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Indy I B
Posted on Friday 16 May 2014 at 10:13 am

On Brits Doing American Accents

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There's an article at the Guardian on why David Tennant's American accent in the US remake of Broadchurch isn't perfect but also isn't that bad. It is just a light little article, and I haven't heard any of Tennant's new American accent so I have no opinion on that, but I must share my thoughts on random snippets from the article anyway.

On Hugh Laurie's American accent in House:
I only heard one, maybe two pronunciation mistakes, and I let them go immediately because life's too short to be annoyed at Hugh Laurie.
Yes, yes it is!

As Brits' imitations of American accents go, there have definitely been worse than Tennant's. During August: Osage County, Benedict Cumberbatch's Oklahoma accent made me stuff my knees into my mouth to keep from yelling "Why are you pronouncing 'funeral' with two syllables as if you've arrived directly from Harrow?! You JUST HEARD Chris Cooper pronounce it with three!"
I had issues, lots of issues, with Cumberbatch's American accent. This was not one of them. I think I pronounce funeral with two syllables more often than not and my accent in its broadest sense is pretty close to the correct American regional accent for his character's background. I say more often than not for me because my accent is pretty wonky and I pronounce some words multiple ways depending on context and I think I might pronounce funeral both ways.

Most of the comments in the article on Tennant's accent itself amount to wrong regionalisms: pronouncing a long A in more of a Southern drawl or a hard T in more of a New York way than correct for his California character. That kind of thing is the same thing that bugged me most about Cumberbatch's accent in August: Osage County.

The article author then adds that there are some ways Tennant's Scottish accent makes him closer to an American one than would be true for an English accent. One big example really messed with my head.
For example, the standard English accent has two different "l" sounds: the "l" at the start of a syllable, as in "light", where the tongue touches the space just behind your top teeth (the alveolar ridge, if anyone's interested), and the "l" that appears at the end of a syllable as in "fall", where the back of the tongue lifts and the tip touches the upper teeth. The latter (for some reason called the "dark l") is the only "l" most Scots and Americans use.
I of course tried saying all these examples. My tongue is definitely in different places for the start or end Ls so I guess I have different ones that I'm not supposed to have as an American. I hit the right place with the tip of my tongue for the initial L sound, but the bit about the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth in an end L like fall really threw me. I feel like I'm choking if I try to do that. The tip of my tongue naturally hits my bottom teeth when I say fall. I decided this had to be a typo. Then I skimmed the comments and a comment by the author of the piece added this:
If English is your first language (British), just say "light, fall, light, fall" and feel where your tongue goes naturally. It might touch the bottom teeth for the dark l if you're really relaxed or from Texas, but usually it will touch your top teeth.
Nailed it! :D
For those not sure, I'm not technically from Texas. I was born in Kansas and lived there most of my childhood. But both sets of my grandparents have lived in Texas all my life so I regularly visited there and picked up some bits and pieces of a Texas accent from them and my Texas aunts, uncles, and mostly cousins. Then when I was 15, my family moved to Texas and I lived there full-time for the last two years of high school and the six years of college for my BAs and MA. My accent is very much a blend of the flat plains accent and a Texas drawl with some randomness thrown in For example, when I was maybe 8 or 9 my grandpa asked my mom when they'd taken me to Boston because I sometimes but not always pronounce words like "park" and "car" with the weird swallowed R that is the stereotypical Bostonian idiosyncrasy. I guess I'm just weird.

There you go. Who knew I had so many thoughts on accents? Maybe I should do a voice post again just so new people can hear my own ridiculous little mixed up way of speaking.


failte_aoife at 3:04 pm on 16 May 2014 (UTC) (Link)
That is all really interesting. With English as 2nd language I obviously can't really judge these things. I mean I can tell different British accents apart (American ones not so much, as I've actually been to the UK and Ireland but not the US...though I must also say that I always found that at least in the TV-shows I watch there are much more, for my ears, audible differences in the British ones than in the American ones. Perhaps I'm just more 'tuned' for BE...when I went to school that was still considered the one true English by our teachers XD). But I can't really judge if somebody who's doing a different accent from his own is doing a good job.

In related Accent fun-facts: In the German dubs of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies he is not doing his own voice. Legend has it that he would have wanted but the studios said that nobody would take a Terminator with a strong Austrian accent serious (not sure if that's true, I wouldn't rule out completely that there are simply trouble with finding the time to do it...though Christoph Waltz who normally has only a slight accent and can also switch to Standard German does get to do his own voice in the dubs XD)

My own accent is also a fun mixture. I was born and grew up in Aschaffenburg which is just-about-still-Bavaria, but the accent is actually already more Hessian (the next state), than Bavarian but my parents are both from further south in Bavaria. People generally can tell that I'm from the South (which surprises my mother because she is convinced that I speak basically Standard...) but once I even met somebody who told me that I don't sound like I'm from Aschaffenburg but more like the area my parents grew up in which surprised me. I know I don't sound 'perfectly local' but that it was enough to pinpoint it that well was surprising.
bratty_jedi at 11:26 pm on 16 May 2014 (UTC) (Link)
I always found that at least in the TV-shows I watch there are much more, for my ears, audible differences in the British ones than in the American ones.

Like you, I'm pretty good at picking out British regional accents. I can pick out good versus bad Canadian ones and tell some regional variations there, but much less so than with the British ones. Too much BBC Radio and TV and not enough CBC I suppose. My real weakness is Australian and New Zealand ones. I'll hear something that I think is an OK fake Australian one but I have a couple of friends from Australia or New Zealand and they'll be cringing at how bad it is.

You can't really judge American regional accents by TV unless you're watching reality TV and even then it isn't guaranteed. Most the American accents on TV are what's called Standard American and only have hints and traces of the actor's native accent peeking through. It is sort of like Received Pronunciation for the Brits, but RP has more class connotations and is somewhat being phased out on TV in favor of real regional accents, I think though I might be wrong on that. Standard American isn't any actual American regional accent, though it is closest to the midwest or plains accent, both of which get described as flat or the non-accent in America, and all other American accents are identified by the ways in which they vary from Standard. Standard was basically created for the first readers of nation-wide nightly newscasts and goes by many other names, mostly focusing on that TV origin: broadcaster American, news reader or newscaster American, TV American, General American, etc.

Most actors only use something other than Standard when they are playing a character who is importantly regionally identified. When American actors try to adopt a specific regional accent other than their native one, they often screw it up as badly or worse than non-Americans trying to adopt any American accent. A favorite topic of late-night perhaps alcohol-enhanced rants across the American south is how there are many different Southern Drawls not just one and how badly stupid northern actors screw up when they try for any type of Southern accent. Real American accents can be pretty distinctive to the point where I introduced two of my friends to each other recently and within about 20 minutes of meeting they realized they had to be from the same state originally due to the way they'd both pronounced a couple of things. I'm sure they figured it out on their own and I hadn't even hinted at it because I didn't know where one of them was originally from, only where she'd done her undergrad degree and that was a different state with a different regional accent.

That's pretty cool about the Terminator dubbing. I've heard before about dubbing into other languages playing with regional accents in the dubbed language to either match connotations and stereotypes in the original or to even create new ones. I think with German I've most often heard about Prussian versus Bavarian regionalisms.

My accent generally marks where I'm from pretty well and includes a great many cultural stereotypes that are incredibly wrong and stupid (Southern drawl = redneck, conservative, and ignorant is always my favorite), but I just have those few quirks that don't match and I'm really not sure why I have them. This online quiz was making the round of social media a few months back that purported to pinpoint your accent based on a few specific colloquial expressions and regional pronunciations. It nailed most of my friends but couldn't pinpoint me at all.
failte_aoife at 5:35 pm on 17 May 2014 (UTC) (Link)
Most the American accents on TV are what's called Standard American and only have hints and traces of the actor's native accent peeking through.

Good...so I wasn't imagining it. I've been thinking but the only character I can think of whose accent is (for me) noticeable different from the others is one of the characters on CSI:NY and there the fact that he's from New Jersey is quite often remarked on. I don't think it's quite as extreme on British TV...I think there's still some kind of 'When in doubt go for RP' and e.g. Sherlock doesn't have vast differences but there's usually at least one character who is definitely non-RP and there's more variety in the guest-characters as well.
Here we have a sort of odd mixture. The big-name shows often have mainly Standard German or just a noticeable but not strong accent (though that is subject to discussion...I have non-Bavarian friends who complain that they sometimes have trouble understanding a certain Munich-based show while I consider it quite harmless...and Munich-Bavarian really isn't even close to my native accent) but since a while we're also again getting more shows where most of the cast speaks dialect.

I think with German I've most often heard about Prussian versus Bavarian regionalisms.
Yeah...rather Bavarian and Saxon...Prussian really is to big for one accent. But yes, especially in animated movies the comic relief characters will speak one of those (or perhaps some Austrian/Viennese) as those are considered the funniest accents.
Once I also listened to a radio-program on Bavarian in movies. Apparently the 80s had an awful lot of comedies with characters that were basically 'stupid Bavarians' and their only purpose was to say stupid things in broad Bavarian...I feel that somehow shifted to Saxon later before, thankfully, it (mostly) disappeared except for really bad sketches.
Wine gums, envy, pieces of rainbow
qwentoozla at 9:56 am on 17 May 2014 (UTC) (Link)
David Tennant's American accent definitely sounded off to me-- I mean, it was passable, but his vowels were a bit over-flattened and his Rs overemphasized, I thought. It was also really pretty weird to hear David Tennant doing an American accent when I'm so used to his Scottish and English ones! Maybe he'll improve over time. Not everyone can be flawless like Hugh Laurie!

I'm really not very good at distinguishing regionalisms in American accents. I'm almost better at British accents-- they seem more distinct. I can sometimes tell people are Canadian from their accent.

I spent ages saying "light, fall" and now I just feel confused! I'm pretty sure my tongue is in different places for each. I assume I sound like a normal Californian...

You should totally do a voice post. :)

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