So I was chatting the other day to my friend Matthew Curry of The Chia Pet Circus and he very kindly tweeted this clip to me, reminding me how quaint the BBC used to be:
“Don’t forget your cocoa, and don’t let the bed-bugs bite. Breakfast will be at six SHARP!”
One of the things that stood out for me as I listened was how old-fashioned the presenter’s voice sounds. The BBC used to insist on a posh accent but these days tends to choose a softer accent and often a regional accent. After some discussion about how I would actually place this accent (thoughts anyone?) I got to thinking about how many accents we have on our tiny island. I tried to google how many and came up with zip. So much for research. As a general guide we might come up with something like this:
Cockney (Parts of London)
West country (The west country e.g Bristol, Devon..)
Welsh (and some may divide this accent between North and South)
My Scottish mother would add many more here including Dundonian etc.
The list goes on (please comment if I’ve missed any obvious ones) but for brevity’s sake I’ll draw a line here, but listen to this accent from the Scottish Islands:
Could you guess what they said? We used to have friends of my mum come down to visit sometimes and there was one very lovely old lady who couldn’t communicate with any but my aunt (not even my mum had a clue). She made these beautiful little cooing sounds and I would smile and nod as my aunt translated English into English! It wasn’t a different language she just had a very strong dialect. (Nothing to do with Dr Who btw.)
There are many more accents however. For example, ‘towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester such as Bolton, Oldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which form the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases are different enough to be noticed even by a non-local listener’ so says Wikipedia. I would say Mancunian sounds nothing like Lancastrian but there you go.
In my newly adopted home county of Northamptonshire we can hear when someone is from Northampton and when they’re from Leicestershire (just a few miles away) for example. People hereabouts call women ‘duck’ as a term of endearment (like sweetie, lass etc. (It’s ‘hen’ in Scotland)) and they pronounce it ‘doook’ (a proper phonetics table would help here!) whereas from my mouth it’s a very different creature and doesn’t sound endearing at all!
My accent? Well some people say they hear Cockney, some say they hear the Queen’s; I would say it’s somewhere between the two, and yes, I have had a lot of comments in my lifetime, including from some (it’s happened more than once) who ask if I’m from New Zealand – really!! Some can even hear the Scottish influence in there. Would I record it for you? Not on your nelly. (That means no.)
They have a map too.
The green dots can be clicked on (on the site) and will give you a taste of the accent from that area.
So, in summary, it would be fair to say that there’s no such thing as a ‘British accent’ as many foreign students will tell you. We sometimes can’t understand one another here, despite being only 603 miles from John O’Groats to Land’ s End and smaller than many states around the world. But we are all united. At least at present.
I don’t know about you but I think that’s pretty amazing.