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  The Chatter Box : Blathering On
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Accents by sighthound on 15 April 2006 10:07am
This week's TV Guide has a cover story on "House" and the reporter seemed to be amazed that Hugh Laurie, when he speaks in his own voice, doesn't have an American accent. Laurie does the absolutely best American accent of any non-American I've ever heard.

The first time I was in London I went to a play ("Savages" with Paul Scofield and Tom Conti) about Tupermeros kidnapping a British diplomat and there was a political commentary scene with a character (drinking Coke out of a bottle with a straw - definitely not American) that just didn't make any sense to me. Near the end of the scene, I turned to my companion and asked "Is he supposed to be an American?" and he was astounded that I didn't recognize the accent which was essential to understanding the scene.

I have certainly cringed at many Americans trying to sound Brit but I'm sure that there are many others whose nuances have escaped me.

Who do you think has done American to British or British to American well or badly?
Re: Accents by Clare on 15 April 2006 12:01pm
I think Ewan McGregor usually does pretty good accents, although at times his English wavers but being a Scot that's acceptable
Re: Accents by Pdrummy on 15 April 2006 3:10pm
Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent in Mary Poppins is terrible - but that is quite a famous example. Renee Zellweger's British accent in Bridget Jones is quite good in my opinion. There are many British actors who are in many different shows in the states with a put-on US accent. Most of them do it so well you would have no idea that they are actually not American.
Re: Accents by montyfreak0234 on 16 April 2006 1:50am
Some Americans are stupid, someone in my school is convinced that he doesn't have an accent. Well it is probably because everyone speaks the same in Ohio except for immagrants (my next door neighboor's parents have thick Chineese accents and someone in my English class has a thick Brittish accent) and the foreign exchange students.
Re: Accents by sighthound on 16 April 2006 4:14am
Yes, MF, everyone thinks that it is everyone else who has an accent. (BTW, it was very good talking to you and your friend, Latent Flame - LOVE that name! - in the chat room today. Very good poetry by both of you!)

Even American me in my youth could tell that Dick Van Dyke's accent was extremely off the mark. That is probably the worst of the high-profile accent cross-overs however I can't count the times when watching Brit TV shows that it takes me half the episode and getting totally confused about the plot to figure out that a character is supposed to be American but I know that the UK audience isn't having that problem with it. (I forgot to mention in my original post that my companion (and, most likely, the rest of the audience) was totally astounded that I couldn't tell that the character in question in that play was supposed to be American. It definitely gave me a heads up about the complexities of accent recognition.)

I've worked with a lot with actors in animation voice-over sessions. Many very good actors can't do believable accents and a lot of bad actors can do them brilliantly. Doing a dead-on accent is a rare and wonderful talent that totally astounds me. Lately, there are many more really good coaches that are doing a wonderful job but I am still awed by any actor that can bring it off flawlessly. Hugh Laurie, I salute you!
Re: Accents by Ahren on 16 April 2006 2:14pm
I was born in Bradford (in the north of England) but I live down in the South now. Although I've lived here longer I still haven't lost my accent (I don‘t really want to really!), which has caused a few problems growing up! Even my best friends sometimes make comments or tease me, and its really annoying! I don't like speaking in front of the class or putting my hand up in case people laugh at me. Stupid i know, but i am incredibly shy!
Anyway, one of my good friends is *huge pause* sheltered I suppose, and has some very funny views about the rest of the country. She doesn’t think she has an accent, but the rest of the world does instead! She also talks about speaking properly, and how they don’t speak right “up north”!!

Oooh, I've just thought, Johnny Depp in "Finding Neveland" does a mean Scottish accent, although that is me speaking as English. Anyone else heard it?
Re: Accents by perfectbitch on 16 April 2006 10:56pm
It was recently suggested that the southern american accent is closest to how english sounded in Shakespeare's day. Seems a reasonable hypothesis to me.

One interesting thing - on a train travelling to Newcastle were 2 geordies and 2 norwegians (at least I think they were. I could understand neither tongue but they were able to understand each other! Funny old world. Linz
Re: Accents by tucsonmike on 16 April 2006 11:49pm
I just read the TV Guide with the article about Hugh Laurie. Many Americans have only seen him in Stuart Little and House. They are surprised to find out he isn't American.

Linz, I like your story about the two Geordies and two Scandinavians. Then again, wasn't Northumbria settled heavily by Vikings? As for the American Southern accent being closest to Shakespeare, well yes and no. (If you can find the 20 year old TV series Story of English and the book that will spell it out).
The South has two broad divisions of accent. The mountain accent, which is really based on older Scots dialects. The lowlands depend on whether you are discussing Virginia or South Carolina. I lived in Tidewater Virginia for four years. Tidewater Virginia was settled by people from Englands West Country, primarily Somerset, Devonshire and Cornwall. There are two islands in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, which are closest to 16th Century West Country English. There were traces where I was living. My neighbor across the street had traces of the accent. (It used to be called the Hoi Toidder accent). My name was pronounced Moike. He said Noice for nice and Toim for Time.

Massachusetts was settled primarily by people from London and East Anglia. Philadelphia by people from the English Midlands and Wales.

My accents is totally screwed up. Certain words are New York, certain words are Boston and I have picked up the Southwestern drawl and a slight Mexican lilt.

Re: Accents by Ahren on 17 April 2006 12:20am
Oh yes Mike. You see, the vikings may have settled here thousands of years ago, but there is still a strange link beween Geordies and Scandinavians, meaning they can always understand each other no matter how thick their respective accents.
Re: Accents by Spursfan on 17 April 2006 10:02am
Yes I remember Johnny Depp's accent in Finding Neverland. Good wasn't he.

But then he's always great. (and just pure sex-on-legs!!!) Watched Chocolat the other night - a lovely feel-good film made extra-special by JD. Oh and he does a superb Irish accent in that!

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