Where do you think my accent's from?

English_Loveur!   Monday, September 06, 2004, 00:37 GMT
..........I don't even know where to start! I live in Houston, Texas and have been here for much of my life (which by the way I'm only 16). I was born here, but moved to Detroit when I was 2, where my family lives. I moved back to Houston right before the 2nd grade(6 or 7).

..........I, every-so-often, have people come up to me and ask me "where are you from?" or even "why do you speak like that?" I remember this one time in French class when we had a substitute and we were talking about accents and, out-of-the-blue, he said "you must be from somewhere. Your accent isn't from here."

..........The thing is, I don't know where my accents from. I've drawn conclusions like it's a mixture of Michigan and Texan, but I don't really know.

..........A lot of the time, I'll say stuff like "aboot" for about or "ahksent" for accent (which a lot of people down here pronounce "aaksent." And many more of those little idiosyncrasies. Then, there are times when I sound like a deep inbred Texan. The thing is though, is that most of the time I talk too fast for any real distinction to come through. But I have looked strange in a roup of Houstonians, pronouncing package "paukage" instead of "paackage."

..........To make a long story short, I'm kind of at a loss; and, I really do want to know a little bit about this accent. So if someone randomly asks me I don't have to look dumbfound.

..........Much thanks, English_Loveur.
Mxsmanic   Monday, September 06, 2004, 02:30 GMT
It may be a blessing in disguise. If nobody can identify where you are from, nobody is likely to develop any preconceived ideas about you, unless they are simply prejudiced against "strangers" generally.
Damian   Monday, September 06, 2004, 07:06 GMT
The moment I open my mouth it's obvious where I come from. I find it extremely difficult to alter my natural accent without sounding a little strange in my ears. Please don't misunderstand me...I am proud of my accent and not ashamed of it in any way (like I would if I was from Glasgow...maybe! LOL).

At university I took part in a lot of acting (a part of my course work) and occasionally I had to try and modulate my accent to fit some of the parts I was playing, but not very successfully in my opinion, and I reckon that of other people, too. Without the benefit of accent/dialect coaching (which I have never had) I have little chance of adopting any other accent that sounds convincing. I would have to go on to drama school to do that...that is a tempting option right now.

I can go a fair way with doing a Cockney accent (sort of), but the Scottish strains still seep through in certain words. It really is hard to speak in an assumed accent, especially if your own natural one is distinctly regional. Gwyneth Paltrow is American and naturally speaks with a pronounced American accent. Yet she speaks perfect British English (standard southern English) in many of her film roles and to me that is incredible. She almost makes the Queen sound foreign...
Mxsmanic   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 01:39 GMT
There really is very little difference in pronunciation between different English accents; it only sounds that way to native speakers. If you look at the phonetics, the changes are small compared to the number of things that remain the same. It's perfectly possible to learn any other English accent with a bit of practice. I know lots of people who have done it. I've never been any good at speaking with British pronunciations, but then again, I've never really studied or practiced it seriously, and I'm sure I'd do better if I had. It would be nice to be able to adopt a clean BBC accent when appropriate.

I have friends who switch accents based on their company (Australian, British, American, etc.). Perhaps if I lived in London long enough I'd develop some degree of British accent, or at least I'd be able to adopt it voluntarily at will. It would be useful for my students if I could speak with both GAE and RP on demand, for illustration purposes.
Ailian   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 05:57 GMT
Accents are more than just difference in pronunciation between words, but also differences between intonation, speed, and articulation (and, not to forget, vocabulary differences). One might describe the Texan accent as having words "lean" into one another (quote Michael Caine in an interview on it, who gave the Texan accent a very good try!), whereas one might describe that of New England as being "crisp" (to quote my mother).

That being said, I speak with a slight New England-accented GAE accent (can't bring myself to use what I would call a "hard r") for my students and use RP when I want to demonstrate differences between their previous teacher's pronunciations and my own. I think that if I were to use my native accent (Louisiana river Creole) I would scare them all off of English forever. ;) The worst problem that I have is not slipping into their accents to make myself better understood. :/
accents are not the only problem   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 06:46 GMT
The problem is the loose talk too.

When a speaker speaks like:

I gahchu

It is too difficult to get his talk/accent for a foreigner.
Damian   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 07:14 GMT
<<It would be nice to be able to adopt a clean BBC accent>>

Mxsmanic: they are variable as you can appreciate, with all the regional BBC stations. When I hear recordings of old BBC announcers I either wince or burst out laughing. Anybody who wanted to be a BBC announcer years ago would have to forget it if they had the slightest teensy weensy trace of a regional accent. I heard an old weather forecast and it promised "shahs moving across the sarth". What the **** is a shah and where the **** is the sarth? :-)

I'm either simple or just plain Scottish.
Tom   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 23:23 GMT
Any chance you could send in a sample of your accent?
Tom   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 00:16 GMT
I wonder if you talk like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 00:50 GMT
"Loose talk" is just coarticulation. It's present in all languages and it's necessary to learn about it in order to pronounce and understand correctly. It's one of the things I cover when I teach ESL students about phonetics. Some of them hate phonetics, others seem to share my interest in it. Those who are interested in it tend to lose their accents a lot more quickly.

I use movie excerpts for this, which I've carefully and laboriously transcribed phonetically. Students are often amazed to see the difference between the English transcript and the phonetic transcript of what the actors are actually saying. It helps them to see why connected speech can be difficult to understand. I assure them that studying phonetics in this way will dramatically speed up their acquisition of good pronunciation, and will help in their understanding as well.

Anyway ... I've listened to some of the Queen's old speeches and those old "Golden Voice" recordings, and they are truly laughable. Even an Oxford accent sounds ridiculous to me today.

My main problem with RP is its non-rhotic character. It really makes no sense not to pronounce 'r' when it's written, and it makes even less sense to pronounce it when it's not there ("instrusive-r"). RP has this thing about turning everything into a diphthong, too, which seems wasteful. Estuary English isn't much of an improvement. I think the most pleasing accents take the best of RP but not the worst (although they still have that annoying non-rhotic aberration).
Mi5 Mick   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 02:32 GMT
The last paragraph of that last post sounds like one of those awkward lapses caused by a deviation in a carefully prepared speech made for George "DubYa". LOL!

I suppose it makes sense not to pronounce vowels in favour of schwas arbitrarily? How about mispronouncing vowels because English orthography "allows" for it?

I have no problem treating 'r' as a diphthongised vowel, nor do any of the Americans I know living here. Maybe back at the Ol' ranch they do because they're still coming to terms with English and it's different flavours. After all, non-rhotic English only happens to be spoken by more nations over the rhotic form.
Dulcinea del Toboso   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 03:15 GMT

What about your parents or others who lived with you, do they speak the same as you? Do they similarly get asked about their accent?

Try to make a list of as many words as you can that you pronounce differently; that will be a good clue to what is happening.

In the words you've already mentioned, you list "aboot". Is this a representation of how a Canadian would say "about" or is your pronunciation really like "a-boot". Actually, the Canadians don't really say "aboot". As for the pronunciations "ahksent" and "paukage" - I can't think of anywhere in the U.S. where there is a pronunciation like that.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 05:26 GMT
Actually, rhotic forms of English are the most common among native speakers. Virtually the entire populations of the USA and Canada speak rhotic English, and many other English pronunciations are rhotic (Irish, Scottish). It makes sense to pronounce what you see as much as possible, although languages invariably drift (as non-rhotic English has).

I don't understand the "Dubya" reference. My parents taught me a Polish word that sounds a bit like that, but I don't see how that could be relevant here.
Marie   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 05:47 GMT

You're a Texan girl with a texan-michigan accent because you lived in Michigan too. Tell them that. You'll probably get a predominantly Texan accent if you live there for many more years.
Mi5 Mick   Wednesday, September 08, 2004, 07:13 GMT
It makes sense to pronounce what you see as much as possible, although it often isn't the case in English, especially when considering voided and redundant vowels; and in a fair number of cases: consonants, eg. 'g' as in "sign", 'k' as "knight", 'w' as in write, "gh", 'h', etc.

Non-rhotic English is prevalent in most parts of the globe: Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and is only really rivaled by the rhotic form in N. America. So it's obviously equally well (if not better) represented for its predominance to be recognised internationally. Perhaps not so for the incognizant, which bring us to the "Dubya" reference.

The "Dubya" ~ "Double W" reference is pretty simple to understand really - George W Bush. I'd be surprised if many Americans couldn't understand it. Just a sense of humour and lateral thinking is all that's required.