English Trifles: ‘British’ Accents

   If you have an interest you may Read More.I-solemnly-swear-not-to-clog-up-your-dashboard. Many thanks to jadorablehome for the name "English Trifles" for these posts on subjects of Anglophilic interest.

   If you follow Anglophile tags, you’ve seen many an 'I love a British accent' post, along with ’There is no such thing as a British accent’ responses. Hopefully this will clarify, enlighten, educate, or otherwise catch your fancy. (Wales and Scotland, obviously, are also part of Great Britain and their accents therefore 'British' but I am focusing on England)

   If you are seeing/have seen ‘Deathly Hallows Part Two’ note the marked difference between the English accent of Neville Longbottom (Matt Lewis from West Yorkshire) and Emma Watson (raised in Oxford) if you imagine all ‘English’ accents are similar.

   English accents can be (very) broadly divided into the Northern, Midlands, and Southern areas; but there are many specific geographical areas (the Scouser from Liverpool or the Geordie in Tyneside, for example) whose inhabitants speak with quite a distinct accent and dialect.

   The upper class ‘BBC English'is properly termed Received Pronounciation; it derives from a mixture of Midland and Southern dialects and is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners. Think of the “documentary” voice.

   Estuary English is widely spoken in South East England and best described as a milder version of a classical London accent. There is an almost universal trend away from Received Pronunciation amongst the young and middle class in everyday speech towards Estuary English, with the RP accent perceived as snobbish or posh.

  The Cockney accent (immortalised by Eliza Doolittle in the musical My Fair Lady) was a derogatory reference for London town-dwellers as early as the 1500s. English author Samuel Rowlands referenced a 'Bow-bell Cockney' as one born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary-Le-Bow (a church off Cheapside) and this remains the traditional meaning of a Cockney. The accent, disparaged as ‘lower-class’, has migrated with its people from inner-city areas to the Eastern ends of London and beyond. An interesting feature of the Cockney dialect is the occasional usage of rhyming slang. The construction involves replacing the common word with a phrase of two or three words, then omitting the original rhyming word; in a process called hemiteleia.

   Here’s an example: telephone, which rhymes with ‘dog-and-bone’ is replaced by the word dog; wife, rhyming with trouble-and-strife, is replaced by trouble, leading to the sentence I got straight on the dog to me trouble” (‘I rang up my wife straightaway’ or ‘I called my wife right away’)

   I love dialects and accents; and if you’re interested in them as well you can hear any sort you wish at http://sounds.bl.uk/BrowseCategory.aspx?category=Accents-and-dialects 


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