Blog » Dilbert’s got it right

1 Jun 2005

Dilbert’s got it right

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 11:33 pm

The way it is. Or at least ought to be. Though it doesn’t always seem to work quite the way one would hope…

The next few are also on the same topic.

Strange the power that the exotic has over the subconscious.

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  1. So, I have a question. Now, I’ve heard many of my friends talk about how sexy or seductive a British accent is, and I sometimes agree (although I usually prefer a nice, sexy Southern drawl). The question is this: is there a similar response to American accents in the UK/South Africa/Australia/ect.?

    Comment by Adam — 2 Jun 2005 @ 4:10 am

  2. Yes.

    Comment by Dixie — 2 Jun 2005 @ 9:06 am

  3. Yes, I agree that there generally is the same response, with two caveats: firstly, they’re not as exotic since everyone hears American accents on TV and in the movies all the time (though admittedly if you sound like an actor/actress, that’s a bonus). Secondly, your “sexy Southern drawls” are probably less likely to get the desired response overseas compared to other American accents — at least in my experience.

    Comment by paulcook — 2 Jun 2005 @ 9:26 am

  4. The following is an Asian perspective. People in Asia prefer the British accent. They think it sounds more educated than the American accent.

    Also, I think for European girls, they like the American accent because they bring out a different kind of personality that American guys have. I read somewhere (non-scienfic) that American accent sounds more confident than the British accent (I could be hullicinating about this though). To me, I just felt like it is something different/exotic.

    Comment by UALboy — 2 Jun 2005 @ 6:36 pm

  5. I just got Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and noticed something odd about the accents. Let me take a step back first and say that I can certainly handle British-type accents in small doses. Although I occasionally misunderstand a word when Paul or Suvir are talking (and also occasionally give them grief over differing terminology), I usually don’t think about their accents. Similarly, in the movie the only time I really think about an accent is if I think it’s really interesting. However, I was watching some of the commentary last night and things were very different. Instead of listening to one or two British accents, or listening to very well pronounced lines from the actors, I found that the accents in the commentary were somewhere between disorienting and traumatic to listen to. First off, unlike with Paul and Suvir, where I can understand 99.9% of what they say, I could probably only understand about 75-80% of the commentary (mostly due to differing vocabulary/slang/terminology). Second, rather than bothering to pronounce their words, the actors were speaking normally, so the accents were much more raw. And finally, the actors were often speaking over each other, which made it even more difficult to understand what was being said. In the end, I started to feel truly disoriented and stopped watching the commentary. I will go back and watch the rest of it at some point, but I found the effect to be rather interesting.

    So, I guess there’s a question to be asked in here. Paul, do you ever get overwhelmed by the American accent, when you’re the only non-American around? As you already mentioned, everyone hears American accents on TV, so perhaps you’re more accustomed to listening to it.

    One other interesting thing I’ve learned recently. I’ve become a bit of a fan of the show House on Fox. The lead actor (can’t think of his name right now) is British, but does an American accent on the show. First of all, I have no idea why they have him do an American accent. It doesn’t seem that it would really affect the show if his character were British. But I was watching an interview with him and he mentioned that he hated doing the American accent, and that there were some words that he could barely get out. Naturally, I don’t see myself as having an accent, although I occasionally slip into a very faint Tennessee twang or a Southern drawl. But part of not seeing myself as having an accent means that I find it difficult to imagine taking a British accent and “removing” the accent to make it American. Granted, I can only do a very bad British accent at best, but going the other way seems somewhat unfathomable.

    Comment by Adam — 3 Jun 2005 @ 12:08 pm

  6. Interesting comment, thanks!

    On the commentary: British accents are probably more diverse within Britain than anywhere else. So I don’t have a problem with most of them, but Scottish accents can be rather unintelligible. You’ll be interested to know that I don’t think of my accent as British, and British and American accents are equally foreign to me.

    I can normally understand Americans fine, though certainly for the first few months here it did require significantly more effort to listen to people, and I sometimes couldn’t keep up with rapid chatting in groups of people. I really noticed it when coming back from South Africa in January of my first year — as I got on the plane there were some Americans talking loudly in the queue (as Americans do :)), and it felt like a weight descending on my shoulders, as I realised I would once again have to be expending just that little extra effort on understanding people.

    The other notable time I had problems with an American accent was in Frankfurt airport. They had American security officials questionning the passengers before boarding — even going so far as to make copies of all my receipts for hotels and the like. Unfortunately, my guy spoke quickly and softly with a strong accent, so I couldn’t really hear him properly — which was tricky in a situation where one is trying not to look suspicious!

    On your accent: Adam, you certainly have one, though I agree it’s not very strong. As for that actor, I know of times that Americans have actually been unable to understand me, or other (South African) friends of mine. I had a friend who was a fan of internet voice chatting when it was popular maybe five years ago. He would often have to put on a fake American accent in order to be understood by Americans. So perhaps the show is trying to be accessible to people who don’t, unlike Caltech students, get exposed to many accents.

    Comment by paulcook — 3 Jun 2005 @ 12:41 pm

  7. But, going back to my comment about the difference between someone’s accent when acting versus an accent when speaking generally, chances are that Hugh Laurie (the lead actor on House) would be perfectly understandable when speaking as an actor, even if he is unintelligible when speaking normally.

    On to something (slightly) different: In case you were unaware, there are probably at least a dozen different accents in the South. Heck, there are probably a dozen different accents in Tennessee. And, having gone back and forth between Tennessee and North Carolina a lot, I can tell you that Tennesseans speak very different than North Carolinians. Texans (those with accents) also speak differently. I was flying from Knoxville (TN) to Houston (TX) one time, probably during my Junior or Senior year at Rice, across the aisle from a guy who was definitely from The Country somewhere near Knoxville. At the end of the flight he asked me:

    Redneck: “Whati….win…ustn?”
    Me: “Excuse me?”
    Redneck: “Whati…wein…uston?”
    Me: “I’m sorry, the engines are still too loud, could you say that again?”
    Redneck: *tapping his watch* “Whattimzonweininhouson?”
    Me: “Oh, the time zone? Houston is on central time, so we’re only an hour behind Knoxville.”

    Now, I grew up around people that spoke like that guy, but I’ll be damned if I could understand a thing he said. It probably didn’t help that it was indeed loud (and I have trouble hearing people talking in a loud environment, regardless of accent). But irregardless, I kind of felt bad that I couldn’t really understand a fellow Tennessean after only being away for a few years. My brother had a similar incident after being in Texas for a few years as well.

    Comment by Adam — 3 Jun 2005 @ 3:42 pm

  8. It’s amusing to me to find people who can’t resolve some accents (even easy ones like Any English vs Any Aussie) but know an Atlanta accent from a Valdosta one. I ended up having to explain to a couple of Brits on a train in Poland that there are actually lots of different American accents. It was an interesting conversation.

    Many actors fake American accents — Colin Farrel being one of the most striking examples (in more ways than one, baby). (He comes from an area of Dublin with a particularly difficult accent, and he hasn’t lost it completely.) I know Mel Gibson is an Aussie, but I don’t know if he has any accent left. Catherine Zeta-Jones has a gorgeous Welsh accent. I think this sort of thing happens ’cause your bog standard American xenophobe might miss intended characterisation once they hear a “British” accent and tar him/her with the EuroTrash brush. Americans won’t relate to a character who’s that foreign to them, at least not quickly.

    It’s not just furriners who do it, either. Many Southerners consciously dilute their accents so they’re not perceived as stupid when they leave the South.

    And, as a tangent…the best way to detect how to “do” an American accent (or any accent you’re too familiar with) is to hear someone do it badly.

    Comment by Dixie — 3 Jun 2005 @ 5:11 pm

  9. Accents are somewhat fractal, I think — the better you know the accents of a particular area, the more different categories of “sub-accent” one can distinguish. I’m not that good at distinguishing Australian and New Zealand accents, but can easily tell apart accents from different (English-speaking) parts of Johannesburg. But I still think the UK’s variation is more pronounced than elsewhere — which makes sense, as the colonies all had relatively recent periods of small population, during which accents could homogenise, whereas the UK has not.

    And to add to Dixie’s list: Charlize Theron is from east of Johannesburg, and had an Afrikaans South African accent until hitting Hollywood.

    Comment by paulcook — 3 Jun 2005 @ 5:39 pm

  10. […] as I said, amusing– oh, yes, and spoken with a British accent; therefore inherently classy and erudite– or something). [PS Do c […]

    Pingback by tisiwoota :: Organic Slam :: June :: 2005 — 4 Jun 2005 @ 12:29 am

  11. So, I have to revise my original statement somewhat. I went to see A Prairie Home Companion at the Hollywood Bowl tonight and was absolutely blown away by Irish singer Karan Casey. Her voice (both accent and singing voice) was so alluring that I wanted to cry… so, I’ll have to add an Irish accent on a wee bonnie lass as being one that I find very sexy.

    Comment by Adam — 4 Jun 2005 @ 12:44 am

  12. I think here in S.A. we have such a range of accents that someone with an Ozzie/British/American accent isn’t such a big deal as in the States or U.K. Amongst English-speaking South Africans, for example, you get a huge variety, depending on their background – mostly dependent on where their parents are from (so that covers all of Europe, the U.S. and Asia). I think, in general, we are a little less taken by “seductive” accents.

    Comment by Lou — 4 Jun 2005 @ 2:04 am

  13. Accents. Oooooh. I just spent the evening in a high decible pub with a South African and a Scotsman who thought for a bit I was French. I’ve had people say I sound like I’m American/went to School in the States/am from Manchester/have a strong/soft Irish accent so this is a topic close to my heart.

    I spent a summer ringing all over Ireland debt collecting, and everyone, *everyones* accents got thicker as soon as they figured out why I wanted to talk to them. I count a distinct Donegal, Kerry, Cork, Mayo, North Dublin, South Dublin, Sligo among the ones I can pick out straight away and then theres the other ones I wouldn’t recognise off the cuff. This is *Ireland* which has 3.5M people – i.e. is dinky.

    There is huge variety and in general any strong accent makes it tough for everyone else. We (the rest of the World) are generally pretty good at US accents because we’ve been listening to them since we were small, but then the most complete breakdown in communication I ever saw was me, a guy from Kilkenny and a guy from the Bronx.

    If we’re talking about seductive accents, then that has been firmly established as a personal taste thing. There are a few accents that have been established as ‘allure-killers’ – e.g. North Dublin & urban Sligo – but peoples ideas of a nice accent varies hugely, and will also vary with the speaker. The same accent from a broken-nosed pub brawler and that cute brunette in the floaty dress will have very different impressions. The same ‘category’ will also vary hugely in impression given the speakers own voice, diction and attitude.

    Strangely, Chinese accented English is nothing special for me, but I really like the sound of Madarin being spoken. I have no idea what they’re saying, but it sounds nice.

    Comment by xaosseed — 4 Jun 2005 @ 5:33 pm

  14. I used to like the sound of Mandarin or Cantonese when my friends would speak it at Rice. But now I absolutely hate it. I think it has to do with the fact that I now live with a very annoying guy from China.

    Comment by Adam — 5 Jun 2005 @ 1:25 pm

  15. I think it’s very interesting that most English actors can get away with doing American accents in movies, but if an american actor does a less than perfect english accent of any sort it is always picked apart by the English…I find this funny because though people think it is easier for English people to do an american accent as opposed to americans doing an english accent, you can usually tell that they are not american. When the English do an american accent it usually comes off more nasal than an american just because Brits tend to speak using the front of their mouth whereas americans tend to speak more from the back. So when Brits switch to american dialects, they don’t know how to switch it to the back as naturally as an American and thus they usually end up sounding as if they are from Illinois or the New England area. In all actuality, it is easier for an american to physically switch to an english accent than vice versa (especially southeastern americans.) It’s just that the English publics are more critical about the accents…even if english actors have really horrid american accents, americans (just as a general rule) just don’t pay attention or care…it’s immediately dismissed. But I do have to say that Hugh Laurie he does have a 99% accurate standard american accent…he’s an exception to the general outcome ::wink::. Is there any americans that you nonamericans feel have a very good accent…whether that’s english, welsh, irish, new zealand, etc…

    Comment by Rachel — 29 Mar 2006 @ 10:33 pm

  16. haha…I died laughing listening to this post and the comments! I’m from ohio – in the southern half (Dayton and Columbus) areas. My father has a southern accent – in fact, I view men with those accents are a bunch of dumb rambling apes. So usually, hearing a strong southern accent, makes me feel as if I’m superior since I speak a “standard” American english. I do so very well.

    It’s crazy because I’m actually – NOW – attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And everytime I hear a strong southern accent that usually involves a story going as “….ha…bill I tell u what..” I just explode into a laughing rage of violence and gore. I dont know what it is, but it is hilarious. My gf down there has a southern accent – but her’s makes her hot – not retarded.

    If I come back with a southern accent, I’m going to through myself off a bridge.

    Comment by biomedstudent — 20 Apr 2006 @ 1:57 am

  17. Just wanted to point out that anyone answering to the description “wee bonny lass” would probably be Scottish rather than Irish :)

    Comment by ccj — 20 Apr 2006 @ 6:48 am

  18. biomedstudent, you’re going to “through” yourself off a bridge? I’m glad you speak proper English, because for a second there I thought you made a mistake and meant “throw” yourself off a bridge.

    It looks like an accent isn’t the only way to give someone the impression you don’t have a great control of the English language.

    Comment by jjk — 20 Apr 2006 @ 10:25 am

  19. “My father has a southern accent – in fact, I view men with those accents are a bunch of dumb rambling apes” — uh, does he know this?

    But it is interesting, as you point out in the case of girlfriend, that slight variations in accents, or even who speaks them, can greatly change how they sound.

    Comment by paulcook — 20 Apr 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  20. Yeah, I told my dad that he sounds like an ape. But then he says that I actually sound weird to him. That’s actually crazy since we live under the same house. Although, my dad has worked at GM for about 30 years; and most of the workers there have southern accents. So he says that’s where it comes from.

    On my side, most of my friends are actually surrounded by a higher social class – up in ohio. So, that pretty much explains that.

    P.S. jjk – of course I made a grammatical error – but the internet can be informal and often times – not everyone is free of error. So don’t take life so seriously, you’ll never get out alive! Besides, if you spoke to me in person, you’d understand. Rock Out

    Comment by biomedstudent — 20 Apr 2006 @ 8:07 pm

  21. For me, someone actually has to say something stupid in a southern accent for me to think they’re stupid. Such as: “Dude we got so ****** up last night!” That sounds stupid no matter what accent it is spoken with.

    Addressing other points brought up, when speaking in business situations person to person I lose my accent (as a result of speaking properly). In informal situation however I blend some of my words, leave off some endings and other shortcuts.

    Its weird though that I have a stronger accent than anyone in my immediate family. Still I don’t think I sound like I have a stereotypical Texas accent, which I imagine occurs somewhere between Dallas, Austin and Houston.

    Does anyone know?

    Comment by lay — 5 Jan 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  22. Hello!!!

    I come from Japanese and British heritage, live in St. Louis (which is neither the south, west, nor midwest – but a sort of “gateway”), and I have a typical Chicago accent, but say “y’all” and “you take care now” and “that’s ow right” and all sorts of southern peculiarities; it’s considered standard here – mixed in with a pretty enormous speaking vocabulary, occasional british intonations, and a little Philly / New York accent because I lived there for a year or so. I also traveled to central america several times as a very young child, and the early exposure to Spanish language enables me to form a spanish accent with ease.

    No one ever guesses the origins of my accent, of course, just as they look at me and say “are you egyptian?” or “you are from Italy, no?” “Ah, a French lady!” (flench rady!)

    No one guesses Japanese and British, for there aren’t enough biracial people in the world these days for anyone to guess a combination, other than black&white and asian&black. Possibly “mexicasian,” have heard that one before.

    I have a lovely singing voice, and it’s neither British nor American (they differ as well, of course).

    I am reasonably attractive…

    but the polarity of my voice may be my biggest magnetic force, and certainly a redeeming quality for me. It is melodic, dancing, and unnameable.

    In response to those who spoke of “accent-merging” as with the movie stars, Mel Gibson, Hugh Laurie, Colin, Charlize Theron, and many of us hybrids – I think it’s something not often considered – but like biracials tend to be exotic and beautiful, “biracial” voices also tend to be enrapturing. I love Hugh Laurie’s voice. Another example of a merging voice I adore is Barack Obama’s low, native African and American timbre. It’s lovely.

    Comment by Emma — 22 Feb 2007 @ 11:36 am

  23. Being a Briton myself, I feel as though I have become very accustomed to various American dialects due to the large amounts of American media and programming that can easily be found in the U.K. . Furthermore, I feel as though many Americans struggle to comprehend the various English, (or indeed British,) accents due to the lack of British influences in popular culture.

    For example, in England the rules of baseball, basketball and other sports mainly associated with the USA are widely known, or at least there is some sort of knowledge as to how these games are played. I beleive I can estimate that not many Americans will be familiar with the rules of Cricket, Polo, etc.

    Comment by Alex — 28 Aug 2007 @ 11:24 am

  24. Ummmm….Mel Gibson is NOT an Aussie, as you state. He is American born in Peekskill, NY. He spent his teenage years in Australia after his family moved there. It might make sense for you to get your facts straight, rather than posting something you don’t have a clue about.

    Comment by baboonhead — 10 Jan 2008 @ 11:48 pm

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