Regarding United Kingdom accents
April 5, 2016 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I've started the 2nd season of "Hinterland" on US Netflix (and thoroughly enjoyed the 1st season). My question has to do with how a Welshman (or woman) would perceive a Londoner's "Welsh accent."

Or, if I'm being completely dense, are the actors only Welsh? I'm just curious as to how well a regional accent is received by those in that region (Midlands doing an Irish accent, etc.), specifically in the UK.
posted by kuanes to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My question has to do with how a Welshman (or woman) would perceive a Londoner's "Welsh accent."

I do't understand the question. What do you mean 'perceive'? If someone does a bad (other part of the UK) accent it would be obvious, if they did it well, it wouldn't be obviously not their accent if they've never heard them speak (so are you asking for accent skill of an actor?). Or are you asking if it is hard for someone not from Wales to do a Welsh accent? Or if people react differently to an accent from a different region in the UK? IT's not at all clear what you are actually asking, to me.
posted by Brockles at 9:17 AM on April 5, 2016


In regards to Hinterland/Y Gwyll, the actors are all Welsh and are bilingual. The show is actually shot twice: once in English, and once in Welsh.

In regards to the more general question, I dunno. British and Irish actors generally have a long tradition of being very, very careful with accents. For instance, most of the actors on Doc Martin are not Cornish, but have Cornish accents, and no one says boo. There are some notable exceptions to this: James Nesbitt has never done anything but a Northern Irish accent in the things I've seen him in.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:19 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't it be similar to how anyone with a regional accent perceives actors "doing" their accent?

I'm from Louisiana and we have a proud history of laughing at what passes for a "Cajun" accent in 100% of American pop culture. I've never heard it properly portrayed in the media by someone who wasn't actually Cajun, portraying themselves in a non-fiction project (for example the TV chef Justin Wilson).

General US Southern accents, too, are often badly mangled by non-Southern (or worse, British!) actors. We can always tell.

Also, more to the Welsh thing, most actors I've seen in UK media who have Welsh accents/play Welsh characters appear to be Welsh. A quick look at the IMDB for Hinterlands implies that a lot of the cast are Welsh.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks to infinitewindow for informing me that they're all Welsh. And I did not know that the show is done in Welsh too. That's crazy (in a good way).

Sorry if my question wasn't clear. I guess what I'm driving at is if one of the actors in Hinterland was NOT Welsh, would they be quickly and clearly identified as putting on an accent by the Welsh people (I'm obviously discounting someone doing an accent poorly or for comedic effect)? More to the point, is it easier to do various UK accents versus some American accents (see Cajun accent mentioned above)?
posted by kuanes at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2016


I have gotten the impression that going to drama school in the UK entails a lot of learning regional accents, because there's a lot of call for it in a country with so many distinct regional accents in such a small area. But you'll get people who are better and worse at it and when it's bad, it's just the same as anyone doing a bad accent, on a scale from merely embarrassing to fully offensive. I'd be willing to bet that most UK actors have a shortlist of accents they know they're good at and ones they won't try for love or money because it's a trainwreck.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:31 AM on April 5, 2016


More to the point, is it easier to do various UK accents versus some American accents (see Cajun accent mentioned above)?

No. An accent is an accent, it doesn't matter where it comes from, other than how far removed it is from the actors own accent. It also depends on if the actor in question was good at accents and familiar with the one they were trying to do. The more familiar a person is with an accent the easier it would be to emulate it.
posted by Brockles at 9:34 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing an interview with either Michael Sheen or Matthew Rhys (both Welsh actors, both currently playing Americans on US television shows) that, in the UK and Australia, if you go to drama school (and many do, proportionally far more than American actors), or if you don't go to drama school but want to actually get jobs, you do accents. You drill and study extensively on the art and science of learning accents because you have to.

And then you come to America and take all our television shows and movies, because you can. But not everyone is super great at it (Sheen, for example, used to be terrible and is now okay; Rhys is astounding), and if you're from a real distinctive dialect yourself, like Louisiana or Texas or a Carolina (Kevin "Foghorn Leghorn" Spacey, please), you know when someone's faking it.

In much the same way (also because if you're Welsh you know your Welsh actors), a Welsh person is going to be the most likely to catch a faker who otherwise passes almost completely, but I also don't think it's so surprising to UK viewers that actors do accents, because it's the job and also the distances are so much smaller than in the US. It does seem, though, like actors in the UK take a particular pride in doing regional British accents well enough to convince a native in a way that American actors rarely dedicate themselves to.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:49 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't say it's easier or harder to do accents; it's more a matter of training. Everyone in the US can do a "British" accent, thanks to years of exposure to UK media. But not many people in the US can converse in, say, an accurate Northumbrian accent. It's the same in English-speaking countries everywhere.

Like Sara C. said about the "Southern" accent, much like Britain and Ireland, the South doesn't have just one accent, and we can always tell.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


On a similar vein, I often wonder how well David Tennant's Estuary accent as the 10th Doctor was received by those in southeast England (particularly as his natural Scottish accent has caused concern last year in "Broadchurch").
posted by stannate at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd be willing to bet that most UK actors have a shortlist of accents they know they're good at and ones they won't try for love or money because it's a trainwreck.

Spotlight (the directory for British actors, used in casting) has a field where actors can specify which accents they can do. The quality of their accent is presumably a key part of the audition process. On British TV they're usually pretty good, but there are a few that get through, often English actors who find themselves roaming randomly between Irish and Scottish accents.

Everyone in the US can do a "British" accent, thanks to years of exposure to UK media.

*Snorts Earl Grey through nose* I think any Brit who's ever heard an average American attempt what they think is a "British" accent and felt the deep inner pain that engenders would disagree, which I guess proves the point being made generally in thread - what two 'foreigners' think passes for a good accent will often not pass with people who actually possess the accent in question.
posted by penguin pie at 10:11 AM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


It does seem, though, like actors in the UK take a particular pride in doing regional British accents well enough to convince a native

None were hired for the accent train wreck that is the Birmingham-based gangster series Peaky Blinders
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:24 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Everyone in the US can do a "British" accent, thanks to years of exposure to UK media.

I literally laughed out loud and also at the same time sighed, which is a weird feeling and gave me a bit of a turn. In my extensive experience of listening to US people try, the exact opposite is true. Everyone thinks they can, but it is universally terrible and extremely weird sounding. I don't even know where they get the 'British accent' they all think they are doing *from* (ie what part of the UK it is supposed to represent).
posted by Brockles at 10:26 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


On a similar vein, I often wonder how well David Tennant's Estuary accent as the 10th Doctor was received by those in southeast England (particularly as his natural Scottish accent has caused concern last year in "Broadchurch").

DT's DW accent was fine, I think, from my POV at least - an Estuary speaker now living in Scotland. Though I don't know if I would have called it Estuary, which I think of as sounding more London/cockneyish - his accent was perhaps more of a generic SE England. But that's splitting hairs.

I didn't see Broadchurch - didn't realise his accent had caused distress overseas! Though I shouldn't be surprised: Last night I was watching a BBC programme called An Island Parish and what I thought were reasonably intelligible accents on a pair of farmers from Shetland were subtitled for the benefit of other British viewers.
posted by penguin pie at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2016


Yes Tennant's standard english (not estuary english) accent is perfect. That's my native accent and it sounded flawless to me.
posted by w0mbat at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2016


Everyone thinks they can, but it is universally terrible and extremely weird sounding.

This is also true of accents closer to home, too. Lots of people think they can do "Southern" (pick from the probably 100+ regional variations, please), and they cannot. I grew up 3 years and 50 miles apart from Matthew McConaughey and I recognize the status and class markers of his natural accent, but couldn't do them for more than a short sentence or two without practice or a six-pack. I can't say most Louisiana place names exactly right and I can never guess which syllable gets stressed. It's way harder than it seems.

But it still charms the hell out of me when non-trained British people make fun of American accents. We really are made entirely out of Rs, aren't we?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mr MMDP (Birmingham born and bred) and me (Midlander born to parents from Birmingham, including one from Small Heath where the series is supposedly set) played spot the genuine Brummy accent while watching Peaky Blinders - we got Benjamin Zephaniah and some of the supporting cast and then a sort of anti-Hallelujah Chorus of mangled Received Pronunciation (apart from Sam Neill, whose Nor'n Irish accent sounded very good to me, and which someone from across the water would probably find just as inaccurate).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:07 PM on April 5, 2016


Yes Tennant's standard english (not estuary english) accent is perfect.

I'd argue that all "standard English" accents (my own included) have developed a somewhat estuarine tang among the under 40s.

In terms of accents more generally, there's loads of accents, but also huge overlap and crosspollination. One thing that can make spotting a fake hard is that people often have idiosyncratic pronunciations within a broader accent context. So my accent drifts between a bit of RP, the West Country and modern Estuary infected vernacular, depending on what I'm saying, when and to whom. Even with accents I know well, a good actor can fool me entirely.
posted by howfar at 1:21 PM on April 5, 2016


Yeah, that's why I wrote "British" with quotes, because invariably what lay Americans produce is not an authentic dialect from a place in Britain or Ireland but something with a set of general phonic differences from the many American accents.

Obvs there's a lot more to an accent than how open, front, or rounded one's vowels are. My linguistics professor in college told us that a dialect is an accent spoken by a politician, and a language is a dialect from a country with a navy. No lay American trying to imitate Downton or Luther is going to properly pronounce scone, use the plural conjugation for companies or teams, or know how and where to insert innit.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:59 PM on April 5, 2016


I can almost always tell when someone is faking a Northern Irish accent but the reaction varies from being impressed if they do it well as it's quite tricky - incidentally Sam Neill was born here and lived here until he was about 7 so it's where his formative language years were spent - to toe-curling rage/embarrassment (oh dear God, Sons of Anarchy flashback). Of course, there's no such thing as a Northern Irish accent any more than a British accent. Belfast, Derry and Ballymena, to give just a few examples, are very different.
posted by billiebee at 2:15 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest that when a civilian is doing an accent - an American trying a British accent or an English person trying Ausralian - what they are attempting is caricature: to accentuate what they perceive as the most obvious characteristics of the way their target speaks, often for mocking effect; when an actor does an accent they are going for forgery (in a good way) which is a completely different thing, in some ways the opposite (they don't want the accent to be noticed at all for a start).
posted by Grangousier at 4:11 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


penguin pie: "I think any Brit who's ever heard an average American attempt what they think is a "British" accent and felt the deep inner pain that engenders would disagree, which I guess proves the point being made generally in thread - what two 'foreigners' think passes for a good accent will often not pass with people who actually possess the accent in question."

Yes, and it goes the other way too -- (untrained) Brits attempting American accents are pretty hilarious to my American ears.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:21 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, and it goes the other way too -- (untrained) Brits attempting American accents are pretty hilarious to my American ears.

Another Doctor Who example comes to mind: Nicola Bryant's attempt at an American accent as Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown. Lord love a duck; her accent was doubleplusungood.
posted by stannate at 8:17 AM on April 6, 2016


One of the things that gets elided in these sorts of discussion is the varying degree of purity in real accents. I have a cousin who was born in the South East, spent her early childhood in in the Midlands and most of her school years in Reading. Both of her parents had fairly standard RP accents. The time she spent in Sutton Coldfield has left an indelible mark on her accent that still shows up 50 plus years later.

More people have blended or idiosyncratic accents than the strict "does this X accent offend the locals” question presumes; few accents are pure, but there are ‘tells’ for stereotypical or bad fake accents that just grate whereas a real accent (or real sounding) even if not pure doesn’t. And some people speaking their own true voice just pronounce certain things in their own way which listeners may notice at first but then get used to.

In performance, in addition to the skill of the actor at mimicry, a lot of it comes down to what the director (or possibly dialog coach if applicable) wants and notices. I’ve heard American actors in British productions do bad American accents — I was recently listening to something on the BBC where a born in RI, brought up in Florida, based in NY actor was doing what sounded like bad faux-Texas (I went and looked at his WikiPedia page to find out if he was an Englishman doing a cheesy accent, and was surprised to find out that he was a real American). Similarly, I have heard LA Theatre Works productions where English actors in an English play sound slightly off, probably because the director hasn’t picked up on the anomaly or had asked for something that made sense to an American ear but not to a native one.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:52 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


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