The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'accents'
After Stephen Fry commented that British actors have an unfair advantage in America because Americans mistake British accents for brilliance, the BBC has published a piece on what a British accent gets you in the US. (And, apparently, a "British accent" includes anything from Hugh Grant plumminess to deepest darkest Geordie.)
"For most Americans, there's no distinction between British accents. For us, there's just one sort of British accent, and it's better than any American accent - more educated, more genteel," says Rosina Lippi-Green, a US academic and author of English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States.
"There was a sitcom called Dead Like Me with a Brit [Callum Blue] in it. He was a scruffy, 20-something drug dealer. Even he had that sort of patina - his was not an RP accent, it was a working class London accent."
Katharine Jones, author of Accent of Privilege: English Identities and Anglophilia in the US, says the "educated and cultured" associations have a long history. "British etiquette books have been used for years; and although Americans say they have no class system, they do - and the American upper class apes the British upper class."Another point the article makes: British expatriates in Australia (where their accent is associated with complaining and being bad at cricket, and/or where refinement and intelligence have traditionally been associated with weakness and/or metaphorical or literal homosexuality rather than any positive attributes) tend to lose their accents pretty quickly, whereas those in the US (where their accents make them appear intelligent and sophisticated, and often get them preferential treatment) retain theirs. Funny, that.
Over the next week, the BBC has a special feature on dialects, accents and regional usages in the UK. As part of this series, a BBC reporter tries speaking in Received Pronounciation. the cut-glass proper English accent formerly known as "BBC English", but now only used by automated announcements on the Tube and effete, treacherous aristocrats in Hollywood movies:
For example, wedging a cork in my mouth and attempting to read lines from Julius Caesar was invaluable, helping me keep the tongue flat and speaking with restricted lip movement, but I did feel like a snake who had tried to open a wine bottle with his fangs, only to get stuck.
American tourists in particular seemed to love it, perhaps mistaking me for a Hugh Grant impersonator. A few were slightly scared by my over-enthusiastic use of the phrase "Dear fellow", but a woman named Judy seemed especially enamoured with the accent. "Can I take you home to the ranch?" she said in a rich Texan drawl.Also on the BBC in the Voices series: language change and (the myth of) Americanisation, the language of love, and the language of the love that (once) dare not speak its name, or "Polari".
Another online speech synthesizer demo; this one (ScanSoft's rVoice), however, has multiple accents, including British (i.e., RP), Scottish, Australian (only in sheila, though, and not bloke), Spanish, and not only American but also Valley Girl (more formally known as "Southern California").
Which is rather nifty; it's good to be able to get synthesized speech that doesn't sound either generic-American or (occasionally) RP-British (which some call the BBC accent, except for the fact that nobody on the BBC talks like that these days).
Apparently one of their markets is call centres and voice-response systems (and some of the voices have normal and call-centre modes of diction). Which could explain the presence of a Scottish accent; apparently, studies in Britain found that Scottish accents are considered the most soothing/least aggravating to call centre callers.
An American woman recently suffered a stroke, and emerged with a British accent. Tiffany Roberts, 61, who had never been to Britain, now speaks with a mixture of Cockney and West Country accents.
"People in America accuse me of lying when I say I was born in Indiana. They would say 'What are you saying that for? Where in England are you from?'
Last year, they confirmed that patients can develop a foreign accent without ever having been exposed to the accent. This is because they haven't really picked up the accent. Their speech patterns have changed. Injury to their brain causes them to lengthen syllables, alter their pitch or mispronounce sounds. These changes make it sound like they have picked up an accent. They may lengthen syllables.
The first case of foreign accent syndrome was reported in 1941 in Norway, after a young Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel injury to the brain during an air raid. Initially, she had severe language problems from which she eventually recovered. However, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was ostracized by her community.(I remember reading about something similar some years back about a British stroke patient who developed a South African accent. I wonder if the explanation means that an midwestern American accent, when damaged, becomes "British", whereas a British accent becomes "South African", whilst a Norwegian accent becomes "German".)
Computer scientists in Britain are tackling one of the hard problems in speech recognition: developing software which understands Scottish accents. The Glaswegian accent is one of the hardest on current speech-recognition software (which tends to be rather London-centric, if not American). The team from Birmingham University will be paying locals to say some phrases in the "Glesca patter", which will be analysed to develop regionally-correct voice-recognition software for use in office computers and mobile phones. (via bOING bOING)
A company has developed speech synthesis with user-selectable accents, including an Australian accent and a Scottish brogue. Wonder on which platforms this technology will be available.
The Queen's English: By analysing recordings of the Queen's Christmas speeches, researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney have discovered that her accent has become considerably less "posh" over the past few decades, drifting from the "cut-glass" upper-class English accent that was once de rigeur towards the standard non-upper-class southern-English accent. In particular, her vowels are now similar to those of female BBC announcers. (accompanying RealAudio piece)