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What are words worth?

Someone told me last weekend that I'm a good listener. My reaction to this was both to be flattered and to be rather surprised -- my inner self is convinced it talks far too much and to far little avail. But in the midst of my surprise I could feel myself nodding, just slightly. Because, you see, I like to listen. I like the sound of voices. Voices matter. They can make all the difference.

The soundtrack to my life is BBC Radio 4. Having spent most of my working life as an educator, I'm used to voice-heavy environments. Indeed, they feel normal to me, and I find it easier to work while others are speaking than I do in silence or to music. I'm not exactly listening to the content -- I frequently realise that I have effectively tuned out an entire show and have little idea what it was about -- but I do hear the voices. And, apart from jazz (sorry, jazz fans, I just don't like jazz, despite extensive exposure), the one thing that is most likely to pull me from the writing fugue is the sound of posh Conservative politicians on my radio. I rise from my concentration like a particularly cranky kraken, and, uttering dire imprecations, change the station.

Because, you see, to me, voice is all about class, and Conservative politicos telling me what's good for me just hits me on a hot button. I'm a first generation lower middle class mostly-Welsh woman from Coventry, and upper class southerners often sound, to me, like they aim to patronise and control. A Chinese colleague once asked me to teach him how to tell what social class background British people came from, and I realised that, although I can identify the social class of people I meet -- and people I hear -- pretty quickly and accurately, it wasn't an ability I could explain or teach easily or quickly. It's something I acquired in early childhood, growing up with the accents of Coventry and Birmingham and the Black Country, with Herefordshire (my father's family) and South Wales (my mother's). Strongly accented voices were the comforting norm; the less marked sounds of the upper classes and the south belonged to outsiders, and outsiders with power at that. The first prime minister I remember was Harold Wilson, a man with a marked regional accent, and the leader of the party my parents supported. When he was replaced in the 1970 election by the Conservative leader Edward Heath, the latter sounded all wrong -- and he made my father, in particular, very irritated. Heath came, in fact, from a working class background, but he had acculturated upwards: he sounded like the class he had joined and represented. The distinction I made between them, as a very young child, was purely rooted in my parents' preferences, but, as with many such early experiences, it's deeply bound into me. Scrolling down many years, I never felt safe with or about Tony Blair -- he sounded too much like the smooth-talking types I associated with the upper classes and the right. But Gordon Brown -- he sounded fine to me, and I was far more willing to trust him, partly because of that.

I would be the last person to say that my prejudices about voice are rational. But underneath it, I remain aware that voice matters, and that it is one of the core ways we British tell each other apart and make judgements about each other. If I list a few regional accents at you -- Geordie, estuary, Liverpool, Home Counties, Edinburgh -- what do you think and who do you think of? The voices we approve -- and the ones we distrust or dislike -- speak volumes about how we see ourselves and where we think we fit within the UK. If you heard me speak -- and I know a number of you who are regulars on Charlie's blog know me or have met me -- I suspect I sound fairly neutral -- between Welsh mother and Herefordshire father, and living all over the Midlands as a child my accent has evened out, until you hear me say the words math and path and castle. Those mark me out at once as someone not from Southern Britain and raised in the social ranks of lower middle and below. I pronounce all those words with a short 'a' (like the initial one in 'ass'), rather than the longer 'ah' sound, and when I arrived at university aged 18, my lower-than-average class origin was there for all to hear -- and to comment on and make assumptions about. I drew conclusions about them from their voices, too, I will add, and I realised fairly early that there weren't that many people at this particular institution who sounded like me and had my social class background. (There was another student from the same area in my college, but they came from much higher up the social ladder and didn't register where I came from until I told them -- and socially we had nothing in common.) I married (well, moved in to live in sin) into a higher social class than the one I come from, and much of my social circle were born posher than me. Most of them don't seem to notice the difference -- we operate mainly according to their set of familiar social behaviours and rules -- or even claim that there is no class any more. But every once in a while, my friend Y (who is also first generation lower middle class) go and drink coffee together and shake our heads over the ways of those from higher echelons.

And my Chinese friend? I thought long an hard about how to answer him, and in the end suggested he look at what people ate and when and how, which is clumsy and wide-ranging, but a lot easier to explain than the tiny variations in voice.
Kari

69 Comments

1:

This reminds me of a passage from "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" by Oliver Wendall Holmes in which (among a host of topics) he discusses speech and speech communities. Holmes, from Boston had an example of someone who would say "sahtisfaction" or "furst rate" which would betray an aspect of their upbringing.

Today in America there are differences in speech based on location and education but they are not nearly as pronounced as in Britain. I never thought about the politics of speech in this way because on the national level at least, accents are homogenized enough that no one particularly stands out. It also doesn't help that the the educated elite politicians all speak a variety of educated Yankee that seems palatable enough to my northeastern ears.

2:

Sounds like you have a similar accent to myself though I left Birmingham when I was 4 so it’s mostly gone now. And there are graduations in accents in Birmingham depending on which bit you come from.

Its interesting that Lenny Henry always uses “Dudlay” as its sounds funny when said in a brum accent but in fact his family quickly traded up to the area where I grew up Sutton Coalfield which was where all the rich industrialists lived – my gran was in service in one of the big houses there.

Not sure Heath was working class his parents started out that way but I think he’s middle class ala Maggie i.e. a child of small businessman. Anthony Eden was a better example of an upper class tory of the old school.

If you’re a wonk there is a very interesting BBC parliament program on iplayer at the moment about 1963 where 3 elder statesmen discuss the changing of the guard from patrician politicians to more middle class ones.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01rp6f6/1963_A_Year_to_Remember/

I still think that Sam Gamgee should have used proper black country dialect in the LOTR film - Bit hard on poor Sean Austin though :-)

3:

Interesting, my first reaction was, "How Very British!". Then I remembered the story of how my Father discovered in the Air Force that he spoke with a strong Back of the (Stock)Yards Chicago accent ("dese, dat and dose") which he then rigorously purged from his speech patterns. I also remembered that, due to a severe childhood speech imparement, I speak with a "Network Standard" pronunciation, (the equvalent of recieved pronunciation). This leads to sporadic queries on just where the hell I'm from, even in my old neighborhood.

4:

When I was in grad school at Indiana University, studying English literature, one of my best friends had a wonderful East Tennessee accent the first couple of years I knew him. He then deliberately proceeded to lose it, calculating that it would limit his job prospects. I was sorry to hear him do it, since I loved the accent, but looking back on it, he was right. He got a job at a very good Midwestern university, where he has now tenure. I sometimes wonder what his career path would have been if he'd made the opposite decision.

5:

Oh dearie me!
What a tangle.
If you were to hear me speak, you would immediately put me in the "upper-class tory twit" league. If only because, although I can instantly drop into the local speech of 40 years back (Norf-Eas Lunnun if-yer wanner kno) I find that my RP is much easier to communicate with. Confused a lot of my secondary-school pupils in the short years I was teaching, I can tell you!
Now, although I'm in social class A2 by virtue of education & interests, I have never had any significant amount of money.
One of my grandfathers died as a result of the Edwardian factory conditions he worked in ....
Earlier, one set of ancestors arrived in the clothes they stood up in, fleeing Louis' XIV's religious police ... and two other ancestors were Lord Chancellors of England (I even look like the second one) ... now what was that about "class" then?
Oh, and another set of ancestors had the family name "Paramore" (Par-amour) which also tells you something or other.
As for ploiticos, I rememebr both Wilsundra (as Private Eye called him) & Grocer Heath - a much-maligned man in my opinion. Agree re. Tony B. Liar, but the dour man from Fife leaves me cold.
As for the current traitorous empty-suit we have as PM, the less said the better.

I wonder what you'd have made of a farm-worker I met when I was 14-16, in the Lake District - he spoke something close to Old Norse, I suspect, & he certainly used a lot of dialect words & was the only person I've come across who actually counted sheep the old way, in units of 20. The farm he worked at was also a guest-house, a pub & the local post office.
It's still there, still a pub, though the Longmires are long since dead.

It's odd how some "accents" are easy on the ear, & others grate.
Edinburgh is sweet, ditto educated Welsh & I find both Mancunian & Yorkist very pleasant, ditto Dublin.
Then there's Brummie & Glaswegian.
Or one that can be both - Ulster, according to the speaker.

Incidentally, "Professor Higgins" (GBS) declaration that he could didtinguish where people came from inside London closely, was only a slight exaggerstion - though it is all being lost, now, and has been disappearing for the past 50+ years.
Interesting, isn't it?

6:

I think American regional accents are nearly as pronounced, particularly in politics. Listen to any Southern politician, and you know to expect some sort of conservative drivel. Though I think it is rather hard to sound intelligent with a southern accent. Bush jr. always sounded to me like like someone pretending to be a Texan, with made-up folksiness, and Obama sounds more genuine. Maybe that's just my bias showing.

I'm originally from the South--north Florida, but grew up in the DC area (I still think of it as where I'm really from. Also name a country and I likely knew someone from it), and currently living in Colorado. I don't think that I have a particular accent, partly from moving around and being around others with a variety of accents, and having parents from different places--mother originally from Boston, grew up in Miami, father from southern Virginia, and went to college in Florida. Some of my Virginia relatives have a southern accent, but it's a bit different from the accents in the other Southern states. I don't know how obvious it is to most, but to me there is a definite difference between Georgia and Alabama (and the other states) accents.

7:

You'll find my accent from about Bedford down to the South Coast, and slightly further west than Southampton. Professor Higgins would be able to detect Hackney and West London, with strange trace elements.

The typical accent coming from the chap outside a pub with a sly can and cheap tobacco, whatever the modern equivalent of the kind who ride around in Xr3i's - as I did when younger.

Then there's the overlay from constant Radio 4 - like Charlie, to me it's just a thing that's on. I have opinions about Archers characters, ffs. It's got to me at a deep level and to my mates I sound "posh", though I'm bloody not.

I can slightly RP it up, but I'll be damned if I will. Even if my accent (Estuary) is the "most mistrusted" in some nonsense survey, whatever job I do, I'm going to talk like my dear old nan, like my mates. It's possibly cost me jobs, but what the hell, you only do them for part of your life.

8:

"You talk like a fag, and your shit's all retarded." - Dr. Lexus

9:

Oh, Dear, OH DEAR ... and also Dearie Dearie Me.. Now wots to say between the amusement that I sorely need after the dire news about Ian Banks ..Whom I've known as part of the social background of my life for 30 years or so...who is Scottish you know? My ancestry is Scottish too... a little village called Aberfeldy that my mums ancestors fled from to the Hot Burning heart of Civilisation that was Sunderland during the industrial revolution when it was the Largest Shipbuilding centre in the world.

http://www.visitaberfeldy.co.uk/

Now, that may not make much sense in the context, unless you realise that Sunderland has a peculiar local accent even among the accents of what is mixed up into “Geordie” in the popular culture of “When the Boat Comes Home “... Don’t worry...There’s Sub Titles...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tGhiHA170Q


And then go on to be told that I not only have an impeccable Traditional Working Class background but also an entirely un-assumed and untutored “Perfect Received English “Accent ...a friend once acused me of sounding like Lord Peter Whimsey: he thought that he was complementing me. The thing is that I have always had my Voice and always been able to use it to sooth, or as a Knife ...and I haven’t the faintest idea of where that comes from.

A teacher at my Secondary Modern School back in the early 1960s in Sunderland once had the charming idea that my school fellows could be turned toward Middle Classiness by his teaching “Elocution Lessons “using me as an example. Oh what a week that was...just as well that I could fight like a maddened ferret that had NOT been taught ..." Marquis of Fantailler rules...

A set of rules in the noble art of fisticuffs developed by the Marquis of Fantailler which involved chest out-thrust and fist balled in a spirit of manly aggression, as well as places were you are not allowed to hit an opponent. Using these rules is a fairly effective way to commit Suicide.

The rules are not much use against an opponent who does not abide by the rules, for example using a chair to batter the user of the rules senseless. The last words of many a fighter are "Stuff the bloody Marquis of Fantailler...". Carrot has been upbraided in his time by Commander Sam Vimes for trying to use them at the wrong time. Gavin adopted a version of the rules for a fight with Wolfgang, implying strongly the similarity between him and Carrot. Even Gaspode knows not to use them - he goes straight for a very vital part of anyone he's fighting. "

Happily the Headmaster found out about that teachers mad scheme and put a stop to it before I was either killed or had killed someone in self defence.

Do you know the really odd thing about my " Voice " Kari? Its not just that I really, Really, am a " Good Listener " as they say ..it's that people will tell me anything! People will tell me things that they wouldnt tell there Priest or Doctor or ..whatever confident you may choose.

All in all I feel confident in saying that its FAR more complicated than you might suppose ...pay attention oh best beloved ..let me LOOK at YOU ...Trust ME ...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1ILPl5FQaM


10:

Two things spring to mind from this.

First...

There's a bit in Day of the Triffids where Coker talks about having different accents and speech patterns depending on who he's talking to.

I remember reading that at the tender age of about 9 or 10 and thinking "Yeah. I do that.".

There was the speech patterns and accent I used at home with my (newly minted first generation) middle class family where dropping your H's or saying "wart-uh" rather than "water" meant a clip around the ear.

... and there was the voice and accent I used in the rest of my life in the village and town and school, which was a tad... earthier...

It wasn't until I read the book that I noticed it. Completely subconscious.

Second...

You have to be damn careful of your internal voice bigot. I think I have a similar one to Kari. There's a certain class of accent that raises my hackles without me thinking about it.

I remember sitting on a train reading a book where the tone and rhythm of a very plumby accent intruded upon me. Without even /thinking/ about it I didn't like that person. Started paying attention to the words and they were a thoroughly charming individual. It's fascinating that I got such a visceral reaction from just the tone.

11:

Sorry, Kari, not Charlie...

12:

"what people ate and when and how" - I blame a family member's weight gain on social mobility- as they now have lunch, supper, dinner and tea...

13:

" posher than me. Most of them don't seem to notice the difference " YOU ARE DREAMING.

14:

My previous - Link Loaded - response is held in Moderation, as is proper.

Whilst we wait...tremulously, for its release...people may care to do the BeeB B.C s " The Great British class calculator: What class are you? " calculator ..

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973

Whilst bearing in mind that a varience in just one parameter can shift you from " Elite " which is where my first - and, I swear, Honest - attempt placed me, to " New affluent workers " which is where claiming " Socialise At Home " not really true placed me ...humm.

A while ago a door to door pollster/ canvasser who was dripping wet and desperate amid the deserted ever so middle class suberb that I call home was invited in and in the course of her tablet tapping survey discovered that .. “You Seem to KNOW about Computers! Well my boys - she was a single mother - have " ...you guessed it: they'd been downloading porn, and had screwed up her PC. So, I was invited to Plese help and also have a word with ...and before you say a word ... NO I Didn't! I know my limits...But I did give her a crib sheet, a software file and a little advice culled from experience of dealing with male students of retarded maturity.

15:

For the 'merkin side of this, there's an interesting map at http://aschmann.net/AmEng/ .

I'm from that little island of "Midlands" that extends from the Big Bend in Texas over to my home territory, Cochise County in AZ. I sound like I'm from Ohio, modulo a few regionalisms, but am not, not by a couple of generations. My impression is that there was a considerable flow of midwesterners into the Trans-Pecos after the ACW.

16:

I dunno. I think people aim to speak Professional English now rather than RP. Accent is smoothed out but it's more a matter of, um, Register (?) than accent.

I know and have met who are approximately RP but don't have the background you'd associate with it. I think it's a generational thing. There's simply not the pressure to go RP. That's Received Pronunciation/BBC English/South-East Upper Middle Class.

17:

" Incidentally, "Professor Higgins" (GBS) declaration that he could didtinguish where people came from inside London closely, was only a slight exaggerstion - though it is all being lost, now, and has been disappearing for the past 50+ years.
Interesting, isn't it? "

It is. Now how did it go? " It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him." as interpreted by the film version of ..

My Fair Lady "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhninL_G3Fg

18:

I have a slight West Country accent from growing up in Cornwall. I don't hear it myself apart when I hear a recording of my voice and it is - aaaaaargh! It's also been a major hinderance to my plans for world domination, there is just no way you can take a villain who speaks like David Prowse seriously.

When I was younger I was also an unconscious mimic so a year living in Santa Barbara left me with an accent that was pure SoCal and took at least another year to fade entirely.

19:

I went to an unusual boarding school full of Scottish forces children whose experiences typically involved moving between countries every two or three years (I was in year six, and this was my seventh school) and ended up with an indeterminate Scots accent as a result. The common side effect was mimicry - as a child, you want to "fit in" quickly. I find I have to stop myself from adopting the speech patterns and accents of people I'm in a conversation with.

In Scotland, it's reasonably easy to tell where someone comes from within half a million of the population or less. The Highlands, Borders, Dundee/Angus, Aberdeenshire, and Borders all have identifiable accents - as do Edinburgh and Glasgow. The bits in between are trickier, although "Posh Glasgow", "Posh Edinburgh", and "Own an Estate in the Highlands" are also recognisable variations.

I wouldn't describe my parents as actually having any accent at all; you would find it very neutral. As a result, by age 21 I thought I had a fairly RP, "BBC English" accent - and then (as part of a "character-building" course) I gave a three-minute presentation to our group that was put on camera. During the replay, I cringed increasingly as the accent broadened... Nope, definitely Scottish, more so if I'm excited or in "assertiveness mode" (this was pointed out as a source of amusement by my platoon - "your accent slips when you get wound up, you know")

You can localise within Northern Ireland, Belfast is particularly easy, Derry/Londonderry is different. England (other than ooop Nawth, Geordie, Scouse, dahn sahf, and Zummerzett) is more of a mystery to me. I enjoy trying to guess other nations' accents (whether speaking English or not) - I can just about tell between Noo Joisey / New England / California / Minnnneysota / Y'all ain't from aroun' heah, are yuh, boah? Not to mention the difference between the English spoken by native French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Scandinavian, or Italian speakers.

The other side effect of a childhood abroad is that I find it easy to speak international English. My sentence patterns simplify (slang, simile, subjunctives, and adverbs go away; sentences shorten into SVO with fewer adjectives), my speech slows slightly for clarity, and my vocabulary centres on the "common core" of the most frequently-used words. Hopefully it comes across as clear rather than patronising.... I SAID, I HOPE IT IS NOT PATRO-NI-SING...

20:

You have to be damn careful of your internal voice bigot. I think I have a similar one to Kari. There's a certain class of accent that raises my hackles without me thinking about it.

Agreed - I went to a school where everyone's Dad was a soldier or NCO in Army/RN/RAF. My voice bigot of age 18 had largely disappeared by my mid-20s, as I mixed with a broader range of people and my self-confidence increased. I was spending most weekends with the TA, both living in a field with soldiers from West Lothian and spending time in an Officers' Mess.

Fairly soon, I'd learned to ignore the accent and focus on the language structure and content. A braying idiot from deepest Morningside now produces the same response as a brainless radge from deepest Leith, and I can listen to IDS or Portillo without wanting to switch over (just don't ask me to listen to John Redwood, Tommy Sheridan or Ed Balls).

On the subject of class, one of my current concerns is making sure that our young sons get outside the "middle class comfort zone" that our family largely inhabits. It seems too easy to sit in a social bubble; my ray of hope is their Judo club...

21:

Ah yes cp snows 2 cultures still lives at the BBC. Notice that they put people like me and a dare say a lot of us into a sub class of middle class the "technical middle class" - obviously terrified that us greasy engineers will drip oil on the carpet :-)

And havens we might enjoy video games and *gasp* Sf and graphic novels how terrible. Though i didn't have to have the Brecht allusion in watchmen pointed out to me.

22:

And Corby which still has a large Scottish accented group I went to an event held at a big working mans club in Corby and going into the gents and hearing the locals you woudl think you where in Glasgow quiet strange

23:

Im bland Midwestern standard unless Im drunk then the hillbilly comes out a bit.

In general it doesn't matter much in California everyone here is from somewhere else anyway

24:

It's not just accent that's a class signifier; it's syntax and word order. (Vocabulary too, but that takes a long time to sink in -- folks with fancy words don't use them in every sentence, so noticing their absence takes time.)

Trying to remember where it was that I was reading an article that proposed that the UK's working class populations had less economic leverage, so were more at the mercy of fate, so tended to speak more in present-tense phrase structures and of concrete phenomena rather than future-tense abstractions (the luxury of those who anticipate having a say in affairs). Note: this may or may not have been gold-plated bullshit -- not my field -- but it caught my mind's eye. Shiny!

25:

The food thing would fail miserably to someone trying to work me out, although the fact that I refer to the evening meal as "tea" and have to remember not to call the midday/early afternoon one "dinner" for fear of confusing Charlie, is a clue.

Like most British vegetarians, I rely on the diversity of the country to keep me fed. So, while eating curry is pretty normal working class these days, I can also make it (studied in Bradford for a while). But then, I also like (and mostly make, because it's expensive otherwise) Japanese food, which most people would peg as a middle class thing. And then wonder why they cannot understand what I'm saying half the time.

I eat very little of the sort of food I was brought up with. Most of the "comfort food' dishes I cook are actually Charlie's comfort food. Due to a strange dog-leg in my family history, the one family recipe I still make (taught to me by my grandmother) turns out to have come from the standard Canadian cookbook of the mid-20th century! (I acquired the cookbook when she died last year. The child's scribbling all over it was my mother's work).

In summary, what I eat and when will tell you nothing of my class background, but will tell you that of my spouse. The only clue you will get is in what I call the meals when I'm not taking the middle-class person sat over there into account.

26:

C & F @ 24/25
Take your point about vocabulary ...
I just used the word "commensal" yesterday in an e-mail, without even thinking about it.
But then, you've both heard my clipped RP pronounciation - which also confuses people, when I start swearing like any other E-of-the Lea resident!
Cooking. Difficult, given that I now find it hard to locate restaurants that prepare food better than I do (Diwana always excepted) - though as suggested in the brackets, there are some foods/meals that are better done in restaurants, because making individual portions is soo fiddly & difficult.
For instance, I've got a superb recipe for Chinese yeasted-flour dumplings (fillings can be vegetarian or prawn+piggie), but I normally only do it once a year, because making less than 50-100 of the little buggers isn't worth the effort.

As stated further up this discussion, I don't actually believe any of this "class" crap. Especially since I encountered severe reverse-snobbery, when teaching, back in '90-91.

27:

The "class speech" thing was always weird to me. Growing up as an army brat on various bases, I was probably in my early teens before I learned about regional accents. The fact that some people place such importance on them seems too petty to be worth consideration.

28:

I know it's not quite what you meant but this "we operate mainly according to their set of familiar social behaviours and rules -- or even claim that there is no class any more." reminded me of this cracking wee tune :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkeYLs5zpoo

29:

Well, words aren't worth much to people who have a tin ear. I would suppose that to them class differences are expressed by what you wear.

I have a tin ear but I don't notice class differences through clothes because, for all practical purposes, I'm a member of the lumpenproletariat.

30:

Thinking about the Doctors. They tend to the plummy, I think. Not sure about the New Doctors. Christopher Eccleston was non-plummy but without a recognisable regional accent. Rose was supposed to be some sort of skiv or skav or something. Haven't kept up so the lastest, young fella-me-lad, don't know what he sounds like.

31:

For an insightful look at American regional differences I highly recommend journalist Colin Woodard's "American Nations, A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America":

http://liberapedia.wikia.com/wiki/American_Nations

2 of the 11 "nations" (Inuit and Quebec) are primarily in Canada, leaving the remaining 9 to make up the United State and our Red/Blue states divide:

Blue Nations:

1. Yankeedom (AKA - Puritan America, New England, New York State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, includes subnation of Scandinavian America. Most economically liberal - in favor of regulation - area)

Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, since the outset Yankeedom has put great emphasis on perfecting earthly society through social engineering, individual self-denial for the common good, and the aggressive assimilation of outsiders.

2. New Netherland (AKA - Knickerbocker America, New York City, New Jersey)

Established by the Dutch at a time when the Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world, New Netherland has displayed its salient characteristics throughout its history: a global commercial trading culture— multiethnic, multireligious, and materialistic—with a profound tolerance for diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience.

3. The Midlands (AKA - Middle America, consisting of average/boring/nice people it is America's answer to Canadians. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illionis, Iowa)

America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in man’s inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies on the shores of Delaware Bay.

4. Tidewater (AKA Aristo America. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina - aka the Tobacco South - formely Red but increasingly Blue, especially Virginia)

Settled in many cases by the younger sons of southern English gentry, Tidewater was meant to reproduce the semifeudal manorial society of the countryside they’d left behind, where economic, political, and social affairs were run by and for landed aristocrats.

5. El Norte (AKA Hispanic America. South California, New Mexico, Colorado - Hispanic America culturally and demographically expanding at the expense of the West, soon to includ Arizona and Texas)

The oldest of the Euro-American nations, El Norte dates back to the late sixteenth century, when the Spanish empire founded Monterrey, Saltillo, and other outposts in what are now the Mexican-American borderlands. ...

6. The Left Coast (AKA Hippie America, North California, Oregon and Washington, home to America's nonconformists and misfits from the days of San Francisco's Barbary coast through Haight-Ashbury of the 60s and Grunge/Microsoft Seattle. Most socially liberal area)

A Chile-shaped nation wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges and stretching from Monterey to Juneau, the Left Coast was originally colonized by two groups: merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen from New England (who arrived by sea and dominated the towns); and farmers, prospectors, and fur traders from Greater Appalachia (who generally arrived by wagon and controlled the countryside).

Red Nations:

7. Greater Appalachia (AKA Redneck America, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and most of Texas - a warrior culture that fought all the way from Boonesborough to the Alamo. Most of America' military still comes from this region)

Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of rough, bellicose settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of rednecks, hillbillies, crackers, and white trash. ...

8. The Deep South (AKA Cracker America, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana - the Cotton South, including the sub-nations of Cuban America in souther Florida and French America in Lousiana. Most socially conservative area.)

Established by English slave lords from Barbados as a West Indies-style slave society, this region has been a bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many.

9. The Far West (AKA Cowboy America, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, includes sub nations of Morman America in Utah and various native American subnations. Most economically conservative/libertarian area)

The other “second-generation” nation, this is the one part of the continent where environmental factors trumped ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped the eastern nations in their tracks and, with minor exceptions, was only colonized via the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. ...

Republican have a lock on the 3 Red nations (Rednecks, Cowboys and Crackers) but lossing ground in the Far West to the Blue Hispanic nation.

Dems have a lock on 5 Blue nations (Hippies, Hispanics, Puritans, Middles and Knickerbockers).

There is 1 swing area (currently leaning Blue) the Tidewater.

The above makes it clear why the GOP has to reach out to Hispanics or else become an irrelevant regional party like the racist Dixicrats of the 1950s, or the supporters of George Wallace in the 1960s.

32:

Like the episode where Rose makes a comment about the Doctor sounding like he's from the North, and he responding "Wot? Lots of planets have a North." Eccleston was followed by Tennant, who had to hide his Scots accent--in the original series Sylvester McCoy let his out quite a bit, rolling his Rs as far they'd go.

I've always wondered about Pertwee's pronunciation of scientific terms; Cephalopod as Kephalopod is one I particularly remember. Is that the standard British way, or was he trying to make the Doctor sound alien?

33:

There are quite a few problems with that list. Particularly the overlap of 'El Norte' and 'The Far West'. Here in Colorado it's safe to say that the majority of caucasians will say it's the West, and hispanics will say it's El Norte. So many people are from elswhere (like myself) that it has other dents in it. I'm also not sure that having the Far West made up of non-contiguous states makes much sense, perhaps some of the people have similar ancestry, but otherwise not much connection. And none of that has much to do with how they speak. In Virginia you could divide it up into three regions, Northeast (where I grew up), South (where my father's family's from), and Northwest, all having their own regional accents. I imagine an expert would further divide it up.

Sidenote: That word Cracker has some interesting baggage. White linguists will tell you that it comes from the Scots-Irish Craic, and refers to someone who will talk your ear off. Whereas an African-American linguist might say that it refers to the slave-master's whip cracking. I suppose both can be equally true.

34:

'Like the episode where Rose makes a comment about the Doctor sounding like he's from the North, and he responding "Wot? Lots of planets have a North."'

O_o, you're right.

Cepholopod would be /s/ here I think. Mispronunciation by the actor.

Sylvester McCoy was Scottish?

35:

Mind you that the regions don't exactly conform to state boundaries.

For example, my home state of Ohio is divided in 3: Greater Appalachia includes Cincinnati and the hill country of the southeast. Midlands is a band running roughly from I-70 to the Ohio Turnpike. Yankeedom extends through the northern costal regions from Cleveland to Toledo.

Texas is also divided up with El Norte including the region along the Rio Grande, West Texas being part of the Far West, Central Texas part of Greater Appalachia and an easter section part of Deep South.

By assigning states entirely to a particular "nation" I am refering to their national voting patterns, which is often determined by large urban areas (like Yankeedom Chicago and Midland Springfield as opposed to Red Greater Appalachia around Cairo - or the lack of major urban area (like Indiana, the only consistently Red Midland state.

36:

"Cephalopod as Kephalopod" - there is a Great Divide amongst rival schools of Latin as to whether to pronounce a soft or hard c. (Should 'Caesar' sound like 'Kaiser', etc?)

37:

Wiktionary says cephalopod can be pronounced either way, though I agree that a soft s would be more common in the UK these days. The Greek root starts with κ. Maybe Pertwee's pronunciation owed more to memories of ancient Greek lessons at school than to modern scientific usage.

38:
You can localise within Northern Ireland, Belfast is particularly easy, Derry/Londonderry is different.
There are people who maintain they can differentiate all 32 accents of the different counties of Ireland. I can't, but wouldn't dispute the assertion. There's also generally regional accents inside counties - a bizarre case is Louth, a rural county of 826 square kilometres and ~120,000 people which has at least 4 fairly easily-discerned accents. Ireland has a shocking diversity - and density - of accent. ",)
39:

Sylvester McCoy was Scottish?

Guess it depends on your definition.
Wikipedia says he is Anglo-Irish, but from western Scotland, and has a "slight Scottish accent".

@various: Thanks for straightening out the latin business. I assumed it was Pertwee, since he seems to be the only one I've heard use that sort of pronunciation.

daniel.duffy20 @35: After hitting submit I had the thought I may be missing the point, and thinking more about language than politics.

40:

I may be missing the point, and thinking more about language than politics.
And now I think I'm just confusing myself and should take a nap.

41:

I have a Zelig-like accent - which tends to take on the trappings of where I happen to live - I have always found the Brummie accent quite melodious, and absorbed some of it when I lived there.

I had similar effect with Essex and North London.

But not with place I've live in the longest - name Grimsby/North Lincolnshire with its bizarre Scouse/Yorkshire hybrid "nurse" pronounced "niiirse" and and "car-park" pronounced "caaaarpaaaerk"

Hideous - Derby is bad as well - any who refers to their house their "'arse" need elocution lessons. Quickly.

An accent that always makes me think the user is an idiot is the Hull accent or...

"Er ner, therz sner on the rerd" trans "Oh no, there is snow on the road" ;-)

I have to work with these people - we have give out a helpline number often, 0845 010 9000, or "Er-ate-fer-farve, er-wun-er, naan-farzand"

42:

Actually. the divide is not so much about the actual pronunciation during Classical times but more about if we should follow the Ancient Roman one. The actual reconstructed pronunciation of Classical Latin is similar, but not identical to the German "Kaiser", as noted in this pdf, which also somewhat explains how to reconstruct this:

http://www.ai.uga.edu/mc/latinpro.pdf

Actually, if it were the Ancient Romans who first transcribed κεφαλή as 'cephalon', that is one indication the Ancient Romans used 'c(roman letter)' before 'e(roman letter and pronunciation)'[1] for a sound similar to modern 'k(pronunciation)', ok, it's possible the Greek pronunciation[2] changed, but this alternate explanation might give some other problems.

Also note that in 'vobiscum', even the old school pronunciation treats 'c(roman letter)' as a 'k(pronunciation)' (even if you're Pontius Pilatus). There is the possibility that this 'c(roman letter)' was also pronounced as 'caesar' in the old school pronunciation, but then, why doesn't 'vobissum(roman letter)' or similar crop up more often?

So, again, it's more reasonable to deduce the original pronunciation of 'caesar(roman letter)' was more like 'kaesar'.

Of course, there is still the question of the diphtong 'ae'(roman letter) etc...

Actually, the Romans also had the letter 'k(roman letter)', but they seldom used it after some early experiments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K

For some other infos about Roman pronunciation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_spelling_and_pronunciation

[1] Err, learning the phonetic alphabet by heart is one of these things I still have to do.
[2] BTW, I initially wrote this one with a spelling error, e.g. 'pronuntiation', which indicates 'c' and 't' are pronounced similar here. Luckily, I noticed the irony when deleting it. Though then, this error happening often might also be explained by the two being close on QWERTY, which is not the case.

43:

BTW, are there any grammatical differences between different variants of English, like e.g. with the Plusquamperfekt in German?

I use it quite frequently, which might have to do with its use in English, but some of the local [expletive deleted] think it's wrong. Since they are of the 'think themselves right and blessed with a short attention span for obscure topics[1]' variety, arguing makes little sense.

[1] Mistaking this for usual ADHD is somewhat inflammatory; there are quite some who are like this, but for quite a few talkativeness wins over.

44:

Well, if you accept that Scots isn't a variant of English, rather it's a cousin who grew up next door, I think it likely to have some grammatical differences, but then I don't know much about grammar. My school stopped teaching much of it at the same time as they stopped teaching latin, and I've never caught back up again. (They restarted latin teaching though, and probably do a bit more grammar now)

45:

"Hibernian English" has some odd constructions - and a tense or two - that are in Irish, but not English. Examples.

46:

You have a British accent and are a published fantasy author, which immediately leaps you to the highest echelon in my social circles. The fact that you have a Ph.D. doesn't hurt, either. I think the British class system based on accents is weird, though in the U.S. we have one just as vicious.

47:

I think the British class system based on accents is weird

Step away from the Downton Abbey box set, you're thirty years too late...

Other way round - the accent allowed you to determine class, but doesn't define it. And thankfully I think it's dying. I don't care about it, and I don't know (or choose not to hang around with) many people who do. That's probably because by virtue of being a white, educated, middle-class male; I've already got a huge advantage.

Grouping people as "like me" or "other" is always going to happen at some level - accent is just another differentiator, like skin colour or accent or language. Yes, there are snobs - generally insecure types, who should be ignored. Yes, there are inverse snobs - generally insecure types, who should be ignored.

48:

Err, I'm of the 'languages are dialects with an army and navy'[1] school of linguistics,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_language_is_a_dialect_with_an_army_and_navy

so I'd vote for Scots English vs. Standard English, or whatever (I'm not that much up to the underpinnings of Anglistics, sorry to say).

As for the German language, the different frequency of the plusquamperfect, from nearly nonexistent to 'the only tense for the past in use' is still somewhat superficial, but if you go with some of the variants in Southern Germany and Austria, e.g. the Bavarian language

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bavarian_language

they even retained some old dual forms

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_(grammatical_number)#The_dual_in_the_Germanic_languages

Sadly for the Old Greek and Sanscrit afficionados, it still lost the Dual, it just uses the old Dual forms instead of the Plural.

49:

Err, I forgot the [1], so here it is.

[1] There are those who think Bavarian of a language in its own; but since one of slogans of our Bavarian seperatists

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bavaria_Party

is "Bavaria needs no navy!", the chances are low.

50:

I was brought uo in the same Lincolnshire village as Titch Rivett, who is the local Professor Higgins. Apparently my accent is a mix of three particular Lincolnshire accents. My mother had a Humber Bank accent (Hull/Yorkshire influence), my father has the accent of the Lincoln Edge—the ridge running north from Lincoln between the Ancholme and the Trent—possibly with traces of his parents, and I mixed those with the Ancholme Valley accent.

Guy Martin, who has appeared in a couple of TV documentary series, is from Kirmington at the north end of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Does he exaggerate for the camera? He's certainly got a more obvious mix of accent/dialect than I do.

Tennyson wrote some verse in Lincolnshire dialect (The Northern Cobbler) but he didn't come from these parts. Somersby is down on the south end of the Wolds.

51:

Oh no, I think you've misunderstood. The British class system is based on money, who your ancestors were, and your aspirations. The thing about accents is that they used to allow someone who had met you for the first time to place you, as on a chart, of these variables.

However the importance or usefulness of accents for this sort of judgement has massively decreased over the last 30 or 40 years. Nowadays, money more blatantly matters. Your accent much less so, as long as you display the appropriate ideas an dbehaviours for whatever class you wish to appear to belong to.

52:

Scots and Scottish English are two different things. Swedish or Norwegian is more useful for understanding Scots than English is.

53:

Interestingly, I remember an article by someone who taught English as a foreign language; they had some success using Lallans as an intermediate language between German and English.

54:

My parents were from Yorkshire and Lancashire, but I grew up in Scotland (from age 8 to 24). My paternal grandfather spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent (he was from Holmfirth). Our next door neighbour (about my parents' age, born c1920) had living parents at the time, from the Moray Firth (near Elgin) who spoke broad North-East Scots. Interestingly, my grandad and Grandad Flaws could converse with perfect understanding, even though none of the rest of us - with the possible exception of their respective spouses - understood more than one word in three. I can only assume that it was the common descent of their respective dialects from Scandinavian that was responsible.

55:

Err, sorry, my mistake. Reading the articles, I guess Scottish English is to Scots like Swiss Standard German (Schweizer Hochdeutsch)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Standard_German

is to Swiss German (Schwizerdütsch),

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_German

e.g. a more or less administrative language with some influences from local dialects vs. the local dialects itself. Though in the case of Swiss German, there seem to be some differences between regions, I can easily understand some German Swiss talking to each other, while with those from other regions or the elderly, that's nigh impossible.

As for Scots, well, if I go with the examples in

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language

for a second-language English-, err, -speaking German, it's still somewhat more easily to read than some of the German dialects, e.g. the local Platt[1] my grandmother used:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westphalian_language

[1]BTW, here's the wiki in this language about this language:

http://nds.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mönsterlänsk_Platt

If this reads somewhat like the Blinkenlights text

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinkenlights

well, Low German is also known as Low Saxon, though AFAIK Old English is more akin to the Frisian group.

56:

Err, actually, historically, that's make not that much sense, since actual English stems from some Germanic dialects that later gave rise Low German or Frisian, with quite a few other influences, e.g. Latin and Scandinavian languages. Which lead to English and Continental Germanic languages becoming not so mutually intelligable. So if Scots is more influenced by Scandinavian languages than Standard English, chances are it might even be less understandable to Germans.

But then, it seems like Scots kept some archaic forms from a time the Germanic languages spoken in Britain were more similar to Continental Germanic.

As for German and Scandinavian languages, err, I never tried these, but from cursory reading they are less similar to German than both Standard English and Scots.

57:

Here are a handful of examples, English, Scots, then Swedish:

brain harn hjärna
build big bygga
child bairn barn
street gate/gait gata

There are many more.

58:

I find this discussion very interesting. English seems to have many dialects and even now they seem to carry a lot of meaning which is not obvious.

I started learning English in school when I was eleven years old. We were taught, quite understandably, very neutral language. Pronunciation was close to RP, vocabulary was English and I think spelling, too. In the higher grades we were taught some of the differences between different dialects.

Also, unlike native speakers and probably many of the people learning the language, I learned English mostly by reading. I started reading novels in English quite soon after I had started learning the language. At least I had had German for a couple of years so I could cope with tenses other than the present. I used a dictionary often, because the words in the Dragonlance books were not the same words that we were taught in the class.

I like to think my accent is not the traditional Finnish accent. At least I do get myself understood, though I still have common words I can't pronounce properly. (It took me ten years to learn how to pronounce 'realm' and 'reign' as they should.) I would like to have some definable native accent, but it would probably really need living there for years.

59:

Err, um ... Feorag ..
BY "Scots" you presumably do not meean Scots' Gaelic, but some OTHER language, perhaps related to Lallans, or (very obviously) to Norwegian/Swedish.
Given the history of The Earldom of Orkney & the results of the Batlle of Largs, that is?

60:

"bairn" and "gate" are known in Northern England, though "gate" is one of those oddities found in streetnames, such as Clasketgate in Lincoln. That's still the Norse influence.

61:

Here's a French perspective: we have regional accents too, but they're a lot less linked to class. Obviously, some regions are assumed to be more posh than others (a person with a Parisian accent, on average, will probably have more money and social capital that someone with a deep Burgundy one), but it's more of a geographical marker than a social one.

Except, that is, for when you try to insinuate yourself into the true French Bourgeoisie, who do have a very distinctive of accent, set of speech patterns and vocabulary. The very rich people all speak the same, and people from lower-class/rural background who try to get into the Grandes Ecoles do their damnedest to speak like them when they go in front of the jury.

62:

Most states east of the Missippi have more than one dialect
(I'm not sure about Rhode Island.) As do some farther west.

New York State has four dialect regions, three of which extend into other states: New York Metropolitan, Upstate, and Hudson Valley. The exception is the western Long Island dialect.

My native dialect is Hudson Valley -- same as Rod Serling's.

63:

My variation in how I talk is mostly vocabulary. With relatives, I'm more likely to use words from Yiddish.

Here in the Twin Cities, I remember to order "black tea" rather than "regular tea." And remember: green beans, not stringbeans. (But stringbean used to be standard in this area, so if I slip at least some people understand me.) Semi, not tractor-trailer.

I've given up saying "icebox" for refrigerator; I don't know if it's a dialect difference, or a general language shift.

64:

For me, "dinner" is the main meal of the day. Otherwise: breakfast, lunch, supper.

65:

Couple of things to add: 1) Some varieties of US English use such constructions as "The car needs washed." As I understand it, this comes from Scots (and Ulster Scots), which got it from Gaelic.

2) I've heard a Dublin-area accent which sounded like RP -- except for having strong R's where RP has discarded them.

66:

Trying to remember where it was that I was reading an article that proposed that the UK's working class populations had less economic leverage, so were more at the mercy of fate, so tended to speak more in present-tense phrase structures and of concrete phenomena rather than future-tense abstractions

A friend who moved from the UK to the US talked about this. He became a seaman on UK cargo vessels as a teen and sailed around the world a bit till decided he had to do better. He said the key point was that most of the seamen talked in the past or present tense about everything. Never about the future. He realized he needed to do better. Left the sea, studied computers and made a new life.

67:

New York State has four dialect regions

Heck NYC has more than that.

And after 7 years in Pittsburgh I could usually tell what part of the area they were from within minutes.

Anyone ever "rhet up their house"?

68:

I would say that New York City has multiple variations on the New York Metropolitan Dialect. Some varieties are local. Others are class-related. (For example, Beverly Sills speaks an upper class version -- though that's almost certainly not what she grew up with.)

"Rhet up" is probably what I've seen in print as "redd up." I believe it comes from Scots.

69:

I'm curious about the various accents in Britain in that I'd like to know if there is pressure to adopt an appropriate one for one's actual status level rather than affecting something. I mean, I've known of American's who moved to GB and gradually took on accents appropriate to what they did for a living. Is it just that you gradually adopt the accent you hear a lot, or is there more?

For instance, when I was growing up, having an authentic Texas accent was a prerogative of those actually with local roots, and thus presumably a claim on some form of special intangible status, a prerogative that recent immigrants from up north were subtly discouraged from taking by embarrassing them as posers. If someone from a lower class part of London, and still in a working class job, were to adopt an upper class accent would that person be subtly disciplined, or just looked upon as somewhat eccentric?

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