Friday, March 23, 2007

English accent = bad teeth and booze problem


On first hearing an English accent 50 years ago, Americans might have thought: stately home, private school, good manners. Nowadays, they think: low income, poor diet, alcohol problem.

So says Toby Young in this article from The Guardian. Accents and different ways of pronouncing particular words and sounds, have long stirred up animosity and disquiet. Some people only have to hear a Scouse accent before they’re clutching their handbag and hubcaps to their chest and muttering “smackheads”, while others hear a Jamaican accent and run for cover. Many harbour prejudices about Caribbean or American accents (as this post from last year shows) and some just hate it when we drop our t’s (as in the glottalised bottle and water).

Stephen Fry commented earlier in the week – some say rather bitterly – that an English accent, rather than acting talent, will open doors for you in Hollywood (that story is featured here and developed in the BBC website's magazine) and Toby Young’s article is a response to this. Meanwhile, David McKie looks at the ways in which the letter “h” is pronounced and the extreme reactions such an ‘umble little word can produce.

All this can tie in to work on ENA5 and attitudes towards different accents and dialects, and links to previous posts on the blog about Howard Giles’ matched guise experiment and the Aziz corporation’s survey of attitudes to accents back in 2005. And like so many of these articles, it’s not just what the columnist says that’s interesting but the responses from readers at the end of the article. Just quoting a few examples of extreme prescriptivism from these articles would be a useful way of injecting some contemporary discussion into essays about attitudes to accent and dialect.

Useful for:
ENA5 – Language Varieties

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