LINGUIST List 5.483

Wed 27 Apr 1994

Disc: Accents

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Mike Picone, Drawl, accents & actors
  2. "Claude M. Steinberg", Re: 5.478 Accents
  3. benji wald, Re: 5.478 Accents
  4. John E. Koontz, Re: 5.478 Accents
  5. , RE: 5.475 Accents
  6. Mary Ellen Ryder, Northern Irish dialect sources

Message 1: Drawl, accents & actors

Date: Mon, 25 Apr 94 12:13:06 CDDrawl, accents & actors
From: Mike Picone <MPICONEUA1VM.UA.EDU>
Subject: Drawl, accents & actors

Some more on drawl:

Recently in Chicago I had the occasion to see the TV add for Polaner jam
(I don't know if it's being run in the South, since I don't have a TV). It's
a fine example of the use of stigmatized white Southern accent for comic
effect. A colleague on ADS-L (Dick Demers) summarized it this way:

>From: DEMERS 22-APR-1994
>Subj: more drawl bashing

>One of the commercials on 60 minutes last weekend was from the Polaner
>Jam company. Several elegantly dressed people are sitting around what
>looks like a dinner table. Several of the people ask for the Polaner
>jam to be passed using almost Received P English. Suddenly you hear
>a Gomer Pyle type voice saying "Would someone pass the jelly."
>One lady almost faints at the use of the word "jelly" in describing
>Polaner. The point is that the creators of the commercial felt
>the need to underscore the person's lack of social awareness and
>good breeding by giving him a southern accent. Somedays it all
>seems hopeless. Dick

Let me add to the above another example a la Cokie Roberts of a
Southerner (raised in Georgia) who buys into the general convention of
drawl stigmatization. This comes from a very interesting piece on the
post-Civil War white Southern identity crisis compared with the search
for African-American identity. Interestingly, apart from the concession
to drawl bashing, it is in every other way
sensitive to Southern issues (and possibly helps shed light on
Cokie Roberts' adverse reaction to the senior Southern politician who she
chose to ridicule for his linguistic habits):

"Defeat in civil war cast whites in the region as inferior, certainly second-
class American citizens. Moreover, white Southerners, by virtue of their
emphasis on racial solidarity, lost touch with their European origins in the
procrustean bed of racial politics. They became Whites, or what George
Tindall called ethnic Southerners. ... As a self-conscious minority, white
Southerners have behaved curiosly in our republic. For much of their history
they have been as un-American as any group one might find. Thought of by
the dominant culture as lazy, ignorant, and mentally slow, their manner
of speech, the ungrammatical Southern drawl, only confirmed the suspicion.
Their leaders were worse. Knowing after Appomattox that none among them would
ever be elected president (a sure sign of second-class citizenship), Southern
politicians adopted a rhetoric and style that at its uproarious best was
called demagogic. ... Though the African-American experience defies comparison,
and indeed might be thought a gross affront even to attempt, might not close
scrutiny reveal the same comedy, tragedy, meanness and generosity found in
the white South?" - E. Culpepper Clark, Executive Assistant to the President,
University of Alabama, in a recent address to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary, as
reprinted in the Tuscaloosa News, April 24, 1994.

Finally, in reference to accents & actors, I overheard a relevant
conversation among theater goers last Friday at a Univ. of Alabama student
production. Two female students were comparing how
"bad" their accents were. It seems that one was not able to suppress hers
enough to be considered good acting foddor and so opted for set design as her
area of concentration. All the baggage that comes with a Southern accent is
acutely felt in this kind of a situation and can go far to frustrate a chosen
career that is media related.

Mike Picone
University of Alabama
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Message 2: Re: 5.478 Accents

Date: Tue, 26 Apr 1994 02:59:24 Re: 5.478 Accents
From: "Claude M. Steinberg" <>
Subject: Re: 5.478 Accents

 Regarding George Fowler's finding that people can imitate foreign
accents perfectly without being able to pronounce the words of the
foreign language, I was struck by how consistent it seemed with Mark
Liberman's (and many other speech perception researchers') investigations of
how people attend to different information depending on whether they
think they are hearing speech or non-speech. Perhaps being a good mimic
of accents involves treating speech sounds as something else in order to
attend to information one would usually ignore or neutralize in an effort to
better understand the unfamiliar sounding speech. If speakers of a dialect
expect speakers of a different dialect either to hear the peculiarities of a
non-native dialect as paralinguistic or to ignore differences altogether,
this lends support to the notion that dialect may serve a more expressive
purpose than merely
signaling cultural identity. Anyone done any experiment on this?

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Message 3: Re: 5.478 Accents

Date: Mon, 25 Apr 94 17:32 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 5.478 Accents

My eyes and mind are going around and circles at this point in my e-mail (I
let it accumulate for a week before I get to it), but I would like to add my
2cents to some of the substantive questions which have been raised on the
 1. Australian/London accents. Similar and historically related diphthongal
 systems, particularly the counterclockwise rotation of the
nucleus of y glides (compared to American and other British
accents) account more than ANYTHING ELSE for the
 confusion of the two accents by Americans (and some Northern British!!!)
 The differences are in the treatment of short "i" and "e" in Australian,
 the former centralised and the latter raised and tensed. Very distinct from
 London, but not necessarily from the other "Southern Hemisphere" dialects,
 such as New Zealand and South Africa. Interesting, but I don't control all
 the details is variation in Australia in the nucleus of /ahr/ words like
 "car", "hard", "slip a shrimp on the BARBY" etc. Stereotypically fronted,
 while Cockney is very back (same position as nucleus of "tie" > "toy" etc)
 The fronting of /ahr/ etc in Britain occurs in many Northern British
 dialects, e.g., Lancashire, Mersey (where it's a stereotype of "hard"ness,
 i.e. "tough masculinity") but those dialects are otherwise incompatible
 with Australian varieties (with its obvious Southern British base). I
 could go on, but you now have enough information to unequivcally distinguish
 Australian from London accents if you are not deaf.
 By the way, very appealing (don't ask me why) is the little girl on TV selling
 Australian muffins because it makes her mouth "water", check out how open
 the final unstressed vowel of "water" is, almost an [a] sound.
 2. Kac wanted to know about geographical variation in NY, I think particularl
y betweenm Bronx and Brooklyn. He raised the oft mentioned notion that
 dialect differences in NY are more social and ethnic than geographical.
 The "more" is crucial to making the statement true. In general, the NY
 dialect fits into a series of trends by which some areas are more advanced in
 some of those trends than others, sometimes who's more advanced depends on the
 feature. For example, I found Flatbush to be rather conservative in
 raising of short "a" and oh (the latter, as in coffee, the latest stereotype
 of New York City speech with a nucleus at the height of the vowel of "who",
 the older stereotype focussed on short "a" at the height of "hey" or even
 "he", (used for humour by using the high vowels in expressions like "he
 ain't got no clAss", where the pronunciation of the vowel in "class" implied
 that the speaker had no "class". There are of course stereotypes in NY now
 of various areas, esp "the Island", meaning Long Island minus Queens and
 Brooklyn, mainly about the active vowels being very advanced in the direction
 of change. These are the Queens stereotypes. Manhattan applies the same
 stereotypes to Queens, as one might expect.
 The areas of the Bronx which fit into the general New York City pattern, as
 opposed to relatively radical modifications of the pattern from ethnic
 substrata of Puerto Rican (closer to the general pattern but also accomodating
 to Black English as spoken in NYC) and Black speakers (with some NYC patterns
 such as raised "oh" as in coffee, but often not backed "ay" as in fly etc)
 do have a widespread distinctive feature, the fronting of short"o" as in
 "got", "Bronx" etc., so that it sounds similar to the Rochester-Detroit-
 Chicago axis pronunciation of the same words. In a city as large and complex
 as New York it would indeed be odd if there were no local innovations.
 Let's forget about Staten Island, just as everybody else does. According to
 what I've read in the papers, if the Republicans have their way, it won't
 be part of New York City much longer anyway.
 3. There was something else, but I forgot what it was. Probably something
 about stereotypes. Maybe next week, if I remember.
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Message 4: Re: 5.478 Accents

Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 10:57:35 Re: 5.478 Accents
From: John E. Koontz <>
Subject: Re: 5.478 Accents

> Cathryn Williams was asking about British actors doing American accents.
> ... as was Sean Connery in "The Untouchables" (which is not to say
> anything derogatory about their _acting_).

I believe Connery was attempting an Irish accent, though I am not qualified
to judge his success at it. He generally takes this tack in American
movies, and is presumably hired in part for his presumed ability to do that.

My own suggestion would be to watch the Mystery series on PBS, etc., where
there are often (I think) British actors playing Americans or Australians,
with varying degrees of success.
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Message 5: RE: 5.475 Accents

Date: Wed, 27 Apr 1994 01:14 +01RE: 5.475 Accents
From: <>
Subject: RE: 5.475 Accents

A P.S. on the question of accents. The British media have been somewhat agog
recently about the so-called birth of a new kind of accent in Britain, which
has been dubbed 'Estuary English'. This is because, geographically, it seems
to have some affinities with the Essex, Kent and London accents spoken along
the Thames estuary (allegedly) - although sociolinguistically, its speakers
seem to come from all kinds of social and regional backgrounds. It's a kind
of yuppy-speak which has grown up in the 80s. I myself would associate it
with suburban London. It seems to have a certain number of relatively fixed
linguistic characteristics, such as use of glottal stops for medial and final
/t/, vocalised final /l/ (as in Cockney), and a Great Vowel Shift-like
fronting and raising of the vowel system. Commentators also point at the
extended use of the word 'basically'!
Has anyone else heard of this phenomenon, or indeed of any serious work which
captures and analyses it?

Paul Werth.
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Message 6: Northern Irish dialect sources

Date: Mon, 25 Apr 94 15:45:39 MSNorthern Irish dialect sources
From: Mary Ellen Ryder <>
Subject: Northern Irish dialect sources

I have a request from a colleague of mine in the theatre department that
seems especially apropos, given the on-going discussion about actors
butchering (or not) other dialects. The Idaho Shakespeare Festival (they
don't do just Shakespeare) is putting on a play this summer in which the
actors need to speak in a Northern Ireland dialect, preferably County
Ulster/Belfast. My colleague is the dialect coach for this play, and
she would very much like titles of any of the following as soon as
possible (rehearsal starts in three weeks and she needs lead time to

videos of films with speakers from this dialect area
audio tapes for this dialect area
detailed linguistic descriptions of this dialect area

Here's our chance to get some actors well-prepared!

Thanks very much,

Mary Ellen Ryder
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