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The Secret Weapon That is the British Accent

April 12, 2011 2 comments

I grew up in a place called Walsall. It’s just north of Birmingham. In a region called the Black Country. We speak funny there.

Although the UK is a place of diverse accents, I think that the Birmingham or Black Country accents are the most maligned. (Footnote: people from the Black Country will have you believe that their accent is distinct from Brummie. They – we – can get quite offended at the suggestion they sound similar. The uneducated would not recognize the difference). As both Birmingham and the Black Country reside in the same county, I’ll lump both accents together here and refer to them in general terms as the ‘West Midlands‘ accent.

It’s a drawling accent, spoken with emphasis on the vowels. And, because it’s riddled with dialect, it’s not easily understood by those from outside the area. To give you an idea, Ozzie Ozbourne is probably one of the clearer conversationalists to have emerged from the region. In the UK, if you want to portray a character as a little ‘slow’, you attach a West Midlands accent to them. For Canada, think Newfie. For the US, think deep south. It’s the accent of national ridicule. I was always conscious of this.

This could have resulted in an element of paranoia, and a lack of confidence. I always felt that I was at a disadvantage in the UK just because of my accent.

I have to say at this point that I love accents. They add colour to language. And, I particularly like the the one I grew up using. As I have become older and moved away, first to Derby (“Ey up mi duck”), then Sheffield (“Where’s tha bin”?), and finally Montreal (er…”Go Habs Go!”…?), my accent has evened out a little. But, it’s still obviously different from most I am surrounded by.

I have, on occasion been mistaken for Australian, South African, a New Zealander, Irish, and perish the thought, Scottish. Usually though, I get credited with being what I am – an English man, with a distinctly English accent. And, contrary to the perceived inhibition I felt in my homeland, I have found my exaggerated vowels and missed consonants to be quite advantageous in North America.

In North America, when I speak, it is an immediate conversation starter; “Where is that accent from?”, “I have family in the UK”, “Are you Scottish?” (shudder). It also buys some credibility. I have been told on more than one occasion that I can say anything and make it sound plausible. But the biggest advantage my accent has provided on this side of the pond? Well, I’m not particularly good looking, and I’m certainly not a wealthy man. But the mother of my child is a very attractive American. 😉

One of the many advantages of having a British accent in North America

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