Subs at the Times really should get onto this one

THE PEDANT
october 29 2016, 12:01am, the times
Why does prejudice against some accents persist?
oliver kamm

Everyone knows that it’s pendant, not pedant.

Every English speaker has an accent. And almost every English speaker has an accent that can be tied to a region. I say “almost” because of one highly unusual British accent that isn’t geographically identifiable.

As to the actual argument it’s not unusual at all. English has, rather more than many languages, a great selection of regional accents, that’s entirely true. They’re geographically concentrated in a manner that can surprise foreigners. Try telling someone from the West Coast of the US that you can tell not just the postcode (BA1, BA2) but the subset of the postcode (BA2 1xx is Twerton and very, very, different from BA2 2xx and so on) of someone from Bath within four words of their mouth opening and they’ll be astonished. You can’t really tell the difference between LA and SF by accent alone. German varies so as to be different languages across Lander but not so much between villages.

But what everywhere has is a national “educated” accent. One that betrays no hint of regional or local origin.

The unusual thing about English is the extreme locality of many accents plus their sheer number, not the existence of a single non-regional one.

At which point fun story from past comments here. When Arnie movies are in German they on’t use Arnie to do his own stuff. Because the Terminator sounding like some very, very, rural yokel from the edges of civilisation in Austria just doesn’t cut it.

39 thoughts on “Subs at the Times really should get onto this one”

  1. Because the Terminator sounding like some very, very, rural yokel from the edges of civilisation in Austria just doesn’t cut it.

    Which is also one of the reasons why James Earl Jones provided the voice for Darth Vader: David Prowse is from Bristle.

  2. Maybe not good phrasing. But Schwabisch and Saxon (Saccische?) are not really mutually intelligible languages.

  3. I did once catch a bit of a French film with subtitles (also in French) in Belgium.
    The film had been made in Canada.

  4. I’d say Schwäbisch is probably better described as a regional dialect whereas Sächsisch is more like standard German but spoken with a strong regional accent.

    Hard to say where the boundary lies between language and dialect but a reasonable rule of thumb is that a dialect is readily intelligible in written form to speakers of a language.

    Can I please have a star for pendantry (and umlauts)?

  5. English effectively now as two ‘regionless’ accents. ‘Educated’ and ‘Estuary’. You hear people speaking ‘Estuary’ from all over the South.

  6. “You hear people speaking ‘Estuary’ from all over the South.”
    If only it were people from all over the south. It’s all over the BBC for a start.
    And it ain’t the bleedin’ same as Cockney. I say ain’t it, not innit. And it goes on the beginin’ of the sentence, not the end. And is indicative of a question, not an expression of deep insecurity. Cockneys don’t do insecurity.

  7. I was disappointed how many young people in Norfolk had the estuary accent – very very few had the traditional Norfolk one, though a lot of adults still do. Even in places like Devon the kids increasingly seem to speak estuary. I have a feeling the southern regional accents are going to be almost entirely supplanted, like the traditional (East Anglian, somewhat similar to Norfolk/Suffolk) Essex accent/dialect already has.

  8. The ‘T’ has all but disappeared from radio these days.
    Music appears to be mainly produced by ar-ists on the BBC these days

  9. Accents are dying out. France got there first: their highly centralised state effectively stamped out first the regional languages, now the regional accents. In Britain you certainly hear accents delocalising amongst the youth. It’s most noticeable in the south, but even up north young people have less pronounced accents than older generations.

    Accents reflect the dominant members of a society. If everyone in your kid’s school is speaking Estuary, that’s just what they do in order to fit in and not get beaten up. (If even the white kids are speaking in Jamaican patois, you should probably change schools.)

  10. Most people I do not notice accents in English. Cannot say I have an accent myself, though I can do a pretty good black country accent when I try.
    If I go to Lichfield I cannot detect local accent, if I go to Blackpool I cannot detect local accent. I can in the Black Country for natives or those who learnt from natives, though even that is mixed. Can have a Walsall accent with Dudley overlay despite never living anywhere but Walsall.

  11. When I was in college, almost 50 years ago, I met a lot of people from the north east U.S. I got to where I could tell within fifty miles where people were from by their accent.

    I was shocked recently by someone commenting on my Southern accent. I DIDN’T KNOW I HAD ONE! Though I’m not displeased that I do (allegedly).

    I suspect many of the speakers of the regional British accents are unaware that they have an accent.

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    I know I have strong Yorkshire accent, people comment on it regularly and are surprised when I tell them I left Yorkshire over 40 years ago with only the occasional visit.

  13. “Cannot say I have an accent myself”: of course you have an accent yourself. There’s no choice; you’ve got a height, you’ve got a weight, you’ve got a countenance, you’ve got an accent. That’s the whole point of the post.

  14. I’ve always really enjoyed the mutual incomprehension of UK-SW yokels and Geordies.

    I suspect I look like a concentrating tennis spectator when a match is underway.

  15. dearieme – then maybe with a recording of me speaking you could identify an accent.
    I cannot.

    Hence what I said was not wrong.

  16. Once, at a conference in Paris (while I, with my neutral Scottish accent, was living and working in London) I was able to identify the accent of one of keynote speakers as having orginated within 15 miles of Wick, Caithness. My boss from Chicago was, of course, oblivious to the magnitude of achievement.

    (I also excel at long and cumbersome sentences, albeit with impeccable punctuation.)

  17. Not sure I agree about Germany, though distinguishing one side of town from the other would be for natives (in the same way I can spot Blackburn from Burnley but not bath from Bristol- you need exposure).

    Frankfurt, in the southern reaches of the higj german dialects, has two distinctive accents. The local, surprisingly non-urban yokelly dialect, and what I call “internationale Frankforderisch “. Incomers who have picked up a lot of the intonation but little of the vocabulary. Interestingly foreigners often make a better hash of it than other Germans.

    And it’s the variety in vocabulary that really distinguishes dialects in Germany from those in England.

  18. Andrew M
    There certainly are regional accent variations in France. The most successful film of the last decade had that as the central joke.

  19. Bloke in Costa Rica

    RP is very much a minority accent. It’s only used by about 1% of the UK population. It’s mutated, too. Even my accent has become slightly more demotic in the thirty years since I left school, and I really do sound quite posh.

  20. There is a marked difference between a Cardiff accent and one from Pontypridd, about 10 miles away. I expect even people who don’t live there would notice it.

  21. Implemented a Voice to Text system in a global investment bank last year. Picked a pilot sample with the widest variation of accents we could find, both domestic and international, as we wanted to establish viability at the margin before we spent a fortune.

    The three accents it had most trouble with

    3..Indian
    2..Geordie
    1..Dutch

    The latter because it couldn’t tell where one word ended and the next began…

  22. “There certainly are regional accent variations in France. The most successful film of the last decade had that as the central joke.”

    A friend of mine was talking to someone in French (in the south) and they assumed from his awful accent that he was from Paris.

  23. It’s not surprising that Germany, which is a collection of statelets that were all independent less than 150 years ago, would have strong dialect variation. The classic dividing line is based on the pronunciation of the first person singular – either ick or ich (like Scots loch) – it runs E-W across the middle of the country (but some areas pronounce it ish – as do many German speakers of Turkish descent).

    Modern linguistics tends to refuse to recognise a distinction between language and dialect (“a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy”). I tend to the (unscientific) view that if two monoglot speakers are mutually comprehensible they’re speaking the same language – but that would make Portuguese a dialect of Spanish, which both sides would vehemently deny, even though Portunhol is becoming widespread in Latin America.

  24. Apparently Norway is a place where the accents change at every village. Russia, on the other hand, barely sees the accent change from one side to the next: it’s only Moscow that as one.

  25. Don’t forget that Newport is very different from Cardiff and the Valleys as well. I’ve known people who can tell which valley your from by accent.
    Oddly in Canada and US the Welsh accent totally confuses people and they tend to ask if your Australian

  26. I should argue that there were at least two, probably three, non-localised accents in my youth: to wit “BBC English”, Public School, and Oxford (though that was arguably more of a drawl than an accent). BBC English wasn’t the same as Public School.
    BBC English was a smallish minority but not highly unusual – nor, actually, was a public school accent – several % of the population is *not* highly unusual.

  27. I say “almost” because of one highly unusual British accent that isn’t geographically identifiable.

    Kind of depends on what you mean by ‘geographically identifiable’.

    I bet that accent would allow you to narrow down the speaker’s origin to the UK.

  28. You can’t really tell the difference between LA and SF by accent alone.

    You can’t really tell the difference between SF and *New Mexico* by accent alone.

  29. john77

    “I should argue that there were at least two, probably three, non-localised accents in my youth: to wit “BBC English”, Public School, and Oxford (though that was arguably more of a drawl than an accent). BBC English wasn’t the same as Public School.”

    Here’s a case for another non-localised accent (possibly rather older than the others?) – the drawl of the old aristocracy. Modern aristocrats sound rather more “public school”, presumably because that’s where they were educated and boarded. Not many generations ago, the bulk of them would have been privately tutored rather than schooled, which presumably insulated them from the accents of their upper middle class peers. The old aristos had (and many of the doddering elderly ones maintain) an accent of their own.

  30. @ MBE
    Quite true – but before my time. Charles is only a couple of years younger than I and he was sent to Cheam and Gordonstoun (and Geelong Grammar) before Cambridge.

  31. Within 15 miles of Wick? Pah! I once pinned a girl as being from Moffat. And she’d probably left decades before.

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