Accents of the English Language. By Roger Kovaciny 2


accents

This could be a very long article, but it is a practical article so it will be short.

The Australian accent is an English accent with a few peculiarities of its own. Where the British say “mate,” for example, an Australian says something that sounds more like “mite.” But you will almost never hear an Australian accent, so, since this is a practical article, we can ignore it.

The English or British accent is what you were taught in school. That’s natural, since we are both in Europe. But when’s the last time you saw an Englishman? Downloaded an English film? Bought an English DVD? The English accent is not very practical, and it’s harder to learn, for two reasons. (We can include the Irish and Scottish accents together with the English.)

Number one, the English under-emphasize important things. When they get to the most important word of a sentence, they lower their voices. Americans raise them. Americans like to exaggerate; the English do exactly the opposite. They call the Atlantic Ocean “the pond”. World War II was “the late unpleasantness.”

Americans, by contrast, have about 20 different words that mean “great” and delight in pointing out that something is the biggest, best, worst, most important… either in the world, or in history. Americans like to exaggerate. They also speak more loudly than the English, and this makes them easier to understand.

Most importantly, however, if you are going to buy a DVD or download music, if you are going to meet a traveler or go traveling, it is Americans, not English, whom you will meet. (Americans don’t use “whom” very much. I just wrote that so you would know that I know what I’m writing about.)

There are four American accents. The African-American accent still retains sounds from Africa even if a black person’s family has been in America for centuries. About half of black Americans speak, or can speak, with this accent. The other half sound like anyone else.

The second accent is the Southern drawl, and is very common. They speak more slowly than the rest of the country. Very typical is to say “Ah’ll” instead of “I’ll” as an abbreviation for “I will.” It shares some characteristics with the black accent. In my entire life I have only met one Southerner, as we call them, whose accent was so thick that I couldn’t understand it; but I have heard many black people whose accent and vocabulary were too difficult for me to understand.

Least important is the New York/Boston accent. They are not identical but are similar enough. Until President Kennedy was assassinated, this accent was perhaps the most common on television and in films.

However, the standard American accent which is taught in schoolbooks today is what you should try to learn. For one thing, it is simpler, and for this reason: Standard American–also called the Midwestern accent–is the only language or dialect in the world where the letter “R” is pronounced in exactly the same way no matter where it is written or how it is used. The African, Southern, and New York/Boston accents all change “R” to a vowel sound at the end of many words and some syllables.

But in standard American, the “R” sound is always pronounced exactly the same way. It is never trilled, never doubled, never turned into a vowel sound and never pronounced where it is not written. (By contrast, President Kennedy once had a bad “idear” about “Cuber” (a bad idea about Cuba.) He was speaking in a Boston accent.

When pronouncing the American R, your tongue lies still. Listen to small children say “Добрий день.” They do not trill their R’s. You didn’t, either. You are making the American “R” sound all the time, but you are overlaying flips of the tongue on top of it. Give your tongue a rest, and you will pronounce your R’s with a standard American accent.

One other peculiarity which divides American (including all regional accents) from the British/Australian is the “flat A” sound. In fact, standard American is often referred to as having “a flat Midwestern accent.” This means that, more than any language in the world, we pronounce our short “A” sound exactly the way a goat bleats. (You can hear goats either in the village, or on Youtube.) Americans ask and answer; the British “ahsk” and “ahnser.” They often pronounce “A” like the “A” in “father.” But Americans say the word “rather” quite differently from the British. We would “rather” say “rather” with a flat A.

This flat-A sound is almost unique in the world. Americans use it often, the British use it less often. The French use it rarely (maintenant, Saint-Saens), goats use it always, and no other language on earth uses it at all.

If you can master (not “mahstuh”) these two sounds, you are well on your way to speaking with an American accent.

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