Thursday, March 04, 2010


Accent: a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class.

Accent has always been important in Britain to distinguish the speaker's social class and regional affiliation. Strangely we monolingual British, while we comprehend for example how different the Geordie [Newcastle area] accent is from the Cockney or Welsh, don't take into consideration very often that other nations will have regional accents in languages we don't understand.
I do remember a friend saying that they could not understand his Brazilian Portuguese when he was on holiday in Portugal, and also when reading Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri there is constant reference to Venetian and Sicilian dialects.
But when it comes to Scandinavian accents, who knew....?

Lina had a quick temper, and when she started yelling in a strong Danish accent, he had a hard time understanding what she meant.

And later in the book that I am reading at the moment.

"You speak Gotland Swedish, but you sound like a Dane,"she said with a smile.
"I'm married to a Dane, so I guess some of it has rubbed off."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Thanks for bringing this up. As a linguist, I find accent and language usage extremely interesting. Each culture has its own way of looking at ways of speaking and languageused, and I find it fascinating to see how that's reflected in literature.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

This is funny because I have just taught my students about English accents and dialects. And Danish dialects are so different that I have a hard time understanding old people from South Jutland, and the locals from Bornholm are incomprehensible.

NB: I know I have read this one. It is Jungstedt, isn´t it?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Margot, I had forgotten you were a linguist or I might have steered clear of something I know so little about. My best friend at school spoke perfect French [mother] and perfect German [Austrian father] which rather put me off trying to learn them beyond O level.
Later a close friend [later my best man] was fluent in French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Arabic.
I blame their expertise for my laziness and lack of ability.

You are correct Dorte, and this one is for the alphabet meme.
I listened to a radio program some time ago which discussed teaching Filipino nurses working in Black Country [Stoke on Trent potteries] hospitals to master the local dialect.
The Filipinos spoke excellent English, but I could not understand the native English dialect at all. Mind you throughout my childhood a dear Scottish uncle was totally incomprehensible, while to me some rural Irish accents might just as well be speaking Gaelic.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Norman, your mention of your best friend reminds me of someone else who was born in London of a father who was an Austrian banker and a mother who came from the French aristocracy: Irene Handl. Her speaking voice on screen, ever thought of as true cockney, was very much her own, which seems very baffling until you think just a little, maybe find a clip on youtube to remind you, and then you hear the influence of her parents so clearly it seems obvious. I told my father about this many years ago and he just said that he'd always thought she was foreign in some sense.

But I just wanted to say that I mourn the loss of our English dialects. It was said that the great Eric Partridge could point out nuances in dialect about every ten miles travelling through England back in the 1950s. But now we find even the Yorkshire accent is fading away, just as is Devonshire, Kent pretty well gone (no matter that George Baker thinks the Men of Kent have Somerset accents), and Cockney, of course, which I particularly regret, for the Cockney accent was precisely the accent of the East Saxons -- all you have to do is look at East Saxon documents from the 16th century, look at the spellings and read them aloud, and you hear it at once. Very much akin to the preservation of Elizabethan English in Appalachia. It's a fascinating subject, wonderful source of historical insight in a number of ways, and I'm glad you brought it up.

P.S. Irene Handl was a bloody good novelist. If you even come across The Sioux, give it a try. They really ought to be back in print.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Sjowall and Wahloo often make jokes and word play on regional accents, also - I recall this in Cop Killer, which I read the most recently. Also, if memory serves, this crops up a bit in Henning Mankell's novels, with the local (Ystaad) accent and that of nearby regions.
I agree it is fascinating to read of other countries' accents. I think Dorte has written a post once about accents, when her commenters weighed in to help on regional terminology. Even within the British contingent there is probably a range of opinion!

1:14 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Maxine, I wrote a flash story and asked in FriendFeed how a worker would say that a woman had run off. And yes, there was ´a range of opinion´. In Denmark it is easier, because you may be able to distinguish between writers from Copenhagen and Jutland, but we don´t render class or dialect in written language.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

How much do you want for that blanket, Norm? Wouldn't want the speculators to get hold of it.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

BTW Dorte et al, on the topic of dialects, when a Norwegian publisher wanted to put out Alice Waters' The Color Purple, the translator or someone (I don't know whose decision this was) picked a dialect from the extreme north of Norway to replicate the southern U.S. Black dialect (Ebonics, if you will). So they wound up with a book where Black Americans sounded like Norwegian fishermen and whalers. Since in Norwegian you can pretty much spell any way you want, I can't imagine that was a very successful choice. It's a howler in translation circles anyway. The correct way would have been to "suggest" dialect or social class by syntax rather than use goofy spelling.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Reg: what a silly idea!
And in Denmark it has just not been done for hundred years. I´d never try to. It does change the book quite a lot, though. I read parts of a Peter Temple in Danish, and that was a rather boring experience.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jo Nesbo will have characters make assumptions about other characters' social class and place of origin based on the accent of their Norwegian.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

10:03 PM  

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