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British Expat Newsletter:
5 July 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Accents
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Are accents still important to the British? For most of us, it seems, they are. But in different ways, depending on whether you’re in the UK or abroad.

In the UK they’re still a crucial marker of regional or class origin. It’s unfortunately true that no matter how much we try to treat people as individuals and on their own merits, underneath it all, it’s human nature to try to put people into easily understandable boxes. And Bernard Shaw’s adage – “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him” – remains generally true today.

That being the case, you’d have thought that Received Pronunciation – the supposedly neutral standard used by the BBC in its early years – would have been more popular than it is, as an effort to level out the differences in society. Far from it. The speech drills many young kids had to go through generally served only to foster resentment towards the plummy tones and clipped consonants of the King’s (or, latterly, Queen’s) English. Hardly surprising, when you consider that RP was described as “most usually heard in everyday speech in the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding schools”. So it was something of a relief when regional accents started to make their way into broadcasting. All the same, it came as a bit of a shock a few years ago when Huw Edwards and his distinctive Llanelli accent fronted the BBC’s Six O’Clock News.

The Welsh accent seems to get it in the neck from others in the UK, along with Brummie (which comes bottom of the pile), Scouse and Glaswegian. Scots accents other than Weegie, on the other hand, generally fare much better. One survey carried out a couple of years ago produced the result that the Scots had the sexiest accents!

More recently, Estuary English has emerged as a distinctive “yoof” accent. A lot of research time has been devoted by universities into the phenomenon of EE; who speaks it and why, and even whether it might become a new RP. (Although its origins are clearly around London and the Thames estuary, TV and radio have spread its influence around the country.) Even Tony Blair’s jumped on the EE bandwagon – in a recent interview on BBC Radio 5, he noticeably started dropping aitches and using glottal stops instead of “t”s (in other words, pronouncing words like “bottle” as “bo-l”) in a way he’d never dream of doing in the House of Commons. A far cry indeed from his Edinburgh public school days!

When you’re away from your home area (even within the UK), keeping up your accent is a way of keeping a link with your roots. Of course, not everyone tries to keep their original accent – some may even be forced to tone it down to help their new neighbours and co-workers understand them – and even those who do try aren’t always altogether successful. And if you’re teaching English to foreigners, there’s something to be said for aiming for a more neutral accent. Some have even proposed EE as a new standard for TEFL teaching. (There’s a scary thought – classrooms all over the world full of people being taught to speak like the cast of EastEnders…)

But British accents of any colour can be a useful money-spinner if you’ve got a good speaking voice, depending on where you are in the world. In India, Bollywood film-makers often advertise for native British English speakers to appear in historical dramas. The Americans in particular seem to love British accents, and frequently use Brits for voiceovers in adverts.

And accent is apparently the reason that US women fall for British guys in a big way – bad teeth, pasty complexions and all. So if you’re male and on your uppers, you could always head Stateside and look out for a single rich female…

Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us about it?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

Listen to some English regional accents here (a search for “Scottish accents” only returned a few results for “Victorian Popular Music” – bizarre!):
[Obsolete link removed]

More stuff on accents and dialects from the BBC. Bostin’! (as they say in the Black Country)
BBC: Voices

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • gibraltar lawyer betting
  • purple top milan recipes
  • sharky malta
  • the philosophers stone motorcycle triumph
  • infusing milk for ice cream
  • joke business shepherd dog account
  • girls spain white panties
  • asda thurso
  • the big ben banjo band
  • messy houses
  • glow english lessons
  • worlds fastest indian indian company

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay
Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“I went to Glenalmond and got the piss taken out of me for my Glasgow accent. Then I spent five years at this very posh school, came out sounding like Prince Charles, which you have to do in order to survive, and then I got called Lord Fauntleroy for the first six months at art school.”

– Robbie Coltrane, Scottish actor (1950- )

Joke

There were four kinds of people in the UK:

First there were the Scots, who kept the Sabbath – and everything else they could lay their hands on;
Then there were the Welsh, who prayed on their knees – and on their neighbours;
Thirdly there were the Irish, who never knew what they wanted – but were willing to fight for it anyway;
Lastly there were the English, who considered themselves self-made men – thus relieving the Almighty of a terrible responsibility…

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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