12 June 2005

English 101

Miro and Ehren have had some companions in their travels lately, including at least a couple each of English and Scots (note to Ehren: I get confused about who's who in your narration, I think you need a dramatis personae for reference purposes). They both talked about how confusing it is to have such a menagerie of accents, a sentiment to which I can readily relate.

A centre of learning such as Oxford tends to attract people from lots of different places. In this particular case it seems to be a sampling of all the different locations in the world that at some point were subjugated by Her Majesty's armed forces.

Here are some of the flavours of English I've observed so far:

  1. Locals. In Oxford you're either "town or gown", i.e. a local thug or affiliated with the University. The streets are littered with local yobs who speak with a blue-collar commoner's accent and terminate every sentence with "innit". Exempli Gratia:

    • Yob 1: 'at's a righ' flash car, innit?

    • Yob 2: Eh, le's fook it up, innit!

  2. Proper English. This is especially typical of the undergrads, who all come from upper class stock. This is probably the easiest accent for an American to understand because they mostly enunciate all of the syllables you'd expect. It's not as common in the graduate community, because the departments tend to draw from a much more international pool.

  3. Irish. Obviously one of my favorites, although it comes in a wide variety. City dwellers from the South have a perfectly understandable brogue, but Northeners tend to be hard to understand and frequently threaten to kneecap you. The Irish also bring along a bit of their own slang layered on top of the UK stuff, so sometimes I have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

  4. Scots. A nice accent, but impossible to understand if at all heavy. Sometimes can be confused with either Northern English or Irish.

  5. Northeners. This is one of the trickier ones to understand for the most part. Lucky for me two of the people I've got to know here so far are both Northeners, so I'm beginning to figure it out. My mate Rob still sometimes says an entire sentence from which I can't decipher a single word.

  6. Canucks. Depending on where they're from you can sometimes barely distinguish them from Americans (until they say aboot). If they're from the North West or French Canada it's a whole different story of course,

  7. Aussies. Probably my all-time favorite. They've got such a ridiculous collection of phrases that it's a hoot to listen to 'em tell a story. It's relaxing just listening to them talk too. I still sometimes can't hear the difference from English until after a few minutes, but then usually it sounds so obvious that I can't believe I couldn't here it before.

  8. Kiwis. A newcomer would probably be hard pressed to distinguish a New Zealander from an Australian, but asking a Kiwi if he's from Australia is a deadly sin and must be avoided at all costs.

  9. Americans. I've got to the point where I'm downright shocked to hear an American accent now. I myself have picked up lots of English expressions, but almost no trace of the accent. In fact, I'm still not very good at faking an English accent (and the English are universally abysmal at doing an American impersonation—they seem convinced we're all from Texas, and they're not really even that close to getting the Southern drawl right.

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