

Isn’t is funny? If you do that, then you’re paid this high compliment: “She can speak French without an accent!”

8:18 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

English, Aussie, Italian, Jamaican, Scottish, & South African. A friend of mine was from South Africa, and he had the strangest phrases. It's similar to Australian, but there's a great lilt to it. Instead of beating you up, he'd say, "Must I take you to the sod?" Doesn't that make violence sound classier?

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Dreadmouse said...

I'm a fan of the Irish accent, not just because it reminds me of Guinness, but because it sounds so carefree. Which is odd, considering the troubles.

I can do a decent fake of almost any accent. In fact, if I'm talking to somebody who has an accent for more than an hour I find that I unconsciously begin to imitate them, which must seem pretty insulting in a mocking way. I don't do it on purpose though, it just happens!

8:48 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"'Must I take you to the sod?' Doesn't that make violence sound classier?"

Yes, it does. Plus I could say that to a tough guy with the hope of him not knowing what it means, giving me great face.


"In fact, if I'm talking to somebody who has an accent for more than an hour I find that I unconsciously begin to imitate them, which must seem pretty insulting in a mocking way. I don't do it on purpose though, it just happens!"

I think the same thing happens to me! Accent envy in my case. no doubt.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

I absolutely adore British accents. I saw Patrick Stewart at a Star Trek convention once and his accent is absolutely.....delicious. I could listen to him read from the phone book.

Regardless, I nevertheless think Madonna is such a poser for her "British accent". Please. I lived in the South for over 16 years to get my accent. I swore while I was living there that I wouldn't acquire one and made a conscious effort not to, so mine is very slight. It creeps in a little bit when I'm drunk, upset, emotional. Ironically, real Southerners swear I don't have one, but John insists that I do. So I guess I do.

My sister however embraced wholehartedly the Southern accent so hers is pronounced.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Irb said...

This is one of those stories that just smacks of urban legend, but my friend Michelle totally swears it happened to her...

She was interviewing for an IT job with a law firm in Boston ("Denny Crane!") and she was really, really nervous. It was her first serious job interview, and they'd actually flown her out on their dime and put her up in a snazzy hotel and everything.

So Michelle shows up for the interview and walks into the office, just trying her hardest not to tremble. The woman conducting the interview is older, dressed conservatively with her hair in a bun. She's studying Michelle's resume and motions for her to take a seat.

Michelle sits down and waits. Finally, the woman looks up, smiles, and says, "Do you have P.S.D.S?"

Michelle just panics. She racks her brain, trying to think what P.S.D.S. stands for. Some kind of obscure certification? Some kind of specific engineering degree?

"Um, I'm sorry?" she replies.

"P.S.D.S," the woman replies. "Do you have P.S.D.S?"

Now Michelle is about to lose it. First question out of the gate, and she's completely lost. She just knows she's blown the interview.

"I'm sorry," she says again. "I don't know what..."

The woman leans forward. "You know." Then she tugs on her earring. "P.S.D.S!"

11:15 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Please. I lived in the South for over 16 years to get my accent. I swore while I was living there that I wouldn't acquire one and made a conscious effort not to, so mine is very slight."

My mother is from West Virginia, and she said she worked hard to lose her accent when she married my father and they moved up to New England (like it was something to be ashamed of?). However, if she spends 10 minutes talking to one of her old cronies, it comes right back in all its glory.


"P.S.D.S?"

That's a good one, Irb. I have to admit I needed help figuring that one out. "Pierced ears?" to anyone who might be wondering. That is a perfect exmple of a Boston accent gone wild. It reminds me of the time someone told me he played "foosball for beahs," which sounded like "foosball for bears." First, I didn't know what the hell foosball was, and then, what did bears have to do with anything? Then I found out he had been playing a tabletop soccer game for beers at a bar.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

I'm a sucker for Irish brogues, and like you and Dreadmouse I pick up accents pretty easily. I love Boston accents too, Mr. Schprock, but I guess the grass is always greener...

People tell me I have an accent all the time. Fellow Chicagoans I mean. Maybe the accents from all the places I've visited are morphing into some uber-accent?

12:44 PM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:45 PM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

One of my best friends back home (Minneapolis) has parents who are British. They love having "the girls" over, but everytime my friends and I go over to their house we inevitably start talking with a British accent. We're big on the, "Hello, love!"
If I could, I would trade in my Minnesotan accent for an Italian one. Much sexier than, "Yeaaaah, suuuure!"

12:46 PM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

BTW- That was me that deleted my comment. Sorry. I am having some dysfunctioanl typing issues today. Is it Friday yet?

12:47 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"People tell me I have an accent all the time. Fellow Chicagoans I mean."

Tell me: how well can you say "da beahs"?

For some reason, I imagine you having an "educated at Stanford" kind of accent. (I might have a hard time explaining that, so please don't ask!)


"If I could, I would trade in my Minnesotan accent for an Italian one. Much sexier than, 'Yeaaaah, suuuure!'"

Wow! You sounded just like Joey from Dorchester* when you said that!

*pronounced DAH-chestah

1:11 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

I won't ask, I'll just thank you!! If we ever meet, I'll teach you to say DA Schprock. It'll be pure midwest, not German-sounding at all :)

3:30 PM  
Anonymous LL said...

Accents are strange critters Mr. S. When I was in school, I roomed with a Korean fellow. He spoke English very well, but of course it had a strong accent, and, as I mentioned before, sometimes his syntax was a bit askew. But here's the interesting thing, at least it was to me. He had a very difficult time understanding some of the OTHER foreign students English due to their various accents. He often asked me how I could understand all the various accents when he couldn't. I credited to the fact that I tried to understand what they meant, rather than what was actually said. There's a lot more that can be gleaned from the communication than is contained in the actual words. We talked about these kinds of things quite often. I guess I don't need to tell you that I enjoyed having him as a roomie.

Not only that, but my maternal grandparents spoke with a heavy German accent. As you grow up with such things, your mind adapts and expands in ways you're not concious of. I've never had any trouble understanding most of the various accents I've encountered, and I don't know if that's attributable to this or not.

"BTW, Michele posted finally, and you have been tagged! She’s calling you out! So don’t act like you don’t know. "
:rollin: Seems it's still on the list of things to do over there... :P

3:33 PM  
Blogger warcrygirl said...

Hi there! A British accent is okay but what really gets my attention is either an Irish or a Scottish brogue. What I love about the British is their slang.

That and Monty Python...

4:48 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

"My mother is from West Virginia, and she said she worked hard to lose her accent when she married my father and they moved up to New England (like it was something to be ashamed of?). However, if she spends 10 minutes talking to one of her old cronies, it comes right back in all its glory."

I like my slight Southern accent. ;) I can relate to your mother reverting back to her accent when she's speaking to people from back "home". I tend to be that way too. :D

6:54 PM  
Blogger Shatterfist said...

"Is there anyone in particular (in my case, David Niven) you’d like to sound like?"

I love Tim Curry's voice. If I could steal anybody's accent, I'd want to sound like David Warner. I'm not sure where he's from, but he's got a cool accent.

There's also something funny about very very black people with very very British accents. Watch "Snatch" if you don't believe me.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

Hmmm...of the foreigners, I'd have to go with Aussie, Brit, French, and Italian.

Domestic? Savannah/Charleston (olde South) and TN/SC/NC/VA mountains - not as harsh as the down easters.

I've actually lost my accent, but I can pull it out when needed. In fact, if I don't use it when speaking to some of my realtives, they can't understand me. In spending so much time at home this year, I've found at least the old cadences and expressions coming back. Rather odd...

8:18 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

I almost forgot - American Virgin Islands! I have a friend who is from there, and when he's speaking "island talk" (as he calls it) to his family it's just amazing!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Farrago said...

I was in the Air Force, thrown together in basic training with guys from all over the country. After 18 weeks and three schools and living with these people, I had become fairly adept at picking out which regions of the country they called home...or at least where they got their accents. I could pick out Boston; I could differentiate between Maryland and greater Baltimore (Baldmer). I even became aware of my own, the Chicago/Wisconsin corridor accent, which gets stronger the farther north you go, with exceptions in pockets of population on the south side (sot side).

Schprock, my sister works in Chicago for a company headquartered in Bristol, England. She trades quite a lot of e-mail across the pond with the head of her department. One time she was having a terrible day, and an e-mail came in from Bristol. She replied with words that didn't seem happy, so her boss asked what the problem was. She told him she was having a rotten day. He replied, telling her to keep her pecker up. Well, aside from the sudden attention it got her, my sister's belly laugh heard 'cross the office made her feel a LOT better, and she had to type through hilarious tears to tell him how strange that sounded.

Pecker in the Queen's English - or at least Bristolese - means "chin."

10:09 PM  
Blogger boo said...

'when oscar came to join his god
not earth to earth but sod to sod
its for sinners such as this
hell was created bottomless'

oscar wilde by anon.

who is this anon person & why does he/she write so brilliant :)

2:48 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"If we ever meet, I'll teach you to say DA Schprock."

I want to start practicing now!


"But here's the interesting thing, at least it was to me. He had a very difficult time understanding some of the OTHER foreign students English due to their various accents."

I've noticed just the opposite thing. My wife is from Puerto Rico and she can understand the most garbled English spoken in the strangest and strongest accents imaginable, while all I can do is go, "Wha—? Huh?"

And so now Mr. Lord Loser: please to tell me location of blog that is yours. Please to answer meme for Michele very fast when you can. Many interest in your answers have we. Much thanks to you for this cooperation.


"What I love about the British is their slang."

Yeah, like "pissed " in England means "drunk." And I get a big kick out of "snogging," as seen in the latest Harry Potter book.


"I like my slight Southern accent."

Not that I've talked to you much, but I haven't noticed it so far. Next time, I want to hear you say, "I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers." Or how about: "After all, tomorrow is another day."


"I love Tim Curry's voice."

There! Stop right there! Perfect!


"I've actually lost my accent, but I can pull it out when needed."

Claire, I just did a quick check of your blog, but you only say you're located in the United States. Were you raised in the south? A southern accent can be so cool. I've got an uncle who lives in Kentucky. He speaks slowly and at a low volume and everybody inclines their head to listen to him, not wanting to miss a word.


"He replied, telling her to keep her pecker up."

Ha ha! That's good! That reminds me: did Austen Powers ever explain what giving his "undercarriage a little how's your father" meant? That I need to know.


"who is this anon person & why does he/she write so brilliant :)"

Not only that, just think how old he or she is!

5:48 AM  
Anonymous LL said...

"And so now Mr. Lord Loser: please to tell me location of blog that is yours. Please to answer meme for Michele very fast when you can. Many interest in your answers have we. Much thanks to you for this cooperation."

You guys make me laugh. Seriously. And yet you'd deprive me of all my fun? *sigh*

Word Ver: ecpile -- something you avoid stepping in.

7:15 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Now, now, schprock, mustn't frighten him. He might dart away and never come back to the same blog again. If he had one to begin with.

8:13 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Ohhhh . . . okay. I guess you're right.

(Pssst! Lord Loser! Just tell me where your blog is. I won't tell anyone else.)

8:30 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Scottish is my absolute favorite accent. I hear someone speaking with one and I swoon. Irish, English, Australian, French and Mexican.

Like Dreadmouse, I too find myself speaking in the accent of the person to whom I'm speaking. I do try to catch myself though.

And I completely agree with Michele on Madonna. She's from Michigan, she should sound like me!

9:27 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Scottish is my absolute favorite accent."

When I read that, I have to say I think of Groundskeeper Willie!

I know it's on your list, but I'm surprised your favorite isn't Mexican.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Flash said...

Love british accents in girls. Then australian. Then Italian. I even have a thing for Candian Accents. Something with saying "aboot". Guys sound like tools when they say it, but a cute artistic girl, black horn-rimmed glasses telling me what her painting is "aboot"...I just melt.

I've always loved Italian accents...so smooth.

10:17 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Love british accents in girls. Then australian. Then Italian. I even have a thing for Candian Accents."

Flash, I'm gooing to go out on a limb and say ANY accent sounds better on a girl than on a guy. Nature's way, I guess.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous LL said...

"(Pssst! Lord Loser! Just tell me where your blog is. I won't tell anyone else.)"

Ok... it's *more mysterious static*.

Are you happy now?

"I'm gooing to go out on a limb and say ANY accent sounds better on a girl than on a guy."

Word.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Yoda said...

I'm with Kathleen, love the Scottish accent! Right next to it, is the New Zealand accent.

I'm OK with British accent, but I can't understand it when they speak so fast. My vocabulary is great, I *use* 'penultimate' every other day ... grew up learning the Queen's english.

Accent on a girl is often superseded by what is 8 inches south.

5:26 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Ok... it's *more mysterious static*."

What? Did he just say it? I couldn't make it out! Too much interference! Damn!



"Accent on a girl is often superseded by what is 8 inches south."

Huh? What do you me—?

Ohhhhhhhhhh…

5:54 PM  
Blogger LL said...

"What? Did he just say it? I couldn't make it out! Too much interference! Damn!"

I'll never tell...
Wha? Damn linking identity thing...

6:56 PM  
Blogger LL said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:57 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I'll never tell...
Wha? Damn linking identity thing..."

Can it be? Why — I think it is!

Party at Lord Loser's blog everybody!!

4:29 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

That is, if he'd turn off the administrative moderator comment thingy!

5:14 AM  
Blogger LL said...

Allright... I told you it's gonna take some time to work out the kinks.

Feel free to repost your compost, erm... I mean comments.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Shatterfist said...

My god man, 40 comments! How do you do it. I know you've told me several times but...damn!

9:42 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"My god man, 40 comments! How do you do it. I know you've told me several times but...damn!"

That's nothing! Look at the comments Boo can rack up without even trying! She's da woman.

10:56 AM  
Blogger :phil: said...

I “shan’t” make fun of your Bah-ston accent. I remember (sort of) a funny thing happening at Wimbledon one year. A player from some foreign country swore and it was audible. One commentator asked the other "Did he just curse in English?" to which the other commentator replied "It was in American".
I love accents too, my wife is going to start teaching violin to a woman from South Africa who I've spoken to on the phone. I even said to her on the phone that she had a delightful accent. Where did I come up with delightful?
I never use that word.

11:48 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Where did I come up with delightful?
I never use that word."

Try saying "splendid." You can't say that without a British accent.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

I am from the South, and will always call it home, no matter where I am.

That's about all I'll give on a public forum though.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

The thing about the British accent is that there isn't a British accent!

You mention the King's English (which incidentally is the Queen's English right now of course!) but that kind of plum-in-the-mouth accent is actually quite rare. It's an aristocratic accent that is sometimes referred to as "RP" or received pronunciation, but also Radio pronunciation because it's claimed to be the accent picked up by people who listen to Radio 4. However, it's not at all representative of the way that British people speak.

The BBC have a lot to blame for this misconception, because English regional accents and dialects are incredibly diverse. The British Isles contain the greatest variance in accents per square mile in the world. Go into a cafe and listen to the people speak. Then, drive for an hour in any direction and (as long as you don't hit the sea!) go into another cafe, and I assure you that you're going to be listening to a completely different accent and dialect.

Funnily enough, accents came up at dinner one day this week. Derry, my son, seemed to think that there was only one American accent. He wouldn't have it that a Californian would sound different to a New Yorker. "They all talk American, don't they?" he said. :sigh:

:D

10:53 AM  
Blogger Farrago said...

I don't have anything else to add, but I just had to contribute and share with all of you the WF choice I have in order to post a comment:

mjbwainq

10:05 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I think Mexican isn't first because I kind of grew up with the Mexican accent whereas Scottish was more of an adult thing - associated with cute guy my own age vs. older Mexican friend of the family. :-)

6:41 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"The thing about the British accent is that there isn't a British accent!"

I've just noticed this comment now — a little late in the game, unfortunately. I was hoping you might respond to this post.

I don't know what kind of British accent you have, but I bet without hearing it that I'd like it better than mine!

Thank you for that detailed explanation. Tell Derry he would never mistake me for a California dude!

6:48 PM  

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