H'improve my h'accents!
June 7, 2016 4:21 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn to do a passable amateur version of some basic British regional accents-- a Cockney or two, Somerset, Yorkshire, Scottish, RP. Where should I start?

The kids and I have been reading a lot of beautifully dialect-rich late-Victorian children's fiction lately, and my current Dick-Van-Dyke-level accent game is getting a little embarrassing.

I'm open to any sort of study resources or suggestions, including. videos, books, any specific pronunciation tips, whatever, for any or all of the accents I mentioned. Suggestions for other essentials I haven't thought of-- like maybe an Australian would be nice?-- also welcome. Finally, there's also some complicated accent stuff surrounding class at the turn of the century (policeman London sounding subtly different from pickpocket London even though both are sub-bourgeois, etc.), so if anybody knows a great guide to the finer points of that whole mess, I'd love to hear about it. British and Anglophile Mefites, any recommendations?
posted by Bardolph to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: IDEA
posted by stray at 4:42 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a few linguistics resources online - I found this excellent-looking one, which has recordings of the dialect of English speakers from all over the world (this is pretty close to the accent I hear every day), or perhaps the British Library archive? There are loads of actors' manuals for accents and dialects, which often have some social context too. The (sadly dormant) Dialect Blog has lots of info too.

Aside: I think that one of my worst decisions as a kid was to tell my parents to stop doing the voices. I hope your project is awesome!
posted by prismatic7 at 4:43 AM on June 7, 2016

Best answer: Agree that acting resources are probably your best bet. You could also learn a thing or two on what NOT to do from Leslie Knope...

You mentioned the class subtleties. There are (yes, they exist as much as ever) an infinity of ways to communicate social ranking. Don't know if you're familiar with, for example, U and non-U English. The examples they give there are less relevant nowadays but perhaps pertinent to your reading material.

If you're intersted in Scottish accents and dialects you could try and read about it on the exhausting but hilarious Scottish Wikipedia.
posted by fishingforthewhale at 6:37 AM on June 7, 2016

Best answer: One woman, 17 British accents
posted by Room 641-A at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2016

Best answer: It depends: do you want to do hideous stereotypical parodies, like the 17 accents person, or emulate something fair and respectful? Please remember that everyone has an accent, and isn't aware of it in normal speech with their peers. Accents denote race and class to the listener, so please treat them with consideration.

In addition to the acting resources mentioned above, Netflix is a decent place to raid for UK television voices. Try The Detectorists for Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones's south-eastern accents, Still Game and Burnistoun for Glasgow.
posted by scruss at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2016

Best answer: AUDIOBOOKS. If you can find a narrator with the accent of choice, I think the steady stream of reading helps you pick up the cadence of it better than movies or radio, at least in the beginning. Depending on the narrator and the cast of characters, they can also be good for just tuning your ear to a range of different accents. The Discworld series is amazing as audiobooks and I've listened to enough of them that I have a reference Vimes, Vetinari, Uberwaldean, etc accent in my head that's passable enough for casual storytelling.

There's some discussion of audiobook narrators and accents in this AskMe, and some really old usenet posts nerding out over Discworld accents.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:30 AM on June 7, 2016

Best answer: any specific pronunciation tips

imitating an accent well is a talent, a skill, and a science.

the thing is, some parts of an accent will be much more salient to you than others - especially those parts that index a lot of social information about the speaker. you might focus too much on those salient features, and not imitate the non-salient ones.

i'm just worried that you'll end up imitating an accent as well as kyra sedgewick in the closer, who apparently sounds great to people who aren't from the south, but is incredibly grating and inauthentic to people who actually have that accent natively.

so i would suggest learning the international phonetic alphabet, and actually reading linguistic resources on these dialects so you know what the features you're imitating actually are. and then practice, practice, practice.

unfortunately, a lot of resources aimed at actors are unscientific, stereotypical, wrong, and sometimes outright racist/classist. there are actually not that many good resources, which is one of the reasons a colleague of mine (a linguist) has considered going into media consulting.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hope I'm not too late. I don't know if you've seen this yet but Chris Evans (the American one, not the British one) does an amazing Essex accent. I thought it was going to be bad and I was ready to cringe but he nailed it. The Essex accent is a very exaggerated accent and sort of sounds like parody-cockney in itself(and I think it's changed quite a bit over the years).

Chris Evans' Essex accent
The show he is parodying
There's a lot on Youtube for that godawful sound (sorry).

Dermot O Leary has what I'd call a normal, London accent. Not exaggerated. Simple, subtle.

Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Payne(?) has quite a strong Geordie accent. I apologise for the fact that if you follow that link, you're going to have to watch both Cheryl and Piers Morgan. For an hour. He's hot - he just shouldn't speak.

Coronation Street is a good watch for Manchester accents but they vary. It's a British soap. Do you even get Coronation Street in America? If not then there are lots of clips on YouTube. I'd suggest Tracy for accent modelling (she's a great 'villain').

I'm not sure I could even recommend any cockney accents because I find it difficult to define myself and I'm not sure if it even exists anymore in anyone under 60. The Dick Van Dyke things happen because people exaggerate the vowels too much (which gets you closer to an Essex accent) and pronounce ev-er-yyy syl-lab-le like a soft robot. Ok, i'll recommend one (other Brits may disagree)...

Billy 'off' Eastenders. I think you get Eastenders over there. There are lots of exaggerated accents in the show (hello Danny Dyer) but I'd say Billy's is closer to a normal, subtle, cockney accent. I would never watch this shit in a million years so good luck to you. Have a lov-er-lee day.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:31 AM on June 8, 2016

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