The expression "British accent"

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The expression "British accent"

Postby skullturf » Wed Jul 18, 2012 7:38 pm UTC

I've noticed, in various internet discussions about language and accents, that some people seem to dislike the expression "British accent", and will sometimes say things like "There's no such thing as a British accent". For example, see some of the entries here.

I can see some of the reasons that British folks might not like hearing people (e.g. Americans) say the words "British accent". But the fact remains: if something is an accent, and it's British, then it's a British accent.

There are, of course, many different accents in Britain. There are English, Scottish, and Welsh accents, and each of those categories can be further subdivided into different accents. If somebody said all British people sound the same, that would be false. If somebody spoke of "THE British accent", that would be incorrect -- there is not just one British accent, but a large number of them.

But I think people are overstating their case and being silly when they object to the expression "British accent". Yes, it is possible to be more specific than "British accent", but nevertheless, "British accent" is correct. An Oxford accent and a Newcastle accent and a Glasgow accent are all examples of British accents, just as a malamute and a chihuahua and a mastiff are all examples of dogs.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Jul 18, 2012 10:01 pm UTC

There is nothing inherently wrong with the expression "a British accent". What people object to is the way that "British accent" is almost always used to refer to RP whilst Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh accents will generally be referred to as such. This grates on people in the UK because it seems wrong that what is an English accent (and one which is not even that widely spoken in many parts of the country) is described with a term implying it is also Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish.

This is the problem. It's the way the term assumes greater unity than exists and how it demotes regional accents to a lower standing than the accent of the home counties and the middle and upper classes.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby skullturf » Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:47 am UTC

Fair point, thank you for your feedback.

If an accent (or any other type of entity whatsoever, call it "X") is English, then it's not incorrect to say that it's also British. (England is a subset of Britain.)

So it's not incorrect to refer to an RP accent as British.

However, if people have a habit or pattern of referring to English X's (or a particular subset of English X's) as "British", but don't have the habit or pattern of referring to, say, Scottish X's as "British" (Scotland is a subset of Britain too), then I can see how that habit or pattern could be annoying. (Even though, of course, no single reference to an English entity as being British is factually incorrect.)

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:00 am UTC

skullturf wrote:However, if people have a habit or pattern of referring to English X's (or a particular subset of English X's) as "British", but don't have the habit or pattern of referring to, say, Scottish X's as "British" (Scotland is a subset of Britain too), then I can see how that habit or pattern could be annoying. (Even though, of course, no single reference to an English entity as being British is factually incorrect.)


This is exactly the problem. It's as if English people referred to a New York accent as an "American accent" but every other American accent by a more specific description (e.g. "a Californian accent", "a Texan accent", "a Delaware accent" etc.)
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:14 am UTC

Don't they? Not with New York accents of course, but isn't General American the "American accent" with other regional accents being referred to more specifically?

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Jul 20, 2012 10:34 am UTC

In my experience a Southern accent will often be referred to as such but any other accent (with the possible exceptions of a stereotypical New York taxi driver accent) will almost always be referred to as an American accent (and, unless it's Southern-ness is important, I think it'd probably be more common to refer to a Southern accent as American if only to avoid confusion with an accent from the South of the UK).

When people try to do "an American accent", they almost always try GA though but I don't think there's anything wrong with this. It is the "standard" American accent so it makes sense that when going from name->speech it goes just to GA (because otherwise you end up with a bastardised form of god knows how many accents) but generally, going from speech->name I think almost any American accent will come out simply as "American".

I think the main reason for this is that, most British people cannot easily distinguish between most American accents, they all sort of merge into some vague mush in our mind with only a few accents remaining distinct (such as strong Southern accents, New York taxi driver and possibly valley girl). If we can't distinguish between those accents let alone locate them on a map, what hope do we have for distinguishing them in how we describe them?
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby skullturf » Fri Jul 20, 2012 4:08 pm UTC

I suppose it's understandable, on some level, that if you either ask an American "Do a British accent" or ask a Brit "Do an American accent", without any more specific instructions, then their "default" might be to do a sort of "broadcast" accent -- something close to RP or GA, as appropriate.

However, even if an American thinks of something RP-ish as a "British accent", I'd expect him or her to be aware that it's also something more specific than British -- it's not Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish, and it's similar to an educated speaker from Southeastern England.

Here's a complicating factor, and one possible reason why people might say "British accent". I've known some individuals from Wales who, to my untrained North American ears, don't seem to have very strong accents, and who sound English to me. I can also imagine somebody who doesn't know UK accents in detail, who hears, say, a Newcastle accent, and isn't quite sure whether it's English or Scottish. I can therefore see how people might sometimes err on the side of using the more general term, and say "British" if they can't decide between English, Welsh, Scottish, etc. (Sort of like a Brit or an Aussie saying "North American accent" if they're not sure whether the speaker is American or Canadian, or me saying "Caribbean accent" if I think the speaker is probably Jamaican but maybe from someplace else.)

Nevertheless, I'm aware that there are people who conflate the terms "English" and "British", and I can see how this would be annoying to people.

Because this tendency to conflate "English" and "British" is out there, I guess it means you're never 100% sure how to interpret a single speaker on a single occasion who refers to something English as British. On the one hand, he/she is technically correct, since English things are also British. On the other hand, it's possible that the speaker incorrectly thinks of "English" and "British" as being synonyms. And even if you believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, I can see how the habit of conflating "English" and "British" would be annoying.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:12 pm UTC

skullturf wrote:Here's a complicating factor, and one possible reason why people might say "British accent". I've known some individuals from Wales who, to my untrained North American ears, don't seem to have very strong accents, and who sound English to me.


This is absolutely not your fault.

In almost all the country, the aristocracy was historically English and this leads to the upper and upper-middle classes in most of the country all speaking with very similar accents (some form of RP). For instance, I didn't realise this youtuber was from Cardiff until she mentioned accidentally walking into a doctor who shoot (different video, might be on a different channel, but it's definitely her) and how it's a constant danger in Cardiff. Now I know, I can occasionally hear the odd thing which is a tiny bit Welsh, but generally, she sounds like she could be my neighbour (in Bucinghamshire, SE England). Likewise, when I was being interviewed for a place at uni, I was chatting to some of the other people and I only realised one girl was Welsh when she mentioned having to get a train to Swansea.

So that isn't what irritates me about when Americans refer to RP as a British accent. What irritates me is that it gets referred to as "British" far more than any other British accent. In my experience, Scottish accents will generally be described as "Scottish", Irish accents (both from the North and Eire) will generally be referred to as such, Welsh accents, I don't know, but I'd expect they'd either get confused with Scottish or Irish accents or described as "Welsh". No idea what happens to Northern accents, I suspect those who know where they're from (even if it's just because of the 9th Doctor's line about lots of planets having a north) describe them as "Northern" and other people get confused. West country accents won't come up much like Brummy accents and cockney is well known enough in its own right to often be described as cockney.

That doesn't leave many other accents to describe as "British". The main one is RP (which admittedly does have a much wider spread geographically) but it being the seemingly sole accent described as "British" by Americans gets irritating because it is an English accent, just one which happens to be relatively common in other parts of Britain.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jul 21, 2012 4:25 am UTC

I don't know whether I disproportionately refer to RP as a British accent, but I definitely do refer to both phonological and non-phonological elements of RP English as "British English". I do this both because RP is by far the most common non-American variety of English taught as a foreign language (so the one my students are most likely to have been exposed to previously, if they describe learning something different from what I'm teaching them here in Boston), and also because saying "English English" seems silly. It's the same reason I refer generally to the characteristics that distinguish Spanish in Spain from Spanish in Latin America as "Castilian Spanish" rather than "Spanish Spanish". (Though now that I think of it "Iberian Spanish" would be a much better analogue to "British English", since Castile is a specific region.)
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Sat Jul 21, 2012 8:35 am UTC

I think that's entirely reasonable. When talking about dialect (which would encompass accent) in the context of teaching English as a second language (I think you said it was second language somewhere), it makes sense to try to limit yourself to standard dialects.

What irritates me is when (for example), Hugh Laurie is on a TV show and people say how they love his British accent, but when David Tennant appears they complement his Scottish accent instead.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sat Jul 21, 2012 10:44 am UTC

I use British and English pretty interchangeably as demonyms. If I want to mean British as in inhabitant of the British Isles, I tend to use Briton. I blame Great Britain.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby ahammel » Sat Jul 21, 2012 4:39 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
skullturf wrote:Here's a complicating factor, and one possible reason why people might say "British accent". I've known some individuals from Wales who, to my untrained North American ears, don't seem to have very strong accents, and who sound English to me.

[explains]

Thanks for clearing that up. I was actually quite confused by skullturf's post, as what I think of as a Welsh accent is distincitve to the point of incomprehensible. This may be because my first encounter with it occured in a bar:

Welshman: D'y'have a xzrgh?
My friend: What?
Welshman: D'y'have a xzrgh?
My friend: Sorry??
Welshman: Y'know: a xzrgh. Like for grjght.
My fried: What?!

When describing an accent, I'll generally specify country if I can pick it out (as in "Hugh Laurie has an English accent, David Tennant has a Scottish accent") and revert to "British" if I can't.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adacore » Mon Jul 23, 2012 1:27 am UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:I use British and English pretty interchangeably as demonyms. If I want to mean British as in inhabitant of the British Isles, I tend to use Briton. I blame Great Britain.

Yeah, 'British' and 'English' are used pretty interchangeably in most places. The majority of people outside the UK don't actually know the distinction (and almost all have absolutely no idea on the British Isles/Great Britain/UK differences). It's fairly common in my experience for people to ask, or just state, that Wales is part of England, for example.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:08 pm UTC

Adacore wrote:Wales is part of England, for example.


This isn't too out of date actually. Under Henry VIII IIRC, Wales was brought into the Kingdom of England and it was not until a while later with the act of union when we merged with Scotland that the UK appeared and, until devolution and the Welsh assembly, I believe this still stood.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:08 pm UTC

It goes back even earlier for de facto integration with England, when Edward I killed Llwelyn the Last and established the custom of making the heir apparent of England the Prince of Wales. With seven and a half centuries of English rule and less than a decade and a half of a devolved assembly, it's not a surprising mixup.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby gaurwraith » Thu Aug 02, 2012 9:52 am UTC

In England they speak PFE





























































"proper fucking English"
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Aug 02, 2012 3:30 pm UTC

I think that it's more of an ignorance with specific accents. I know what a Scottish accent sounds like. I know what an Irish accent sounds like. I know what an Australian accent sounds like. Everything else I'm just frankly not sure. I couldn't tell the difference between Rose's and the 9th doctor's accents or RP. I just don't have enough experience with those different accents to know anything more than that they're 'British'. If I were to hear them spoken next to each other, I could probably point out the differences, but I wouldn't know them on their own.

I think it would be very similar to categorizing American accents. Most people can probably easily recognize a strong Southern accent or the Boston accent. But, I wouldn't expect them to know the difference in Minnesotan, California, 'Hillbilly', general American, etc. so all of those would just be American accents.

(Hmmm, evidently I should have an "inland north" american accent but have gone through the "Northern Cities Vowel Shift". Amazing what information wikipedia has)

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Apparently Anonymous » Thu Aug 02, 2012 4:10 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote: I just don't have enough experience with those different accents to know anything more than that they're 'British'.

This. When I'm unsure about something, I'll pick the general instead of the more specific term.

Moreover, I tend to say "British" when asked what kind of accent I'm going for when speaking English - the reason being that I go for something in between a Scottish and an English accent (I would love to have a Scottish accent, but hear it being spoken too seldomly to know it well enough).

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Daimon » Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

When I refer to "British" accents, I generally have two things I say. Either, "That guy has a British accent. Cool." or, "That guy is from Liverpool. Let's shun him." :P When I was in sixth grade, everyone always said I had a British accent, (The fact that I've lived in Texas all my life notwithstanding), and now I only occasionally get it. I have NEVER heard it.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Derek » Thu Aug 02, 2012 9:12 pm UTC

Daimon wrote:When I was in sixth grade, everyone always said I had a British accent, (The fact that I've lived in Texas all my life notwithstanding), and now I only occasionally get it. I have NEVER heard it.

I used to get that a lot too, not completely sure why.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adacore » Tue Aug 07, 2012 8:22 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
Adacore wrote:Wales is part of England, for example.


This isn't too out of date actually. Under Henry VIII IIRC, Wales was brought into the Kingdom of England and it was not until a while later with the act of union when we merged with Scotland that the UK appeared and, until devolution and the Welsh assembly, I believe this still stood.

Oh, I didn't actually know that. I picked Wales for my example rather than Scotland fairly arbitrarily. I've heard both being referred to as part of England.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby ElWanderer » Tue Aug 07, 2012 9:45 am UTC

Adacore wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:
Adacore wrote:Wales is part of England, for example.


This isn't too out of date actually. Under Henry VIII IIRC, Wales was brought into the Kingdom of England and it was not until a while later with the act of union when we merged with Scotland that the UK appeared and, until devolution and the Welsh assembly, I believe this still stood.

Oh, I didn't actually know that. I picked Wales for my example rather than Scotland fairly arbitrarily. I've heard both being referred to as part of England.

Be careful though. Most Welsh people will be most insulted if you call Wales a part of England (and probably a fair few English people). Politically and legally, Wales was absorbed into the Kingdom of England quite a while back, which is why they've never had any representation in the flags of Great Britain/The United Kingdom; the current one combines the flags of the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of Ireland. There's also a common legal system across England & Wales whereas Scottish law is separate and different. Despite this, Wales has retained its own identity, has its own national football and rugby teams (but not cricket... *shrug*), there's still a border on the map with big "Welcome To England" / "Croeso Y Cymru" (Welcome to Wales) signs on the roadside - same as between England and Scotland, and the Welsh language has not only survived but has been having a revival in recent years. Signs in Wales are dual-language - if you see a Top Gear (or similar) clip and they drive over a bit of road with the word ARAF (slow) written on it, you can tell they're in Wales. With the recent devolution, the political side is a lot murkier - there are some things that are dealt with by the Welsh Parliament, others by the UK Parliament.

TLDR - Wales is part of England in a legal sense, but in terms of pretty much everything else, Wales and England are separate nations that are part of the UK. In terms of everyday speech, someone saying Wales is part of England is making a mistake.

Conversely, Scotland has never been a part of England, though some of the border regions may have changed hands a few times over the years. Saying Scotland is part of England is definitely a mistake :)
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby mathmannix » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:14 pm UTC

Just to stir up controversy, I'll throw my own two cents in!

First of all, Americans (myself included) are notoriously poor at knowing whether an accent is Scottish vs. Irish, perhaps even vs. Australian or Kiwi. Our bad.

That being said, we will generally call a Scottish accent a Scottish (or Irish) accent, but we will call RP or Cockney or Liverpudlian accents "British accents". (And we might not know them apart, either... our bad again.)

We (Americans) can't really very well call those accents "English accent(s)" because the language that we all speak, in the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc. is English*. So it's a British accent. I think it's the same as somebody (not from the U.S.) saying (if you wanted to / or do?) "American accent" if they clearly mean an accent from somewhere in the U.S., e.g., New York, Texas, etc. - but then saying "Canadian accent" or "Mexican accent" or "Brazilian accent" - even though those countries are clearly part of America.

Sometimes "British" means all parts of Great Britain, sometimes it means all parts of the United Kingdom, sometimes it means all parts of the British Isles, and sometimes it just means the area really close to London.

* - Although I don't really know, my guess is that Spanish-speaking people in Argentina don't reserve the term "Spanish accent" for people from Spain, nor do French-speaking people in Quebec reserve the term "French accent" for people from France. But, I could be wrong!

ElWanderer wrote:Conversely, Scotland has never been a part of England, though some of the border regions may have changed hands a few times over the years. Saying Scotland is part of England is definitely a mistake :)


See, I always thought that Scotland was once a part of England, from roughly the same time as Ireland and Wales, although they didn't all take. I could be wrong, but...
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:40 pm UTC

Scotland has never been part of England. There were two separate kingdoms: England (which included wales) and Scotland. Those kingdoms had a lot of history of being at war then the royal families intermarried a bit and eventually they ended up having someone who happened to inherit both thrones. At about this point (maybe a king or two later on) they decided this was silly and the act of union was passed creating the united kingdom.

Ireland was a whole separate can of worms involving a long period of the English claiming the throne but not actually ruling it and every now and then sending some nobles over to rule only to get kicked out. As such, when it became part of the UK is quite fuzzy. Eventually Irish nationalism reappeared, there was rioting and risings and eventually the republic of Ireland appeared but this separation was far from clean and many people in northern ireland want to become part of the republic whilst others want to remain part of UK. This split is broadly down Irish/English (or, well, descendants of English settlers) and catholic/protestant divides.

Anyway, that's enough history. To a British person, "British" would never mean the area close to London. That's the south-east. Or the home counties. Britain refers to either Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland e.g. the mainland of the British Isles) or the British Isles. British refers either to Britain (in one of the two senses from the previous sentence) or to the UK. Something which is from the south-east is British but it is would probably be called English or maybe even southern first.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:31 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:I use British and English pretty interchangeably as demonyms. If I want to mean British as in inhabitant of the British Isles, I tend to use Briton. I blame Great Britain.

This is totally incorrect. England is a constituent nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, alongside Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the larger of the British Isles, the others being Ireland, and approx. 6000 other, smaller ones.

As for 'British accent'... part of the problem is the bizarre, artificial drawl that passes for "British" in American TV shows, which bears no resemblance to any accent from this country, and mixes a handful of conflicting elements badly. The result is near unbearable for anyone over here.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:15 pm UTC

Sir Novelty Fashion wrote:As for 'British accent'... part of the problem is the bizarre, artificial drawl that passes for "British" in American TV shows, which bears no resemblance to any accent from this country, and mixes a handful of conflicting elements badly. The result is near unbearable for anyone over here.
I think Americans find authentic UK accents hard to understand. Ya'll talk too fast.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:29 pm UTC

Speed of speech has nothing to do with accent, though.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:36 pm UTC

Sir Novelty Fashion wrote:Speed of speech has nothing to do with accent, though.

What do you mean by "drawl" then? (I assume you meant "speaking slowly".)
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Derek » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:02 am UTC

Adam H wrote:
Sir Novelty Fashion wrote:As for 'British accent'... part of the problem is the bizarre, artificial drawl that passes for "British" in American TV shows, which bears no resemblance to any accent from this country, and mixes a handful of conflicting elements badly. The result is near unbearable for anyone over here.
I think Americans find authentic UK accents hard to understand. Ya'll talk too fast.

Not really. Most British accents are perfectly easy to understand. Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Fri Sep 13, 2013 2:12 pm UTC

Derek wrote:
Adam H wrote:
Sir Novelty Fashion wrote:As for 'British accent'... part of the problem is the bizarre, artificial drawl that passes for "British" in American TV shows, which bears no resemblance to any accent from this country, and mixes a handful of conflicting elements badly. The result is near unbearable for anyone over here.
I think Americans find authentic UK accents hard to understand. Ya'll talk too fast.

Not really. Most British accents are perfectly easy to understand. Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.
Maybe I'm wrong then. But here's my experience:

My wife and I prefer not to use subtitles, but we usually do for british movies. And I have several friends who are closed off to the idea of watching british movies with me because they know from experience that they have trouble following it. Part of that is the unfamiliar slang, part of that is the accent and the speed.

I'm curious, does Robert Downery Jr have a good accent (RP?) in Sherlock Holmes? Cause that devil is hard to understand. :P
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Xenomortis » Fri Sep 13, 2013 2:26 pm UTC

Derek wrote:Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.

Cockney, Cornish, Welsh, Scottish, Geordie, Brummie, and erm... everything north of Birmingham?

Adam H wrote:I'm curious, does Robert Downery Jr have a good accent (RP?) in Sherlock Holmes? Cause that devil is hard to understand.

Can't speak as to the quality of the accent, but if you find RP hard to understand, you're in trouble.

Here's a test: can you understand David Attenborough?
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Adam H
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:09 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:Can't speak as to the quality of the accent, but if you find RP hard to understand, you're in trouble.

NO YOU'RE IN TROUBLE.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Xenomortis » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:17 pm UTC

Sorry, couldn't catch that. :D
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:54 pm UTC

:D

In all seriousness, I have no idea what you could possibly have meant by saying that I'm in trouble.

Also, I can understand Attenborough's voice acting just fine. However, I believe I have never heard him talk in his normal every day voice, which I presume tends to be faster and more slurred.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Derek » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:56 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:
Derek wrote:Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.

Cockney, Cornish, Welsh, Scottish, Geordie, Brummie, and erm... everything north of Birmingham?

Yeah, well, everyone lives in London, right? The rest of the island is just barren wasteland.

But really, the Manchester accent isn't that difficult, is it?

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby teenidle » Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:00 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:
Derek wrote:
Adam H wrote:
Sir Novelty Fashion wrote:As for 'British accent'... part of the problem is the bizarre, artificial drawl that passes for "British" in American TV shows, which bears no resemblance to any accent from this country, and mixes a handful of conflicting elements badly. The result is near unbearable for anyone over here.
I think Americans find authentic UK accents hard to understand. Ya'll talk too fast.

Not really. Most British accents are perfectly easy to understand. Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.
Maybe I'm wrong then. But here's my experience:

My wife and I prefer not to use subtitles, but we usually do for british movies. And I have several friends who are closed off to the idea of watching british movies with me because they know from experience that they have trouble following it. Part of that is the unfamiliar slang, part of that is the accent and the speed.

I'm curious, does Robert Downery Jr have a good accent (RP?) in Sherlock Holmes? Cause that devil is hard to understand. :P


...and suddenly I feel a lot better about my inability to understand some movies without subtitles.

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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Qaanol » Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:57 pm UTC

So, I'm probably about to get jumped on for this, but I'm just calling it as I see it. In my experience, having grown up in the USA, the term "British accent" is a term with a specific meaning, just like "tomato soup".

If someone heated up chicken broth and added large chunks of tomato, that would be a soup with tomato in it, but it would not be "tomato soup", because that is not what "tomato soup" means. The term "British accent" does not mean "An accent of a person from any part of Great Britain" anymore than "tomato soup" means "any soup with tomatoes as the primary ingredient".

As it happens, the meaning of "British accent", in my experience in the USA, is something like, "An accent of a person from England, including the Queen as well as the stereotypical London cabbie, and exemplified by John Oliver, John Cleese, and John Lennon."

If in the USA a person wants to describe an accent as being typical of England, especially of London, they use the common and well-known term for that type of accent. And that term is "British accent". People do not think, "England is part of Britain and the accent I am describing is an English accent, but I will consciously choose the more general word 'British' to describe it." People think, "The term I know for this type of accent is 'British accent', so that is how I will describe it."

"Scottish accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from Scotland.
"Irish accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from Ireland.
"British accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from England.

That is simply what the terms are in my experience in the USA.

If you want to argue the terms should be changed, you are welcome to make that case. But to the best of my knowledge, the fact remains that those are the terms, and people use them in that manner because that is what those terms are understood to mean. There is no conscious justification for the use of 'British' rather than 'English', nor is there any intentional slight. The terms simply have those meanings, and that is how they are used.

You are welcome to explore how "British accent" came to have the meaning it does, and to consider whether it has broader linguistic implications. But as a point of fact, "British accent" does have the meaning of "an accent from England", at least in the USA, so using it to mean that is an effective way to communicate that an accent is typical of person from England.

And for any British people taking issue with this usage, well, you are entitled to your opinion. Just feel glad we didn't completely butcher how we refer to you as a place and a people, the way we did with Japan and the Iroquois.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:59 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:In all seriousness, I have no idea what you could possibly have meant by saying that I'm in trouble.
Presumably, that if you can't even understand the nice, standardized formal dialect of RP English, then you'll likely find most native regional accents completely incomprehensible.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Sep 13, 2013 6:38 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:
Derek wrote:Only some of the stranger ones (Cockney, Northern England, strong Scottish) can be troublesome.

Cockney, Cornish, Welsh, Scottish, Geordie, Brummie, and erm... everything north of Birmingham?


You forgot the west country :p

Qaanol wrote:"Scottish accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from Scotland.
"Irish accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from Ireland.
"British accent" is a term to describe the typical range of accents among persons from England.


This is certainly standard usage in the US (although I believe Scottish and Irish often get mixed up). It irks us however because it is symptomatic of a problem widespread in the US, not understanding the distinction between the following terms: England, Great Britain, The British Isles and the UK. All of these terms are distinct and all of them have very specific meanings, ones which are generally ignored by Americans. It's as if we showed no apparent understanding of the difference between the following: North America, the US, New York and the Contiguous United States.

Not to mention that the Welsh don't get a look in in your classification (or most Americans' minds it seems) despite also being a country of the UK.

Anyway, the specific things that annoy specific people about referring to English accents as "British":

The scots, the welsh and the northern irish get annoyed about being lumped in with the english with an english accent seen as standard.
English people with regional accents get annoyed about being lumped in with posh southerners being seen as standard.
Posh southerners get annoyed because they have the only accent (except possibly cockney who somehow also fall into this category of annoyance) which doesn't get described specifically.

So you see, whilst it is certainly an accurate and widespread description, it also manages to piss everyone on the British Isles off.
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Re: The expression "British accent"

Postby Adam H » Fri Sep 13, 2013 7:04 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Adam H wrote:In all seriousness, I have no idea what you could possibly have meant by saying that I'm in trouble.
Presumably, that if you can't even understand the nice, standardized formal dialect of RP English, then you'll likely find most native regional accents completely incomprehensible.
I object to the idea that I'm in trouble if I can't understand a subset of europeans.

And after 30 seconds of research on the interweb, I haven't found any indication that RP is inherently easier to understand than all other regional dialects. Or is RP by far the closest english accent to standard american? What is the closest thing to the bizarre artificial drawl that americans use to fake a british accent? That's the accent that is easiest for me to understand. :)


I don't even know the difference between Texan and Southern, or between New York and Boston, or between Midwestern and Alaskan (or indeed, if there even is such a thing as an alaskan accent). So when I hear a vaguely british accent I can't place, don't take it personally when I refer to it incorrectly. I do that with everyone.
-Adam


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