British Accent Question: "ow" sounds like "I"?
March 21, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Maybe it's just my ears, but I swear I've heard a British accent where "ou" and "ow" sounds like a long-I -- "down" sounds like "dine", 'ground' sounds like 'grind', 'now' is 'nye', 'house' sounds like 'hise'. I've looked around the internet for descriptions of British accents and came up empty. Is there a name for this component, or is it tied to a specific dialect/accent?
posted by AzraelBrown to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This reads to me like someone imitating the Queen.
posted by Acheman at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds to me like highly exaggerated RP. I lived in Britain for a number of years, and except listening to audio of the British royal family, the only time I have ever actually heard this accent in the wild and not spoken in jest was from the lips of an Oxbridge professor from an extremely rarefied family of basically intellectual royal lineage. In my experience (in intellectual and fairly posh British circles), the only time you actually hear this type of thing is people imitating this accent self-consciously for effect: as far as I have seen, normal middle-class and even upper-class British speech, at least among young people, is less manicured and clipped. YMMV, of course.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2015

What was the rest of the accent like? It could be RP, but it could also be Northern Irish or some Scottish accents (and probably other regional accents as well, I can't think of at the moment) - they sound totally different from each other but just changing ow to I is not really enough detail to tell...
posted by tinkletown at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's most likely extreme RP, like what the Queen talks, especially when she was younger.

(There's a chance it's an accent from Norn Iron, which has similar vowel mutations but sounds very different.)
posted by holgate at 8:21 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

In terms of what the OP has heard, there are probably exponentially more people around who speak with a Belfast accent than with an RP accent though.
posted by tinkletown at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Actually, as others have said, what you're describing could sound northern Irish rather than royal. If you go to Youtube and type in "Northern Irish accent" and listen to a few results, and then do the same with "RP" or "Queen's English" or whatever, and any other possible contenders, you should be able to figure out which matches the accent you're thinking of.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sounds like Northern Irish. That's exactly how they speak on the Fall
posted by zutalors! at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

What you are describing does not seem remotely like RP to me.

Here is a clip from Rebus. This accent is Scottish. Here is a clip from The Fall. This accent is Northern Irish.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

What you are describing does not seem remotely like RP to me.

Not modern RP, but certainly the Upper RP of the mid-20th century that Lord Reith considered 'BBC English', as parodied by Harry Enfield here. Even the Queen's vowels have drifted over time.
posted by holgate at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Anecdotally: I know a working-class Irish person who came to the states in his 40's who pronounces "now" as "nigh," exactly as you describe. Not sure what part of Ireland he's from.
posted by univac at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2015

Could be a Birmingham accent? If "you" sounds like "yow", that's a dead giveaway.
posted by Catseye at 9:56 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is absolutely Northern Irish.
posted by bent back tulips at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2015

Its hard to identify just from those sounds, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Tyneside. "Dine on the grind" sounds very Newcastle to me!
posted by welovelife at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll concur with Northern Irish; I live in East Tennessee (which was settled heavily by Scots-Irish) and our local accent has a lot of these features.
posted by workerant at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2015

Best answer: i recently met a person from Northern Ireland who talked like this.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:30 AM on March 21, 2015

Of course it could be Northern Irish, but the evidence in the question is more consistent with the increasingly obsolete "royal" or "cut-glass" strain of received pronunciation. There are some vowel-sound overlaps with Northern Irish, but the Northern Irish people I know personally turn the "ow" sound into more of an "oi"/"oy" than a long I.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can't place the accent, but the one example that springs directly to my mind from the OP's description is Tim Curry in Rocky Horror. "A weakling weighting 98 pounds will get sand in his face when kicked to the ground."
posted by rlk at 11:19 AM on March 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think it's Northern Irish. Some NI accents pronounce "now" like "nye" (leading to the little joke "The end is nigh." "What, right nigh?" Anyhoo...) But we wouldn't say "house" like "hise" or "down" like "dine" - the ou sound is much rounder and flatter.

It sounds to me like the terribly posh version of RP, like The Queen on Spitting Image. (Philip says "hise" about 1:25)
posted by billiebee at 11:49 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Could it be from Dine Under? To me, [ai] for [au] signals Aussie.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 11:59 AM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

See also in Cryptonomicon when one of the characters, Waterhouse, travels to England during WWII and hears his name pronounced "Woe-to-hice" by the presumably posh English officers. I've never heard modern RP speakers pronounce it like that (even ironically, as far as I can recall) although you might want to check out very old war films where the pilots were often played by actors with RP.

You say you've heard "an accent" rather than a specific person, and I think you'd be pretty aware of it if you were listening to Upper RP speakers because of the associated social milieu, so my statistically likely guess would be Northern Irish.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2015

Best answer: There's a species of Chelsea posh person known as the Sloane Ranger (from Sloane Square--"Slane Squah, yah" whose vowels do what you describe; saying "yah" for "yes" is another marker of this accent in the young. That's the accent Tim Curry is doing in Rocky Horror. There's an old Two Ronnies sketch, which I can't seem to find video of, where a very posh gentleman walks into a shop and asks the shopkeeper to help him find "hice tiles for my spice" when he means "house towels for my spouse."

It's not the sort of "straight" RP that newscasters, radio people and Shakespearean actors are taught; it's definitely a Chelsea thing, with some overspill into posh boarding schools and and the House of Lords (or just "The Hice" as its hereditary denizens would have it).

I used to live near Chelsea, and I have heard this accent being spoken in the wild, but it's rarer and rarer now that Mockney or "estuary English" has replaced RP as the fashionable accent to aspire to.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have Northern Irish family and my impersonation of their accent chiefly consists of changing ow's to I sounds. So I agree with that assessment.
posted by bleep at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Second Sloane Ranger.
posted by pompomtom at 3:49 PM on March 21, 2015

Could it be from Dine Under? To me, [ai] for [au] signals Aussie.
Maybe if they're from somewhere else. I've never heard an Aussie accent like this. I've heard some pretty weird hybrids though (probably my own included).
posted by Athanassiel at 5:00 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you certain it's British? Your description sounds a lot like the Ocracoke Brogue. a dialect/accent spoken almost exclusively in Hyde and Dare counties on the North Carolina coast. If you research it you'll see "hoi toide" (for "high tide") as an example, but more exemplary to me is the "ow"->"i" switch. I used to derive great delight from making my cousins from that area say, "Get out the house, there's a mouse!" which they said like, "Get ait the hise, there's a mise!"

It does sound somewhat British, which makes sense given that it was the site of early British settlement in the New World and is still a fairly isolated region.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:48 PM on March 21, 2015

Sounds like west midlands or Birmingham or Black country to me! My impression of a Birmingham accent is "A cip a tye on the tyble" ("a cup of tea on the table"). Interesting there's so many interpretations here. To be honest there are a lot of English regional accents that have drawn out nasal "i"-sounding vowel sounds.
posted by mymbleth at 2:52 AM on March 22, 2015

Could it be from Dine Under? To me, [ai] for [au] signals Aussie.

If you're an American actor trying to impersonate Australians on an episode of The Simpsons, maybe.

That "d'eho'ohn" is hard to get, especially the bit where you stretch the bit where your bottom lip meets your chin across your lower gums so you're also making a 'y' sound the whole time (and possibly pushing the whole word through your nose simultaneously), but it's nothing like 'dine'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:49 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sounds Northern Irish to me.
posted by shesbenevolent at 10:33 AM on March 23, 2015

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