Sunday, March 3, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: English

If you've ever heard an impression of a "foreign" language, you must be aware that some of these are stereotyping. We're not easily offended and enjoy the occasional homage to the way we speak (as a native Geordie I'm often subject to this), but if you're going to make a joke then you should really make sure you have the facts straight.

We'll be going through a few "typical" accents and evaluating how much truth is in them, starting with accents in the English language.

They don't all dress like this either! Dandyism in
the Romantic period a ballroom in 1834.
British

There are far too many accents across Britain to debunk them on a regional level, so we'll start with the British accent as seen from abroad. Most accents in the UK are non-rhotic, meaning that the letter r when preceded by a vowel is not pronounced as a consonant. We touched upon the subject of rhotic and non-rhotic accents ages ago when it was International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Unfortunately, the BBC accent isn't spoken by that many people and the differences between it and regional accents are too distinct to really have this as a go-to accent. If you want to mock the Brits and their accents, we'd advise going for a regional accent as most people will take exception to a generic "British" accent. Also, given how expensive living in the UK can be, don't be surprised that most of them aren't posh! Avoid "charmed", "toodle-pip" and "tally-ho" when possible.

American

Sure, the accents across the states aren't as varied as those in the UK, but they still have some distinct accents. To Brits they sound like they're talking out their noses, but make sure you don't overemphasise this. Just because the accent sounds fairly nasal and like they're chewing gum doesn't mean you should overdo it.

If you feel compelled to impersonate an American, make it understated rather than overstated.

Canadian

We like Canada's accent, though the whole aboot thing really annoys us. We've heard Canadians talk and they rarely pronounce it thus. If we had to try it we'd say it's more akin to "a boat" than "a boot". If you do believe South Park got it right, then you should probably look up a list of Canadian actors and see how many of them you've always mistaken for Americans.

We'd like to add that while "eh?" is used more frequently amongst Canadians than some other groups, it's usually only used with asserting statements when seeking the approval of the listener. Other English speakers prefer to use words such as "right" and "you know", the latter often being pronounced like "y'know".

Shrimp... barbie... geddit?
Australian

Though Australia certainly has the weather for it, not every Australian spends all day drinking lager and having barbecues. We're not certain about their shrimp consumption either, but we believe this to be wildly exaggerated too.

Even if Australians did host as many barbecues and consume as much shrimp as stereotypes would have us believe, would they really need to ask someone to put another shrimp on the barbie? We think their expertise would mean that they'd know fine well whether more shrimp was required or not.

For those outside of Australia, it should be noted that the lager Fosters isn't that popular Down Under, and Australia consumes less alcohol per capita than France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

South Africa

You should know that the South African accent does not sound like an Australian accent and should definitely not be based on Leonardo DiCaprio's rendition of it in Blood Diamond, or "Blid Dahmunt", as he liked to call it. Also, Nelson Mandela's accent is not typical of South Africa either, so don't think all South Africans sound like him.

Are you sick of your accent being impersonated or do you find it endearing? Tell us below in the comments.