The Representation of British English in the American Media

Danni   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 15:33 GMT
I am interested in how British English is represented in the American Media, and would love to hear your thoughts about it (be you American, British or not).

What are considered the most distinctive features of the way the British use English to American ears? Is accent or dialect more important in pinpointing the way a person speaks as essentially British? Would you consider someone like James Marsters in Buffy to be speaking a 'better' or 'worse' English accent than Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors?

How about Scottish, Irish and Welsh... which of these is most recognisible? Do you consider the image of Britain presented in the American media to be accurate - and, do you like the image presented?

Can you automatically recognise British slang words? Are there certain pronunciations of words that mark them out as being British? Also, to any other Brits out there who have more knowledge of how British English is represented in America, do you think it is accurate?

I would love to know what impression America gets of us from films and television!

Danni x
Simon   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 16:26 GMT
Is it just me or did Goldmember manage to be offensive to Dutch people, Belgians and British people? No one talks like Austin Powers in England.
mjd   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 16:56 GMT
It depends on the accent. The RP accent is often used in formal situations, both in movies and commercials. I saw a cat food commercial the other day (a rather expensive cat food). The commercial had a butler serving the cat its dinner and the commercial was narrated in RP. However, characters with cockney accents in a Guy Ritchie movie aren't going to make us think of formality. It depends on the movie and the context, although overall the accent is used to convey formality.
Hythloday   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 18:52 GMT
Let's face it, the Yanks appear to think that a) all English people speak RP super-duper posh or barrow-boy Cockney, b) all English people live in London, c) all English people know each other. If you are English and have a non-standard accent other than Cockney, Yanks generally tend to think that you're Australian. In short, I have yet to see a single accurate representation of British English (accents and dialects) in the U.S. (I take it that you mean North/U.S. American and not South American) media.
Ryan   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 20:36 GMT
I don't think most Americans really care that there are a variety of English accents in England. It's too complicated for them to figure out. It doesn't help that most Americans don't know anything about British geography. I had to explain to my father recently that Liverpool is not a surburb of London.

Other English accents are mostly used in commercials for amusing purposes to illustrate that a certain product is from a certain country, such as Guinness beer with guys with funny Irish accents or Foster's Beer with a guy with a funny Australian accent.
Alice   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 23:18 GMT
I think James Marsters is an interesting example. When ever his nationality comes up in conversation, people are always surprised. Now, that may be more a reflection of the fact that he's really only known as Spike, than the quality of his accent, but even so, I think it's pretty convincing. I think the key in his case is specificity. He's not just doing some general accent, I read that his accent is based very closely on the real-life dialect of fellow Buffy actor Anthony Stweart Head, (Giles). Any thoughts?
Juan   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 23:22 GMT
Most baddies in movies have RP accents. ie. Star Wars, Darth Vader. I wonder why that is?
Juan   Thursday, February 12, 2004, 23:50 GMT
>>James Marsters is an interesting example<<

He had me fooled. Damn he's a good actor. I thought he was in his twenties too.
A.S.C.M.   Friday, February 13, 2004, 00:09 GMT
Yes, I agree with MJD. RP is mainly used to convey formality in the American media and in Los Angeles International Airport, where they have a recorded announcement with an old dame saying "Please take care of your belongings in the terminal. We are not responsible for any loss or damage. Etc." in a heavy, snooty RP accent.

The RP accent itself as used in the American media is quite accurate, as Hollywood seems to employ true RP speakers to act out the British parts. However, their usage of RP is far too extensive and far too formal.

As for Scottish, Welsh, and Irish accents, most Americans identify all three as variants of the "Irish accent". Americans do the same with Highland flings, bagpipes, and kilts: all three are considered to be "Irish" instead of "Scottish".
A.S.C.M.   Friday, February 13, 2004, 00:16 GMT

Today, a classmate, upon hearing my accent, said the following:
"Oh! So you're a Brit. Er, you come from Britland? Er, Britland? What do they call that place where the Brits come from? Oh, yes, England!"

I was thoroughly amused. As all of you know, a lot of Americans think that the two English-speaking countries in Europe are England and Ireland (hello? Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland? UK?) However, this classmate was a special case. In his parlance, person/adjective= Brit, country= 'Britland' or England. It's fun talking to Americans.
mjd   Friday, February 13, 2004, 00:26 GMT
"Most baddies in movies have RP accents. ie. Star Wars, Darth Vader. I wonder why that is?"

While this sometimes is the case, I think it's used much more often to convey formality.

Darth Vader was played by James Earl Jones, an American actor from Mississippi. He does not use an RP accent, rather a very formal American accent that is less rhotic. This is Jones' normal voice. It definitely isn't British.
mjd   Friday, February 13, 2004, 00:27 GMT
Actually I should say the VOICE of Darth Vader was supplied by James Earl Jones. The actor in the costume was someone else.
Alice   Friday, February 13, 2004, 02:38 GMT
Yeah, I've heard people make that comment about James Earl Jones before, and it always strikes me as odd. His accent is the perfect example of a formal southern dialect. However, some of the othe officials of the Empire, (such as the Emperor himself, or Grand Moff Tarkin, who was portrayed by Peter Cushing), were British.
Juan   Friday, February 13, 2004, 02:59 GMT
>>Darth Vader was played by James Earl Jones, an American actor from Mississippi. He does not use an RP accent, rather a very formal American accent that is less rhotic.<<

Yep, my mistake mjd.

How about these

Alan Rickman in Die Hard
Alan Rickman in Help! I'm a fish
Alan Rickman in Quigley Down Under
Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
Basil Rathbone in Anna Karenina
Basil Rathbone in David Copperfield
Basil Rathbone in Son of Frankenstein
Basil Rathbone in The Mark of Zorro
Ben Kingsley in Sneakers
Betty Lou Gerson in 101 Dalmations
Boris Karloff in Frankenstein
Charles Dance in Last Action Hero
Christopher Lee in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Christopher Lee in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Claude Rains in Notorious
David Bowie in Labyrinth
David Warner in Titanic
Dougray Scott in Mission: Impossible 2
George Sanders in Rebecca
George Sanders in Disney's The Jungle Book
James Mason in North by Northwest
James Mason in Salem's Lot
James Mason in The Verdict
Jeremy Irons in Die Hard With a Vengeance
Jeremy Irons in The Lion King
John Lithgow in Cliffhanger
John Lithgow in Shrek
Jonathan Hyde in Jumanji
Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon 2
Pam Ferris in Matilda
Patrick Stewart in Conspiracy Theory
Peter Cushing in Star Wars
Pierce Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire
Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder
Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park
Richard O Brian in Dark City
Robert Carlyle in Ravenous
Robert Carlyle in The World is Not Enough
Sean Connery in The Avengers
Sir Ian McKellen in X-Men
Stephen Berkhoff in Beverly Hills Cop
Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction
Timothy Dalton in The Shadow
Tom Wilkinson in Rush Hour
Juan   Friday, February 13, 2004, 03:05 GMT
That was only but a few. I'm sure there are way more than that! :-)

At least some Brits seem to enjoy it.

>>As an Englishman born and bred I have to say that I'm quite fond of the American tendency to cast my countrymen as the villain of the piece. He might always fall foul of the hero and/or his own devious plots at the end of the film, but he always gets the best lines and brings an impeccable style to the dance that you just can't get with a US accent. Alan Rickman, Charles Dance, Jeremy Irons and many others always steal the scene away from the likes of Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks every time<<