Oh, You Have An Accent!
I was in a hotel elevator in New Orleans some years ago. An American couple were in the elevator with me. The gentleman asked me which floor I wanted. "Fourth floor please" I replied. "O-oohhh, you have an accent!!!" exclaimed his wife in a thick southern drawl. Don't you wish that the right words would come to you in these situations? I could have replied (perhaps somewhat sarcastically) "and I presume, madam, that you speak standard English!". But I was polite and explained my origins and current domicile in Canada. She told me she recognized a "hint of British" in my accent.
A Hundred Miles
So what is a "British accent"? You can travel 100 miles in Britain and people will speak quite differently. My own accent is rooted in "Cockney", but a period spent in the north-east taught me a little "Geordie". She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is a "Yonner" from Oldham. We met in the midlands where people from the "Brummagem" area almost sing the English language. The accents of Scotland and Northern Ireland are remarkably unique and just as diverse.
But regional variations in pronunciation are just the tip of the iceberg. Different languages are spoken in Britain. English, with all its regional accents, is predominant. Welsh is still very strongly supported by a lot of people. Cross the border into Wales and you will find bi-lingual roadsigns: English and Welsh. The Cornish language is dying out but there are still a few people down in the county where the palm trees grow who keep the language alive. And, in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, Gaelic is spoken. Unlike Canada, where many immigrant languages can be heard, Britain's languages are all native languages going back hundreds of years.
The English language originated from ancient Teutonic and has much in common with modern German. The English spoken in Chaucer's day would be unintellligible to modern Britons. The Georgian era brought a strong French influence which gave southerners the soft "ah" pronunciation of the letter "a" (as in "l-ah-st", "f-ah-st" etc). The north of England retained older pronunciations and is thought, by some scholars, to be closer to the older forms of the English language.
Yeh, Really Eh!
Americans may find British accents quaint but they have never sought to deny that they speak "English". English is the official language for air traffic control all around the world. It is still spoken - with regional variations - in many countries all around the planet. The idea of "standard English", also sometimes called "BBC English" is an anachronism. As my Canadian friends would say, "yeh, really eh!".
"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese
Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.
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