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5 Comments

  • Interesting post, Orin. Is it quite true, though, that ‘many Americans consider the “British accent” a monolith’? In movies and TV shows, there are occasional signs of another stereotype, the working-class Brit who invariably has a Cockney accent (or something in that ballpark). The most notorious example is Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins – the object of enduring ridicule. This is the prototype, and later exponents include Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, and Daphne Moon’s brothers (in the sitcom Frasier): these feckless lads (obviously played by American actors) periodically turn up in Seattle sporting a version of Cockney – despite the fact that they come from Manchester. So maybe, for many Americans, there are two varieties of British accent?

  • “British pronunciation says “posh” to many American speakers.”
    Watching Disney films, as an adult, with my daughter, it became clear that British accent (English accent to be more specific) = villain. Just think of Shere Kahn in the Jungle Book, Jafar in Aladdin, the bad lion in the Lion King (can’t remember the character’s name but its voice was Jeremy Irons), and many many others

  • British accents have also been used in films as a marker of criminality or villainy, albeit often of a sophisticated kind.

    That’s an interesting note on “lapsing into the dialect”. The African-American narrator in Walter Mosley’s novel Devil in a Blue Dress says the following:
    I always tried to speak proper English in my life, the kind of English they taught in school, but I found over the years that I could only truly express myself in the natural, “uneducated” dialect of my upbringing.

  • When I first started teaching in China, my students could not understand my North Carolina drawl. Twelve years later, I’m back in North Carolina, and folks probably think “You ain’t from around here, are ya?” I am.

  • Thanks to all for your comments. Michael, you’re right that Britspeak is not always monolithic for Americans. When there is sufficient context (i.e., more than one British dialect or accent on display), Americans distinguish them, and have easily internalized the film cliches whereby the the posh characters speak RP and the bad guys (as Karen notes), unpredictable characters, or colorful cameos speak up in regional or working-class accents. But if an American hears any British speaker in isolation, their observation is likely to be “British accent,” and nothing more specific.