In Britain, we have many regional accents. There are also the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish accents, as well as those from Australia and Africa, and the accents of people originating from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. In the UK, especially in the larger cities, we come into contact with all these accents on a daily basis, to the extent that they become normal, and unnoticed, to a large degree.
No doubt other countries have their accents to deal with. Even as a Londoner, I can tell the difference between an American from the deep south, say New Orleans, and a New Yorker. However, we cannot really differentiate between a Canadian, and an American, and I am not sure if they can either, though I suspect that they are able to. To our ears, every African accent is just African. We cannot really say if someone is from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, or Chad. Similarly, with accents from India. We cannot put hand on heart, and say someone is Indian, Sri Lankan, or Pakistani. Names help of course, as Nigerian names are often a giveaway, and nobody from Bangladesh has a non-Muslim name.
In the UK, there are distinctive accents from different regions, though again, we cannot, as Londoners, be more specific to location, on most occasions. There is an accent in the North-East of the country, centred on the Newcastle area, known as ‘Geordie’. Not only is this a pleasant sound, a sing-song accent easy on the ear, it also has unique words and phrases. All women and girls are generally called ‘pet’, and good things are known as ‘canny’. Nonetheless, the North-East is very large, and people outside of Newcastle bitterly resent being accused of having a Geordie accent. Unfortunately, for us southerners, Sunderland, Middlesborough, and Durham, are all too close geographically, and the accents too similar, for us to possibly comprehend the differences. Then there is Wales. Best considered to be another country, very different to the rest of the UK, and still clinging on to its own unique language. The place names are so unusual, they can only be pronounced by the Welsh. Despite a clear demarcation between the North and South of Wales, they all sound much the same to us.
The Scots. An accent so impenetrable, that TV often uses subtitles when a Scottish person is being interviewed. In the working-class districts of the major towns and cities, Glasgow for example, only a Scot would have a clue what was being said. The country areas of the UK; Norfolk, Somerset, Devon, and those predominantly in the South-West, just all sound the same to a Londoner. Farming, outdoor life, and a slow, relaxed attitude, have left the populations of those areas with a country drawl, which just screams ‘Farmer’ to a city person, without need for further clarification. Londoners call all these people ‘Carrot crunchers’, denoting a country lifestyle of working the land, and vegetables. This may sound insulting. It is not meant to be, it is merely identification.
Ireland has two main accents, to an outsider anyway. We are very familiar with them, as there are almost as many Irish living in mainland Britain, as there are in the whole of Ireland. There is the accent of the North; harsh, aggressive, bitter, and unyielding. Then the accent of the South, the Republic, tinged with humour, musical, and easy going. Hundreds of years of ‘The Troubles’ have made us all very familiar with both of these accents. They are so common in London, that you could almost call them an ‘honorary’ London Accent.
The Midlands, Birmingham, Coventry, and the large urban connurbations in those regions, have a strange, nasal accent, delivered with a whine. It is , I am sorry to say, unpleasant, and my least favourite accent, from anywhere. They also have some unique sayings, calling younger siblings ‘our kid’, for example. They are not pleasant sayings, and because of the nasal delivery, are not popular, and have not caught on anywhere else. Sorry Midlands, but you must know that it is true. The North-West also has two dominant accents, those of Liverpool, and the Manchester area. To a southerner, both are better unheard. The Liverpool accent (popularised by The Beatles) is exceptionally whiny, with an aggressive tone, and use of regional phrases. It is very localised, and does not extend too far from the city limits, which for me, is a blessing. The Manchester accent is a mumble, delivered with aggression, and in a fast monotone fashion. It is such that a very young person might sound old, and the most pleasant person may appear to be extremely angry. There are other Northern accents, in Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Nottinghamshire, for example; but they all sound much the same, to anyone who is not from those parts.
Then there is London, and the South-East. For someone born there, the definitions are easy. I can even usually tell if someone is from East, or South London. Essex is easily detected, Kent less so, as it still sounds London. People in Surrey and Sussex tend to be better off, and speak better English, in the BBC style, as a consequence of their education, and job choices. Hampshire and Oxfordshire have their quota of ‘Farming’ accents, as well as the more cultured tones of the commuters, and middle-classes. Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire now have so many Londoners, fleeing North of the Capital to escape house prices there, that they are more-or-less Londoners too. There are many places, and other counties, that I have not bothered to mention. Just lump them in with the nearest big city, or regional town, and you can pretty much guess their accent too.
The truth is, that I have a London accent. I am proud of that fact, I embrace it, and would want no other. When Americans visit London, they used to often ask if I am Australian. To say that I find this insulting, would be a huge understatement. Even though I have a weakness for the aforementioned Geordie accent, the reality is that I find all other UK regional accents, except London, outdated, and difficult to listen to. Country people sound less intelligent than they might be, and Northerners just sound aggressive. The Scots, Irish, and and Welsh? They are just foreigners, no different than listening to someone from France, or Russia.
So, what is a British accent? Is it best portrayed by David Beckham, Robbie Williams, or Sean Connery? For my money, listen to Michael Caine. He’s got it just right…