Thursday, April 9, 2009

English Speaking Accents

Youtube is quickly becoming a powerful tool for studying linguistics, sociology, and anthropology. Over the last few days, I've been obsessed with watching youtube videos about accents from English speaking parts of the world. Initially, I was only interested in British and American accents. When Brits imitate Americans, they usually produce a Californian accent, which makes some sense because much of American culture is learned overseas through Hollywood films. Conversely, Yanks tend to imitate the Cockney accent, which may be the result of the popularity of films like Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady. But I think the primary reason people fall back on these accents is because of the ease of readily imitated ponetic phrases, such as "whatevurr" or "like" in the case of the California valley girl, or "'ello Govena!" or "Wot, wot, wot?" in the case of Cockney. Generally speaking, youtubers tend to agree that the American accent sounds dim witted, while the British accent sounds snobbish.

From there, I got a little homesick and moved on to New England accents. While Rhode Islanders have a relatively distinct accent, I couldn't find a good video illustraing it (Family Guy is not a valid example). It's pretty pronounced when this little girl pronounces "hawt cawfee," but it's otherwise unnoticeable.

The Boston accent is somewhat similar, but with important differences. Here's a terrific example of the real thing in action.

And of course, it's just a hop skip and a jump away to the New York accent...and further north to Maine. (okay I don't know about that one)

Oh, and then there's this.

Anyone else have a favorite English speaking accent they'd like to share?


SuiginChou said...

Hey, Jay! Mind telling me what the name of the accent is at 0:35? The correct answer can be found here.

*crying with laughter*

Needless to say, I typed in "Scrooge McDuck" to try and find a good audio byte sample of a stereotypical Scottish accent. I love the Scottish accent! :)

Jay said...

haha wow. And McDuck flipped his lid.

My English professor had a Scottish accent and I think it contributed to the fact that it was one of my favorite classes.

I love, love, love Maggie's accent from Extras.

SuiginChou said...

I neglected to ask, what was up with the hawt cawfee girl? Her voice had no accent whatsoever up until she said those two words, and then it was like WHOA!

I'm guessing it's specifically the phonetic vowel /ɔ/ (in IPA notation) which Rhode Islanders say different from MidWesterners. Actually, it's us who say it different from them -- and the rest of the anglophone world! MidWestern English equates /ɔ/ with /ɑ/ .

Example words for each vowel (according to Wikipedia):
/ɔ/ = fall, author, jaw, bought, caught, cord, broad, door, walk

/ɑ/= lock, watch, bureaucracy, yacht, sausage, cough

The point being, Hoosiers say the vowel in "lock" and "watch" 100% identical to how they say "fall" and "bought." It's an "ah" sound. Even the word "awful" in Hoosier English is pronounced "ahful" and not "oaful"/"ohwuful". (Hard to put into letters the /ɑ/ sound!) I think /ɑ/ is really, REALLY prominent in most East Coast accents, and I think a lot of Hoosiers who impersonate the New York (spec. NYC Italian Jew) accent overuse the /ɑ/ and wind up sounding more Bostonian than they realize.

SuiginChou said...

Every instance of /ɑ/ in my bottom paragraph of the previous response ought to have been a /ɔ/ . My apologies.

SuiginChou said...

I got into a debate with NYC friends about words like these years back. (Seems like just yesterday! But I was still in undergrad. Man ...!) Some good ones that you might relate to as an East Coast boy yourself:

the 'a' in "arrow" vs. "apple". My NYC friends say they're identical, but I and most people I know say the 'a' in "arrow" like they say the word "air" or "care," a pseudo-form of the dipthong /ay/.

the vowel in "caught" vs. "cot". My NYC friends say the words are not homophonous, but to MidWesterners the words are certainly homophones. "cot" and "caught" both sound like "dot" or "tot."

While I'm at it ... one of my favorite accents is the Newcastle accent, GEORDIE! Here's a good audio sample of Geordie: click here. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of Pippin from LotR. I told family in England that I thought these guys were Irish and they LOL'd at me. ^_^; Apparently to English people it's really easy to tell this accent apart from an Irish accent. To me? It sounds Irish!! Agree? Disagree?