LINGUIST List 5.475

Fri 22 Apr 1994

Disc: Accents

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "STEVE SEEGMILLER", RE: 5.457 Accents
  2. , Re: 5.457 Accents
  3. , 5.442 Accents
  4. , RE: 5.457 Accents
  5. Laurie Bauer, sandwich

Message 1: RE: 5.457 Accents

Date: 20 Apr 94 19:16:00 EST
Subject: RE: 5.457 Accents

RE: Cathryn Willaims' question about British actors imitating American
accents: Whenever I have seen British actors (e.g. Richard Burton)
playing Americans, I have always been impressed with how well they
succeeded. Burton played Americans in two or three movies (I don't
remember the titles) and got the pronunciation right.

Steve Seegmiller
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Message 2: Re: 5.457 Accents

Date: Wed, 20 Apr 94 10:10:50 CDRe: 5.457 Accents
From: <>
Subject: Re: 5.457 Accents

Cathryn Williams writes:
> Is the inverse true of British actors immitating American accents?
> Perhaps someone could shed some light on this...
As a native American, having recently finished a 16+-year stay in London, I
can assure Cathryn Williams that British actors who can do a convincing
American accent are rare indeed. Perhaps the most striking illustration of
this came for me when seeing a Noel Coward play with an American visitor. I
mentioned at one point in the play that one of the characters was supposed to
be an American. She had had no idea that the accent used by that actress was
supposed to convey that. All the English people in the audience knew it, of
course, because there is a kind of prototypical "American" accent English
people use when joking. Even I managed to learn to do it, and it certainly
bore no relation to my own NY-derived speech. But middle-class English people
also do imitations of Cockney to be funny, and having lived in Cockney areas,
it was not clear to me that they bore any closer relation to real Cockney than
Dick Van Dyke's.

There are English actors who do convinvingly imitate American accents. I saw
Bob Hoskins in the theatre doing one of the David Mamet's plays, and his
accent was convincing even there (although his costume was completely
inappropriate!). Antony Sher's was not quite up to scratch (but he's a South
African, anyway).

In my book, Peter Seller's is the most convincing purveyor of accents
(even at one remove). His American accents in Dr. Strangelove are practically
flawless -- I think I noted only one or two mistakes in his role as the
American president.

Yours - Stuart Rosen
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Message 3: 5.442 Accents

Date: 21 Apr 94 10:33:36 SAST-2 5.442 Accents
From: <>
Subject: 5.442 Accents

I've been following the discussion on accents with interest, and have
a few things to throw in.

(a) Brooklyn vs. Bronx. As a native of the former, I remember that
one of the stereotypes we had when I was a kind was a 'Brooklyn /r/'
which was supposed to be typical: it is a mildly fricative
labiodental approximant, with compressed lip-rounding. I know it as a
New York feature, but when I was 10 I wasn't into empirical
dialectology, so have no real evidence. The point is that the phrase
existed, and we Brooklynites took it as (a) locally typical, and (b)
if non-users, somewhat infra dig.

(b) Why London & Aussie accents get confused. Among the criterial
features of both are a very open onset to the FACE diphthong (low
central to centralized back open), which is a Cockney stereotype;
vocalization of /l/ in codas (so that wells and woes appear to be
homophones, though they aren't quite); rather back and unrounded
onset to the BOAT diphthong (around centralized 'inverted v': no IPA
on my e-mail); lowered and centralized firstmorae in the BITE, OUT
diphthongs (around 'barred i' and 'schwa' respectively). What people
don't notice (and here the problem of sensitivity to fine detail in
other accents comes in) is that the PASS vowel is typically front in
AusE (and New Zealand), but back in London. But as long as it's
qualitatively different from CAT it counts as 'British', and
Antipodean Englishes are sort of a subtype of British for most
people. (Incidentally, A J Ellis in the late 1860s classified NZ
English under the same regional category as Essex.)

(c) South Africans on the other hand are often taken for Australians
by Brits who don't listen carefully, since they are clearly not
'English' (i.e. they are colonial), but since most British people
have heard fewer cultivated SA accents than Aus/NZ, they don't
recognize them. The standard stereotype of an SA accent of course
these days is Pres de Klerk, but that is a second-language accent.

(d) Southern Jewish accents. I don't know about those, but I would
be very surprised if there wern't ones in cities with a long
history of Jewish settlement. Of course there are very definite and
identifiable ones in New York, as Labov has shown.

In South Africa, people claim to recognize Jewish accents, and my
impression is that there are reasons for this claim. First-language
Jewish speakers in Cape Town and Johannesburg anyhow may have some
features that mark them: one is a slightly more dental /t, d/ than
non-Jews from the same areas. No work has been done on this that I
know of, but it is consistent with my own observations in New York,
London, and Leeds. A guess if it's of any interest is that the
immigrant languages (Yiddish, Russian and Polish in New York, mainly
Yiddish and Lithuanian in SA) have dentals rather than alveolars, and
this may have persisted.

Roger Lass
University of CApe TOwn
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Message 4: RE: 5.457 Accents

Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 11:59 +01RE: 5.457 Accents
From: <>
Subject: RE: 5.457 Accents

Re Cathryn Williams' posting, I can think of a few cases (other than Bob
Hoskins0 of British actors engaging with American accents, with varying
degrees of success. The worst case I can think of is Michael Caine's
attempt at a Southern accent in a movie whose title I've mercifully
blocked. Michael Caine is a Cockney (not an Australian...) - but perhaps
no? a lo? a people know tha?. On the other hand, Tracey Ullmann always
seems to my British ear to be amazingly accurate when she "does" American
accents. (By the way, I thought Robin Williams' admittedly stereotypical
Scottish accent in 'Mrs Doubtfire' was rather good, and consistently done).
An older example is Joyce Grenfell, who did a sort of Southern belle
(Louisiana?) in her monologues - it always convinced me, and I believe she
had Louisianan connections. Of course, you also get the cases in which a
British actor is so pre-eminent, that Hollywood will change the script to
get him or her, accent and all - for example, Sean Connery in 'The
However, there are also wider principles at play in the question of accents,
some of which Benjy Wald raises in her posting on stereotypes. This extends
not only to different accents of the "same" language, but also to different
languages. Thus there is a fixed French parody of English speakers
(indifferently British or American) trying to speak French. If anyone has
seen any Laurel and Hardy dubbed into French, they'll know what it sounds
like. I've once or twice been annoyed by French speakers picking up mistakes
of mine (which are usually of gender), and repeating them in this stereotype
accent - which mainly consists of exaggerated frictionless continuant 'r's. The
point is that inaccurately produced language or dialect sends out mixed signals
to its native speakers. My pronunciation of French isn't bad, taken sound by
sound, but presumably, some of my enunciation is a bit mixed, between 'le petit
accent Bruxellois' and standard French of some kind. This is as big a "sin" as
mixing registers or words from different dialects for the ordinary speaker, and
presumably results in some sort of cognitive dissonance, which is recognised
as some damn foreigner mangling our language. (On the plus side, I'm regularly
recognised in France as being from Brussels - which means either that I'm
speaking French with a consistent accent, or else, more likely, that the
French consign all weird pronunciations to Belgium).

Paul Werth.
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Message 5: sandwich

Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 09:20:23 sandwich
From: Laurie Bauer <>
Subject: sandwich

WFKING in 5.457 mentions 'sangwich' as being (New York) Brooklyn for
'sandwich'. In my phonetics classes, I use this as an example of the fact
that [w] has both labial and velar features, either of which may take
precedence in assimilation. 'Samwich' is rather more common in English
generally than 'sangwich'. But the dialects I've heard of previously that
use a velar nasal instead of a bilabial nasal in this word are Scottish.
Are there other dialects that use the velar nasal?
Department of Linguistics, Victoria University, PO Box 600, Wellington, New
Ph: +64 4 472 1000 x 8800 Fax: +64 4 471 2070
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