How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

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How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby No Picnic » Tue Mar 04, 2008 11:52 pm UTC

Greetings, everyone!

I'm a university teacher teaching English in China. Here, the Chinese prefer American English, and some even struggle to understand English with a British accent. I, on the other hand, perceive many British accents as sounding sophisticated or, at the very least, very attractive. I was wondering, does anyone else have insight about how other cultures perceive American and British English?

And in your humble opinion, in what part of the US of A would you say our English is most standard for American English?

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Vanishing Hitchhiker » Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:31 am UTC

I know the Philippines favors American English, and I seem to recall that Japan does as well. It seems to me that most of the countries who were colonized picked up the version of English they were colonized by (and then altered it to their own nefarious wills - hence American English). If they were never colonized at all, they get English from pop culture.

In either case, if it's not yours, it's either strange and wrong or exotic and sexy. Mix and match at your leisure.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby 4=5 » Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:24 am UTC

well china was colonized by briten (at least it was attempted)

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Zak » Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:36 am UTC

Ha, britten...

Maybe california?

Most people here don't have too bad of a surfer accent, in fact, most don't.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby btilly » Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:44 am UTC

My brother's observation is that most of the world wishes to have American accents because they see it as the language of business and the future. In many places there were standard teaching materials that teach a British accent, and that accent is associated with colonization, which wasn't a happy time. The result is that most places prefer American English teachers over British ones.

Given how much he has traveled, and how much time he spent teaching English, I wouldn't bet against him on this.

This only applies in countries that do not speak English. Any country that speaks English natively (eg Australia) has their own accent and is in no hurry to change it.

To this you need to add that humans frequently find a touch of the exotic charming. For instance English speakers find a French accent sexy. But I've heard from French speakers than if you speak French with an English accent, that's hot.

On top of that I have to note that there is actually no "British accent". There are a multitude of accents within Britain, and you could spend a lifetime getting to understand them all. What you're probably thinking of is the accent known as the Queen's English. Which accent was actually invented for clarity in difficult speaking conditions (specifically for officers to use on the battlefield), was taught in the top public schools (note: British public schools are private schools to Americans), and was adopted by the BBC (for understandability in the difficult speaking conditions of radio). In England it is associated with education, and anyone who uses it is immediately thought to be more educated, intelligent, attractive and richer. No joke.

As for what exactly an American accent is, that's hard to say. I know that people abroad can't tell the difference between a Canadian and a Californian. So I'd be tempted to say anything that doesn't sound like it is from the deep South. :D
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Myddyffycyr » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:15 am UTC

It's definitely far too simplistic to say that RP is immediately associated with a long list of positive qualities. It's also associated with snobbishness, ignorance, arrogance and so forth, particularly if you're not from the SE. Further, it's growing increasingly antiquated, in that even the groups of folk who would have spoken with RP are now speaking in an accent closer to estuary English (a variety of London accent).

Edit: For clarity, RP = received pronunciation i.e. the Queen's English, as you called it. Sorry for ambiguity.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Kabann » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:46 am UTC

Newscasters in America, especially on national news programs, are groomed to use a 'midwestern' accent... something that cannot actually be identified as close to any of the extremes. So I would consider that to be the 'standard' American English. Regionally speaking, perhaps Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and pacific northwest? If anyone from those regions can elaborate that would be helpful.

My question: Knowing that Hong Kong was a British colony, I understood when I first met Chinese people who spoke English with a British (RP) accent. Is the younger generation in China gravitating towards an Americanized English because of current media saturation? And was the British linguistic influence important in mainland China during their control of HK, and is that dissolving now?
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Supergrunch » Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:10 pm UTC

I speak with recieved pronunciation and like it, but from an objective linguistic point of view, there's nothing inherrently "better" about this accent. (or indeed any accent)

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby meightry » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:02 pm UTC

In response to the question about British English in Mainland China... I lived in Beijing,China between 1982 and 1987. During those years, everyone studying English at Beijing University (the top university in China) listened to English language tapes made by people with British accents. That was the norm then. But I've noticed in the 90's and definitely now, the students in Beijing want to learn English with an American accent. I believe it is because America is perceived more desirable. (Draw your own conclusion.)

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby 4=5 » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:31 am UTC

Kabann wrote:Newscasters in America, especially on national news programs, are groomed to use a 'midwestern' accent... something that cannot actually be identified as close to any of the extremes. So I would consider that to be the 'standard' American English. Regionally speaking, perhaps Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and pacific northwest? If anyone from those regions can elaborate that would be helpful.

My question: Knowing that Hong Kong was a British colony, I understood when I first met Chinese people who spoke English with a British (RP) accent. Is the younger generation in China gravitating towards an Americanized English because of current media saturation? And was the British linguistic influence important in mainland China during their control of HK, and is that dissolving now?

what would you like elaborated?
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby btilly » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:51 am UTC

Myddyffycyr wrote:It's definitely far too simplistic to say that RP is immediately associated with a long list of positive qualities. It's also associated with snobbishness, ignorance, arrogance and so forth, particularly if you're not from the SE. Further, it's growing increasingly antiquated, in that even the groups of folk who would have spoken with RP are now speaking in an accent closer to estuary English (a variety of London accent).-

Research that I saw on this back in the early 90s found that after seeing a picture and hearing a brief audio clip of the person, people's answers to questions about the person in the picture were strongly affected by what accent the audio clip was delivered in.

I am not surprised that there would also be resentment, backlash, etc. And things do change over time.
Myddyffycyr wrote:Edit: For clarity, RP = received pronunciation i.e. the Queen's English, as you called it. Sorry for ambiguity.

Thanks for the clarification.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Kizyr » Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:01 pm UTC

Interesting article a while back on perception of American, regional English accents, Scottish, Irish, Indian and other accents:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/4566028.stm

American and Indian accents tended to be more favorably-perceived in business. It might have something to do with what was mentioned in the original post. KF
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Mar 07, 2008 4:58 pm UTC

My (mostly Brazilian) students sometimes complain about the tendency for American English to flap 't' and 'd' in the middle of words, and claim to prefer British English because of it. So I set them straight by giving examples of words in which (most dialects of) British English, while maybe pronouncing the 't' and 'd' more clearly, leave out one or more 'r's in the same word. :-)
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Kizyr » Sat Mar 08, 2008 3:51 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:My (mostly Brazilian) students sometimes complain about the tendency for American English to flap 't' and 'd' in the middle of words, and claim to prefer British English because of it. So I set them straight by giving examples of words in which (most dialects of) British English, while maybe pronouncing the 't' and 'd' more clearly, leave out one or more 'r's in the same word. :-)

This sort of reminds me of a guy I knew in Argentina... He lived for a few years in Ohio and spoke English with an American accent. Whenever we spoke in English, he used an American accent. Whenever he spoke English in English class at school, he used a British accent.

Me: E, why do you do that?
Eze: Because the last time I used an American accent, everyone kept calling me a Yanqui
Me: And so you use a British accent
Eze: That's right
Me: ...wasn't the last war you fought with the British, not the Americans?
Eze: I didn't say it made sense. I just said I didn't want to get called a Yanq all the time.

KF
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby inkabink » Sat Mar 08, 2008 6:27 am UTC

Kabann wrote:Newscasters in America, especially on national news programs, are groomed to use a 'midwestern' accent... something that cannot actually be identified as close to any of the extremes. So I would consider that to be the 'standard' American English. Regionally speaking, perhaps Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and pacific northwest? If anyone from those regions can elaborate that would be helpful.


I am from the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon specifically (born and bred). I would not liken us to the midwest, though I have actually heard something similar about newscasters being taught to speak in an accent from the Pacific Northwest. (I cannot remember where I heard this, unfortunately--it might have been in a linguistics class or while surfing the web.) In certain places in the midwest, the accents are not as noticeable (Bismarck, for instance), but others are very different to my ear and I don't think we two regions sound alike at all in those cases. The main one that comes to mind is the accents from Fargo, although I don't know exactly how accurate those are (I didn't hear them when I passed through Fargo, but it seems to be the stereotypical 'midwestern' drawl in my brain).

As to Colorado, they also have an accent very similar to us and I have never noticed any differences in the speech of a friend of mine who lives in Colorado and always has.

I must admit I feel the Pacific Northwest region is as close to "standard" as it gets, and I have heard this from various sources (one of which I think was said linguistics class).

(You can find some weird pronuncations if you look hard enough, though. Portland State University did a study in recent years revealing strange pronunciations on some words such as "bag" (said more like "beg") and "good" (said [gɘd] , especially in "pretty good"). Didn't realize I actually did say these until I caught myself doing it!)

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Memo » Sat Mar 08, 2008 7:51 am UTC

I love RP. :oops:

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby 4=5 » Sat Mar 08, 2008 3:40 pm UTC

the old people in the pacific northwest speak differently then we do now, to me it sounded slightly prettier

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Razzle Storm » Sun Mar 09, 2008 12:37 pm UTC

I worked in radio, and went to school for broadcasting, and I'd say the most standard American English is that of the PNW. The people on radio and tv go for something called "King's English", which just means that you have clear pronunciation, with no accent (According to my instructor at the time). So when I say PNW speech is the most "standard", I mean it's the accent which is closest to King's English without really trying.

That's right Brits, we call it King's English. You can take your Queen and *garbled garbled*

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Insignificant Deifaction » Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:44 pm UTC

Actually, because that old bat won't die, the Queen's English is very little like what we like to call BBC English here. Because the BBC is who uses that accent 24/7/365/Until Company Goes Under.

Ergo,
King's English (which is incorrect, as it still refers to the British Monarchy)
Queen's English (which is incorrect, as she doesn't speak it)
BBC English (which is very much correct, except in etymological pedigree)
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Felstaff » Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:20 pm UTC

But shirley the BBC are going along with the current trend that "hey, we should have as many regional accents on our programmes as possible" so presenters all talk in Scouse, Manc, Cornish, Welsh, Brummie, and Georgdie. It's been a long time since RP was used in a non-newsy BBC programme.

As for (the) Queen's English, she's relaxed and become a little more informal now. In the 1950s, she would say that she gets "coal delivered in sex", whereas nowadays she would clearly say "sacks".

But British English can be a lot harder to understand than American English, because the regional accents can differ and contort words so much. Observe:
Geordie: Naw weigh m'n, this is brekkers! (I beg to differ, kind sir, but this is my breakfast)
Dudley: Oi got moiself s'm m'naaaay (I received a specific amount of legal tender)
Cockney: Lawd luvaduck guv'na! (???)
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby SpitValve » Mon Mar 10, 2008 4:28 pm UTC

When I was in Thailand, we gave some informal conversational English lessons. There was an issue though, because we all have New Zealand accents. So we do weird things like pronounce "beer", "bear" and "bare" identically. (Also "aren't" and "aunt" etc). We also say "cheers" for "thank you" and so on.

So we kinda had to explain "Well, most people pronounce it this way, and you should probably pronounce it this way, but I tend to say it this other way" - which was just a little bit confusing.

I think in general though, I would be biased towards teaching non-English speakers the American pronunciation. I think a foreigner pronouncing "dune" as "june" (or more correctly, "dyoon") would be more confusing to an American/Canadian than pronouncing it as "doon" would be to an English/Australian/New Zealand person.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Kizyr » Mon Mar 10, 2008 6:35 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:Cockney: Lawd luvaduck guv'na! (???)

This had me cracking up.

On BBC News, there are few regional accents that come through, but I rarely notice them being that pronounced, except for the occasional Scottish or Irish accent coming through.

There was one cricket broadcast (Sky sports, I think) where one of the commentators in the stands had this thick Lancashire accent... He was asking some of the Indian fans something, and it was pretty apparent that none of them had a clue what the hell he was saying. The commentators in the box made the same comment. KF
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Supergrunch » Wed Mar 12, 2008 7:25 am UTC

Kizyr wrote:On BBC News, there are few regional accents that come through, but I rarely notice them being that pronounced, except for the occasional Scottish or Irish accent coming through.

The primary Newsreader at the moment (I forget his name) is actually Welsh.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Felstaff » Wed Mar 12, 2008 1:34 pm UTC

Supergrunch wrote:
Kizyr wrote:On BBC News, there are few regional accents that come through, but I rarely notice them being that pronounced, except for the occasional Scottish or Irish accent coming through.

The primary Newsreader at the moment (I forget his name) is actually Welsh.

Huw? Huw Edwards, eh, boyo?
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby zenten » Wed Mar 12, 2008 2:03 pm UTC

In high school most people I knew from non-English speaking countries that learned it abroad used British English, at least in terms of vocabulary.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Supergrunch » Wed Mar 12, 2008 2:27 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:
Supergrunch wrote:
Kizyr wrote:On BBC News, there are few regional accents that come through, but I rarely notice them being that pronounced, except for the occasional Scottish or Irish accent coming through.

The primary Newsreader at the moment (I forget his name) is actually Welsh.

Huw? Huw Edwards, eh, boyo?
Pronounced Hew, with the "ewe" part elongated for 3.2 seconds. His name is supposed to be said the same way the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland pronounces "A-Who. Are. A-You?"

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby lindenosk » Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:27 am UTC

I prefer "BBC British accents" to most american ones because it seems verry clear to me. I don't mind some American accents, the way Tom Lehrer speaks comes to mind. If I was for some reason trying to sound posh then i'd use a British-Australian cross accent. I prefer British spelings and vocab, I think because they are more similar to the language I was brought up on. Do any of you use 'taa' to mean thank you? I think it came from a british dialect.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby cypherspace » Tue Mar 18, 2008 12:39 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:But British English can be a lot harder to understand than American English, because the regional accents can differ and contort words so much.

God, when I moved to Wales, I went into a sandwich shop and ordered something. The lady behind the counter said "Dywanbetter?" It took me about five tries to realise that she was asking if I wanted butter.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Kizyr » Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:04 pm UTC

cypherspace wrote:
Felstaff wrote:But British English can be a lot harder to understand than American English, because the regional accents can differ and contort words so much.

God, when I moved to Wales, I went into a sandwich shop and ordered something. The lady behind the counter said "Dywanbetter?" It took me about five tries to realise that she was asking if I wanted butter.

I wonder if they'd get upset if you responded that you didn't understand Welsh. KF
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby SpitValve » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:35 pm UTC

Kizyr wrote:
cypherspace wrote:God, when I moved to Wales, I went into a sandwich shop and ordered something. The lady behind the counter said "Dywanbetter?" It took me about five tries to realise that she was asking if I wanted butter.

I wonder if they'd get upset if you responded that you didn't understand Welsh. KF


When I went to Montreal, somebody spoke in very rapid English, and I said "je suis desolet, je ne parle pas francais", which confused them greatly.

I blame my foreignness.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby espire » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:56 pm UTC

People in France often speak English with a British accent, likely because their teachers did.

SpitValve wrote:When I went to Montreal, somebody spoke in very rapid English, and I said "je suis desolet, je ne parle pas francais", which confused them greatly.


Perhaps they thought you wanted them to speak in Franglais, which is hard to do on command.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Zohar » Wed Mar 19, 2008 12:44 pm UTC

As an Israeli, I find Brittish accents to be nicer on the ears (well, some of them), although some American accents are lovely. But mostly people here speak with an accent closer to American because that's what's on TV.

As for myself, in the 8th grade I had a South African teacher, in the 9th I had a Brittish teacher, in 10th grade I had a New Yorker and in 11th I had an Australian one (no English in 12th grade because I was in the advanced English class). I don't remember their origins before that.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:31 pm UTC

SpitValve wrote:
Kizyr wrote:
cypherspace wrote:God, when I moved to Wales, I went into a sandwich shop and ordered something. The lady behind the counter said "Dywanbetter?" It took me about five tries to realise that she was asking if I wanted butter.

I wonder if they'd get upset if you responded that you didn't understand Welsh. KF


When I went to Montreal, somebody spoke in very rapid English, and I said "je suis desolet, je ne parle pas francais", which confused them greatly.

I blame my foreignness.


William Caxton, in the fifteenth century, wrote:[a merchant] cam in to an hows and axed for mete and specyally he axyd after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the merchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde haue hadde egges and she vnderstode hym not.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby 22/7 » Wed Mar 19, 2008 8:56 pm UTC

inkabink wrote: I am from the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon specifically (born and bred). I would not liken us to the midwest, though I have actually heard something similar about newscasters being taught to speak in an accent from the Pacific Northwest. (I cannot remember where I heard this, unfortunately--it might have been in a linguistics class or while surfing the web.) In certain places in the midwest, the accents are not as noticeable (Bismarck, for instance), but others are very different to my ear and I don't think we two regions sound alike at all in those cases. The main one that comes to mind is the accents from Fargo, although I don't know exactly how accurate those are (I didn't hear them when I passed through Fargo, but it seems to be the stereotypical 'midwestern' drawl in my brain).
Just so we're clear, the accent of Northern Minnesota is just that. And the Dakotas are not in the Midwest. Hell, North Dakota isn't even real.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby 4=5 » Thu Mar 20, 2008 12:40 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
SpitValve wrote:
Kizyr wrote:
cypherspace wrote:God, when I moved to Wales, I went into a sandwich shop and ordered something. The lady behind the counter said "Dywanbetter?" It took me about five tries to realise that she was asking if I wanted butter.

I wonder if they'd get upset if you responded that you didn't understand Welsh. KF


When I went to Montreal, somebody spoke in very rapid English, and I said "je suis desolet, je ne parle pas francais", which confused them greatly.

I blame my foreignness.


William Caxton, in the fifteenth century, wrote:[a merchant] cam in to an hows and axed for mete and specyally he axyd after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the merchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde haue hadde egges and she vnderstode hym not.
she called them eyeren?

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby drbhoneydew » Thu Mar 20, 2008 9:16 am UTC

4=5 wrote:
William Caxton, in the fifteenth century, wrote:[a merchant] cam in to an hows and axed for mete and specyally he axyd after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the merchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde haue hadde egges and she vnderstode hym not.
she called them eyeren?


Eyren was the Viking word for eggs. This was a transitional phase where there were French and Viking influences on the language that remained as yet unironed, resulting in a non-obvious choice between the 2 words and misunderstandings as detailed by Caxton. There's a lot of holdover in the dialects of North East England eg larn - teach (which often gets mistaken as being a mispronunciation of learn)
You get a similar effect in some of the differences between American and British English. There was a big trend in 18th/19th Century Britain for French and Greek glosses on spelling and word usage to make it seem more erudite. Hence Fall/Autumn, color/colour, Aluminum/Aluminium.
I find it quite weird that American and British spellings aren't the other way around given that Britain was fighting the French for much of that period and America was allied with them.

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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Robin S » Thu Mar 20, 2008 9:50 am UTC

btilly wrote:What you're probably thinking of is the accent known as the Queen's English. [...]
That said, I would definitely class myself (along with most people I know) as speaking with an Estuary accent, rather than Received Pronunciation (or "Queen's English"), yet a friend from Bristol says my accent is "posh" and apparently equates it more or less with RP - which is fairly understandable since to her the differences between the two must be far less than those between either and her own accent. I wouldn't be surprised if at least the same was true for most American speakers, so that maybe even a greater range of English accents sounded exactly the same. For example, I am able to recognize sub-accents (or possibly sub-dialects) within Estuary English, whereas for most people not used to hearing it spoken on a day-to-day basis I imagine this would be quite difficult.
Insignificant Deification wrote:Queen's English (which is incorrect, as she doesn't speak it)
Quite. I recall with interest this article, rediscovered thanks to the Wikipedia article linked to above.
drbhoneydew wrote:there were French and Viking influences on the language that remained as yet uneyrened
Sorry, I had to.
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cypherspace
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby cypherspace » Sat Mar 22, 2008 3:31 am UTC

Robin S wrote:That said, I would definitely class myself (along with most people I know) as speaking with an Estuary accent, rather than Received Pronunciation (or "Queen's English"), yet a friend from Bristol says my accent is "posh" and apparently equates it more or less with RP - which is fairly understandable since to her the differences between the two must be far less than those between either and her own accent.

I've generally got very much an RP accent, which is not posh. Most people think I sound "respectable" rather than anything else. It's interesting that my accent changes slightly depending on who I'm speaking to - I've picked up some Welsh inflections in the years that I've been here, but they disappear as soon as I'm talking to my parents, and I get more towards the Estuary if I'm talking to friends with that accent.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Luthen » Mon Mar 24, 2008 10:51 am UTC

I'm Australian and I hated The Crocodile Hunter's accent and others of its ilk. I think the best example of an good Aussie accent that most of us would know is the narrator from Mythbusters (A kinda Australian show). However, my Dad (Australian born and bred) has cultivated his accent to the border between Australian and Estuary so that he isn't seen as a bogan. In comparison, my Mum (English-born and came to Oz when she was nine) has an accent that often ends up being very broad.

In my opinion I generally prefer British accents over American ones. I sometimes find American accents to be a bit flat (yes I can think of counter-examples), plus they are so common on TV these days. In comparison English accents are more melodious (see previous brackets) and the vernacular is closer to what I live with. However the best accents in my opinion are the Irish.
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Re: How do other cultures perceive British vs. American English?

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 24, 2008 11:51 am UTC

Irish accents are brilliant, as are strong Scottish accents (particularly Glaswegian). I'm often disappointed when non-Brits are unable to even recognize there's a difference.
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