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25 June 2011

British Accents

Some thoughts on British accents and how Americans are impressed by them.

But where did that new, awful British accent come from? You know, the Russel Brand type accent - though there are much worse than him - really clipped and guttural? Has it always been around, but only recently with easier flow of communications has it been able to make its way across the pond? Or is it a kind of newish phenomenon, like the Valley-girl accent? Its dreadful enough that I could imagine TV and film producers over the years banning it from American productions. There was always the cockney accent for low-class Brits, but that was rather endearing.


Anonymous robert61 said...

The new popular accent has been around for quite a while; you can find more info by googling Estuary English.

I worked closely with a 1940s vintage Englishman from Kent throughout the nineties, who had been to public school and spoke posh RP. However, when trying to ingratiate himself to younger people, he would automatically shift in an Estuarine direction. It felt folksier to him. He'd even do it when talking to my (American) brothers, who probably didn't notice.

On the other side of the coin, one of my best friends from school married an Englishwoman, also of solidly middle-class background, who seemed to speak Estuary-tinged English all the time. Facing the assembled family at their wedding, though, she delivered her reception speech in the plummiest RP imaginable - an enlightening surprise.

June 25, 2011 2:19 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

Thank you, Robert61. The Wiki article on Estuary English is quite informative.

This part was interesting as well: Some people adopt the accent as a means of "blending in", appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be "a common man" – sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as "Mockney". A move away from traditional RP is almost universal among middle class young people.

I'm wondering if that's a lot of what I'm hearing - a bit of middle-class reverse affectation?

June 25, 2011 11:54 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I interviewed the dialogue coach for Renee Zellweger when she played Bridget Jones. That character is from a posh upper middle class background, but she speaks with an Estuary English accent to fit in.

The traditional BBC accent is the highest bandwidth accent in English. You can say words like "portraiture" clearly but quickly in RP. I don't know if EE is as good for expressing complex thoughts fast.

June 26, 2011 3:00 AM  
Anonymous robert61 said...

That's certainly true, though calling it affectation makes it too slight. This is the British version of the sixties egalitarian shift. RP is a fruit of nationalism, a nationwide evening out of the diversity of earlier dialects. You can see the change by reading earlier poetry: certain of Wordsworth's rhymes do not work in RP. The shift to Estuary English is as important in its own right as the adoption of RP, which was an affirmation of modernity. This change is equally an affirmation of postmodern egalitarianism.

June 26, 2011 3:25 AM  
Anonymous robert61 said...

RP is clear as a bell. For me, there has been a real learning curve with Estuarine. Very porridgey.

I spend about half my time IRL speaking Swedish. Most of the time I talk a modification of working-class south Stockholm dialect, the Swedish equivalent of Estuarine. If I'm tired or drunk or anxious, though, and whomever I'm talking to shows signs of not understanding me, I stiffen my neck and enunciate like a textbook.

For sure TV/radio is one of the sources of that old-fashioned accent.

June 26, 2011 3:32 AM  
Blogger Dutch Boy said...

The proliferation of glottal stops in British English causes me to grind my teeth when I am compelled to listen to the abomination.

June 27, 2011 1:04 AM  
Anonymous samrx said...

It is indeed very cool the accent of some languages, I love the accent of Russians speaking English.

November 14, 2011 10:35 AM  

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