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In conversation with two scholars last night, one a grad student, the other retired, we fell into a conversation about accents. The other two were British, but their accents confused by moving and education to enough of a degree that neither could decipher where the other was from. In the name of fairness, the elder then tried his hand at deciphering mine - not that he knew much about American accents.

He observed, among other things, that I speak English almost as if I were a non-native speaker. Of course, he's right. I do speak English as a second language - my native tongue is American.

Thanks to a flier sent to entice us months ago, we've been fairly regularly ordering delivery from Nakhon Thai, a restaurant with two branches in London. Tonight, the delivery man asked us if we'd ever been to the restaurant. We haven't.

He tried describing its location, but invoked unfamiliar landmarks. In short order, he switched approaches. If we ever want to go, he said, just call them, and the manager will come over and drive us to the restaurant. C. look askance, but the guy was absolutely serious. Now that would be good service!


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
I'm truly hoping I don't pick up the accent from my soon-to-be residence. I twanged a little the last time I lived south of the Mason-Dixon, and do pick up accents prety easily (a good thing when I speak German, as most folks can't tell I'm a native English speaker). Oddly, although I tend to pick up bits of Scots and Irish accents when surrounded by them (and Afrikaaner, when I knew a bunch of South Africans), I never picked up an English accent, despite being surrounded by them for several years (most of them different, which probably has something to do with it) to the exclusion of American accents. OTOH, I seem to have picked up a lot of British usage and slang ...
Feb. 24th, 2006 11:49 pm (UTC)
You couldn't tell by the way I described it, but I don't speak with a British accent. I know I change the way I speak slightly when talking to Brits, but that's to make myself more comprehensible. It happens when talking with people with other accents too. I've lived in the UK before for a year or so at a time, and never picked up an accent. In fact, it's rather frustrating. No matter how long I stay here, I doubt I'll ever sound like I'm from here - and being asked where I'm from, just based on my accent, can get wearing after a while.
Feb. 25th, 2006 12:29 am (UTC)
Well, you're kind of from lots of places, right? Family in the South, and lots of time in the Midwest and Canada? I have a pretty normal Western (i.e., accent-less) California accent, although I also tend to say things like 'y'all'. Except, of course, when I choose to put on surfer, Valley, or homegirl (not very often, but if someone around me starts, I just follow). My sisters tend to speak in 'black woman with attitude' and 'super-white woman who spatters her English with Cantonese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese' accents when they are in groups of their friends. We're a slightly odd family, I suspect.
Feb. 25th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
I would be unable to place you from your accent. It seems like a very generic American "newsreader" type accent to me. The one who amuses me is t'lemur who people usually assume is English. Given that one half of her ancestry is NYC Jewish, I find that really funny.
Feb. 25th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
The midwest accent is meant to be the generic American accent, and newsreader appropriate. On the other hand, twice when I've been home to Des Moines, where I spent most of my first 18 years of life, I've had people ask me where I'm from, based on my accent.

See the comment below for more NY Jewish/English accent confusion.
Feb. 25th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
See the comment below for more NY Jewish/English accent confusion.

In the case of lemurkin we are not talking upper East side, we are talking the skind of Noo Yoickers who have the volume turned up permanently to twelve
Feb. 26th, 2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
I never pick up an accent either and I've had plenty of opportunity to do so - I'll get a bit of intonation and my vocabulary shouts "American living in the UK!!" but the accent never comes and I doubt that it will. I feel affected when I shift certain words for British comprehension (oregano, basil) so I know I'd just sound silly if anything else changed accent-wise.

I'm envying your access to Thai! We haven't had much luck finding anything other than kebab shops and pizza that will deliver to us.
Feb. 25th, 2006 12:25 am (UTC)
Most Americans would probably have trouble figuring out what state I'm from. The Hudson Valley Dialect doesn't sound particularly like the New York Metropolitan Area dialect; to me, Montreal English sounds more "right" than NYC English -- even when the Montrealer is a francophone.
Feb. 25th, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC)
I run into far more accent analysis conversations in the UK than in the states, but that's in part because I've never met anyone who was really good at accent analysis for the states, whereas I've met several experts on British accents. I'd love to hear more about American ones - I don't feel I know nearly enough about them, and I stand a chance at recognizing them there in a way I don't here in the UK.
Feb. 25th, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
My accent is very English - was once South London, now RP. In California/Arizona I have always been recognised as English but on visits to Chicago/Illinois/Michigan I have often been asked if I was from NYC (and once if I was German). I was even mistaken for a New Yorker in New York last year (though that seemed to be based on dress and walk as much as dialect).

I don't understand why people in the mid-West would find it harder to place my accent than west coasters.
Feb. 25th, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)
West coasters travel more? watch more BBC? Actually, I'm betting that people on the west cost (or either coast) get a lot more tourist travel, and therefore exposure, to different accents. What part of South London?
Feb. 25th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. Croydon mainly (and northwards to Balham).
Feb. 26th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)
So much further south than my in-laws. They are southeast, really. Charlton-Blackheath-ish. Although the parents live near Elephant and Castle these days ...
Feb. 26th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
Accents, eh?
One of my OED tomes had a quick test for accent location.

If you say "I'd rather dance with my father." with:
3 different backwards "ah" sounds it's a British accent
2 it's a (typically half-way) Canadian accent
1 it's American

I was always amused by my maternal Grandmother's Scottish accent.
As time went by it got thicker and thicker even though she was living in Canada. When some relatives
from Glasgow came over to the colonies to visit they had, by
comparison, almost BBC "received" accents. There was a theory that
as she got older she spent more and more time watching "Coronation
Street" but I don't think there were all that many Scots accents
on that thing.

The rule of thumb for differentiating the various Scots' accents is
that for every "x" miles you move north you turn another vowel
hard. The first one to go is "A": apple = "eh"pple. This is in
addition to the syntax changes and the dialect words. By the time you get to Aberdeen it's pretty strange. I was on a bus once where
three Aberdeenians go on part way through the trip and had to sit
separately. They were talking back and forth down ("doon") the
aisle. My travelling companion wondered what language they were
speaking and didn't believe me when I said it was a kind of English
until I started translating.

/Don spectrum a-inside-little-circle ca dot inter dot net
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )