16 August 2007

regional accents and dialects

While watching a show last night, Laurel and I were discussing the accent of one character, trying to determine in which part of England the person might have grown up.

Of course, we do this sort of thing all the time - even unconsciously - with American accents. It's not always easy to pinpoint a person's native region precisely, but in general its not difficult to distinguish, for instance, between New Yorkers, Minnesotans, New Englanders, Texans, and folks from the deep South. As with many Brits and "Received Pronunciation" (aka, the "BBC Accent"), Americans end up gravitating towards the "General American" of television news, though when tired, tipsy, or recently returned from a trip home, they revert back to their home accents.

What I always find interesting about the UK is that there is a tremendous amount of regional variation in accent and dialect in a nation that is roughly the size the Wyoming. The British Library maintains an extremely interesting and educational website on British regional accents and dialects called Sounds Familiar?, which includes various sound recordings, with a number of extended clips from various parts of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Still, even the regional variation within a country as small as the UK can be put into perspective by comparing it to the combination of Pennsylvania, lower New York State (including NYC and Long Island), New Jersey, and Maryland. Those of us from this region - I'm a Philadelphia native - are probably aware of and can distinguish between a number of regional variations: Philadelphia, Main Line, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania German, South Jersey, North Jersey, Long Island, Brooklyn, Baltimore, etc.

At any rate, we're still not sure what part of England the woman might have been from, though I suspect somewhere in the North. Nonetheless, we enjoyed learning more about the history of the shared language that distinguishes us all.