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Hear this …


From E-Learning V

Fig.1 The cast of Downton Abbey.

How easy is it to put an accent to the character? Have the casting director and costume people colluded to create a class image of both face and dress? What if we turned all the accents upside down? Or is that what we are starting to see and achieve in 2014?

I caught a few moments of The X Factor last night where Cheryl (from Gateshead) had to let go of some of her singers before the live show: with one exception, and this would include all the singers in the show, there is a girl who is ‘well spoken’, one would imagine ‘upper middle class’ (if that phrase is any more or less appropriate than ‘working class’) – privately educated and at a boarding school one would presume. This girl is torn, possibly ashamed of her accent (or lack of accent). She feels it will make her less popular. These days everyone (in the media world) wants an accent that says where they came from, not an accent that says what ‘strata’ of class they are from (unless they’re going to a fancy dress party as characters from Downton Abbey). We no longer have parents who clip their children around the ear if they speak with a hard ‘a’?

Or is living with your accent something to do with self-esteem?

There was a Cambridge Professor of Ancient Music on the radio the other day who sounded very British and ‘educated’ (like the girl), except for the occasional word that hinted at something else. It turns out that until he was 23 he lived in Fresno, California. His accent transformation was almost total. Was this to blend in with the fabric of the Cambridge architecture?

I have friends who have lived in the States for 25 years: some, by my ear, are totally American, while others have barely changed their accent at all. I think it depends on what they do: the ‘English’ educated accent carries weight in academia, while the guy working in engineering has spent his career in the US getting rid of his accent and denying his culture and background.

Personally I love the richness of accents from every inch of the UK and the world: my only criteria has to be – can people understand what you are saying?

Any of us who think we can speak a foreign language can be guilty of garbling and muddling words and accents in such a way that others haven’t a clue what we are saying or meaning: I have a German friend who refuses to accept that often people haven’t a clue what she is saying as her German accent is so strong and her choice of words and word order is so like Yoda. I know that my French has, and still does if I hurry, come over the same garbled way to French people. This is why I am doing the Open University Module L120 – Ouverture: Intermediate French: to get the grammar in place, and learn to speak French as if I am writing it down perhaps? To slow down and be understood. You can still see that distracted glint in a person’s eye though when you know they aren’t really listening, but trying to figure out where you come from. Brits think I’m French. The French think I’m Belgian. My spoken English retains a hint of ‘northern’ – most of it was knocked out of me by parents and grandparents who felt it was their duty to raise kids who spoke ‘The King’s English’. Result: alienated in my home town Newcastle, and still picked out as ‘northern’ on words like ‘enough’ and ‘nothing’ … and ‘film’ (and probably many more), in the south of England.

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