Archive for Accents

Accent bias

"Why tackling accent bias matters at work:  Wall Street banks and big City law firms among employers addressing potential discrimination" by Pilita Clark, Financial Times (7/16/24).

If the polls are to be believed, the UK parliament is going to look quite different after the July 4 general election. But there might also be a big change in the way it sounds.

The last election in 2019 produced a parliament dominated by Conservative party MPs and 69 per cent of them spoke RP, Received Pronunciation, or BBC English, the accent long deemed the most prestigious in the UK.

Among the Conservatives’ Labour party opponents, however, only 37 per cent spoke like this.

With some polls predicting a Labour landslide, the halls of Westminster could soon ring with very different sounds.

Yet one aspect of parliament will probably stay the same. If history is a guide, the new crop of MPs will still sound posher than the people who elected them, because less than 10 per cent of the British population speak RP.

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The perception and construction of Hong Kong identity via the quotation of non-standard Cantonese

Assertively spicy and conspicuously Cantonese

That's almost a contradiction in terms, because Hong Kongers are not very big on spicy food and they generally are not very good at cooking it either.

Photographs of walls in a popular chain of special Yunnan style spicy noodles in Hong Kong:


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That mystifying, baffling Mid-Atlantic / TransAtlantic Accent

The same as Gideon, the legendary LetThemTalkTV presenter of this edifying video, as a child I too was deeply puzzled by how some of these famous American actors sounded so British.

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Super Bowl rhoticism

The most linguistically focused of this year's Super Bowl commercials:

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Cancel your taem sher

Driving to work this morning, I heard an advertisement on the radio that left me mightily perplexed till the last 5-10 seconds when I finally figured out what the speaker was talking about.

He had a thick southern accent and kept talking about how bad it was to have a "taem sher".  The first word sounded like it was between "tam" and "tem", so I give the makeshift transcription "taem".

I had no idea what he was decrying, but it was something very bad for "you and your family", so bad that apparently it could bankrupt you.  Moreover, it was something that was very hard to get rid of.

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The changing accents of British English

King’s English and Cockney replaced by three new accents, study finds

Britons depart from overtly class-based post-war speech epitomised by either clipped vowels or working-class dialects

By Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, Home Affairs Editor 

I vaguely recall an earlier study from about ten years ago that came to similar conclusions (including the emergence of a "multicultural" accent).  It's not surprising that differences would gradually diminish, especially under the influence of enhanced, pervasive mass communications and increased population mobility.

What we see, though, is that, as the older, established accents wither away, new ones arise among various shifting cultural, ethnic, and social regroupings.

Remember the Valley Girl accent, which people used to talk about a lot ten or twenty years ago?  Where is it now?

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English accents

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Irish accents

"Lost in translation — navigating accents in a changing world"

Joe Horgan, Irish Post (8/7/23)

An engaging story:

WHEN I first started associating with English people I had to translate when my father spoke to them. I’d grown up in a very large Irish community in an immigrant area in an English city and it wasn’t until I went away to a northern English polytechnic that I really got to know English people.

When they met my dad he would speak and they would smile and look worriedly at me and I’d say he’s asking if you want a cup of tea and if you’ve eaten.

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Euro-Americans speaking North Korean with native fluency

This short video claims that these two men speak perfect Korean with a Pyeongyang accent.


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In North Korea, it's a dire crime to speak like a South Korean, part 2

This is a language war that has been going on for years, and there will never be an end to it, so long as there is a communist North Korea and a democratic South Korea.  It is as deadly as a shooting war, because people die for using the language of the enemy.  I'm not talking about the content of their speech, but rather its very nature.

North Koreans face execution for using South Korean idioms

The Times (6/30/23)

How does this work out in practice?

North Koreans who use the “obsequious” accent and expressions of South Korea face execution under a harsh new law aimed at eliminating South Korea's growing influence on the language used by its communist neighbour.

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CCP scamming with a Taiwanese-like accent

Topolects matter:

Taiwanese buys anti-CCP book, gets scam call from Chinese propagandist:

Caller posing as Eslite Bookstore’s ‘marketing department’ tells consumer book content inappropriate

By Stephanie Chiang, Taiwan News, Staff Reporter (5/14/23)

Before delving into the substance of this report, I should mention that Eslite is a huge, and hugely influential, bookstore in Taiwan.

AntC, who called this article to my attention, remarks:

A 'scammer' (not sure that's the right term here) called someone who'd bought a book at Eslite book store, Taipei. Then proceeded with a fake 'customer survey' about the purchase. The customer's facebook post (in Chinese) relating the interaction is here.

The linguistic interest: "despite the caller’s Taiwanese-like accent, it became apparent to her that she was not truly a Taiwanese native."

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Mandarin with an English accent

Something very funny happened to me earlier today, funny enough that I would like to share it with all Language Log readers who may be desirous of something more than a cup of coffee to perk them up on a gray, midweek morning.

I entered the following Mandarin expression into Google Translate and wanted to hear it pronounced by the machine:  衷心感謝 ("heartfelt thanks").  So I clicked on the speaker button, but, by mistake, I had it set to English rather than to Chinese.  What I heard was Mandarin with an English accent!

When set to Chinese, the machine pronounces 衷心感謝 properly and precisely:  zhōngxīn gǎnxiè.  When set erroneously to English, it sounds like an American reading out romanized Mandarin, with the "correct" suprasegmental intonation and all, but, of course, paying absolutely no attention to lexical tones.  Amazingly, it's still understandable, which replicates the experiments my wife used to make by going up to strangers on American streets and asking them to read pinyin Mandarin to native speakers.  She was always triumphant when the native speakers could understand most of what the English speakers were reading.

I had the machine read 衷心感謝 in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and other languages, and they all had their own special "flavor".

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Sitting in a Starbucks

No, I wasn't reading "a long list of ex-lovers".  I was sitting there writing a Language Log post about DeepL (probably next up after this one).  Across from me was a man with a big red beard.  I was writing a LL post on my beloved little, old MacBook Air and he was writing a long list of components, parts, and numbers, mixed in with some sketched diagrams on a white legal pad.

He seemed to be diligent, and he looked like a constructor, a builder of houses.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me, so I walked over and asked him, "What is that you're writing?" 

"I'm working on a kwow", he replied.

"A what?" I asked.

"A kwow," he repeated.

I thought maybe he was saying "crow", but doing something funny with the "r".  So I asked him to write it down on a piece of paper.

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