You cawl thayt a noyf?
April 2, 2010 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Is there a resource that demonstrates how to do foreign accents by re-spelling words in such a way that when read aloud by an American, will closely resemble the accent? For example, in "Australian", Down = Dan.

I've often wondered if such a thing existed and this FPP showing a snippit of Scots reminded me of it.

Ideally, this resource would basically be a dictionary that goes from English words and shows the phonetic spelling in different common accents: British, Irish, Scottish, Australian, etc.

More Australian Examples (sorry to pick on Australia... it's just so distinctive):
Head = Heed
Land = Laynd
Down = Dan
Under = Undah
posted by TimeTravelSpeed to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You do realize it's not that easy, right?

I mean, I'm an American. I say "roof" like this:


I went to college with a guy who's also an American, and would pronounce that word like this:


My point is that any given combination of letters is going to be pronounced in very different ways by very different people - and your "under" example is perfect, because I'd describe that as the way a number of New England accents would pronounce it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:31 PM on April 2, 2010

...but to be more helpful, you're looking for resources on transcribing dialects, or on transliteration in general.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:32 PM on April 2, 2010

Americans from different parts of the country pronounce "dan" differently though. (For example, you're likely to run into something kind of like day-un in the south...but then, how would different people pronounce day-un?) I assume Australians from different parts of Australia have regional accents as well. You need a phonetic alphabet to do what you're describing.
posted by frobozz at 2:38 PM on April 2, 2010

Well, foreign phrasebooks tend to have phonetic spellings. It's kind of roundabout, but you could get a book meant for say, Germans traveling to Australia.

(I remember being in Germany and my German friends getting a huge laugh out of making me read the phonetics out of my book.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:41 PM on April 2, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I do realize it's not that easy. My spelling is definitely going to be biased based on where I live.

I guess what I'm after is something more approachable than the formal phonetic alphabet, even if it is less accurate.

Truespel, for example, respells words into "American" using a very simplified phonetic spelling. It may not work for all speakers, but was a good place to start.

I'm not after a perfect resource, just something to make my Irish jokes sound better.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 2:54 PM on April 2, 2010

In British or Australian dictionaries, do they use a phonetic alphabet to describe pronunciation in the accented version?

In other words, if I look up "under" in an Australian dictionary, will I see ˈʌndər or ˈʌnddə?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:28 PM on April 2, 2010

I heard a radio show (possibly the Adam and Joe show on BBC 6 Music) relatively recently where they talked about Matt Damon's dialect coach for Invictus using phonetic spellings to help him do a passable South African accent.

The show's hosts tried some out. Some worked better than others.

You might want to try and find the contact details of a language coach who can help on this.

(On preview, I'm Irish, and just so you know, Irish people tend to find Irish jokes funny when told in people's native accent, but often murder-inducing when told in a hammy "Oirish-Begorrah-Toppadamornin-Ya hoor ya" accent.)
posted by knapah at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2010

I left that open for a long time without posting... bejaysus!
posted by knapah at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2010

I'm not after a perfect resource, just something to make my Irish jokes sound better.

You won't do better, for free at any rate, than to spend time listening to Irish voices. Trawl the BBC World Service, grab some samples, and just start practicing and polishing your imitations of them.

Accents are not really about individual words. An accent is an attitude for your mouth. The more time you spend speaking full sentences in the accent you want to learn, and comparing the results against the original, the faster your mouth will click to the required attitude.
posted by flabdablet at 4:35 PM on April 2, 2010

Best answer: According to this forum post, there's a book called "Foreign Dialects, A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers" that does something similar to what you're asking about.

(There's also one called, "American Dialects, A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers")

The Speech Accent Archive doesn't do conversion, but it has many examples of non-native English speakers speaking in English (along with phonetic transcripts).

Whoohoo! seems to do what you want, though it's mostly for different British accents, and also substitutes slang/local versions of words that you enter. (But they do have Irish!)

The Dialectizer does the same thing, also with a limited set of (mostly joke-y) accents. has guides and video examples for speaking English with foreign accents.
posted by sentient at 6:34 PM on April 2, 2010

As a theater student I learned accents with IPA; try googling for IPA + accent name.
posted by Billegible at 9:08 PM on April 2, 2010

Cool Papa Bell: yes, Australia's national dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary, provides pronunciation for the Australian accent. But it uses standard, middle-class, urban Australian, which is much less marked (and closer to British) than the broad, regional, mainly rural, Crocodile Hunter accent that OP is getting at. I don't have my copy with me, but I predict you would find under coded as "undah" but not land coded as "laynd" (and certainly not down as "dan").
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:37 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

In other words, if I look up "under" in an Australian dictionary, will I see ˈʌndər or ˈʌnddə?

My trusty copy of the Mac gives the pronunciation of 'under' as /'ʌndə/ (because the Australian accent tends to drop final 'r's) and 'land' as /lænd/.

The thing is, you can't pick up an entirely new accent just by shuffling around the vowels of the accent you grew up with. No disrespect to the IPA, but my Australian 'æ' your American 'æ' are completely different sounds.

Try doing an Australian accent with North American vowels and you'll end up sounding like this. It misses the standard Australian accent by a mile, but it's also nowhere near the rural Australian accent they were aiming for.
posted by embrangled at 6:11 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may be interested in the work of Professor Afferbeck Lauder, cultural historian, linguist and editor of the seminal works Let Stalk Strine, Nose Tone Unturned & Fraffly Well Spoken.
posted by Kerasia at 2:58 PM on April 3, 2010

You might be interested in the International Dialects of English Archive. You can listen to different accents from all over the world, along with transcriptions. In most cases things are not written phonetically, though.
posted by kosmonaut at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2010

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