Choosing an accent

Giorgio Spizzi

Senior Member
Italian
Hullo, bearded man.

The reduction of the last syllable (and its vowel, which becomes a schwa) is present in the British variety known as "Received Pronunciation" (RP).
What applies to "gentleman/men" also applies to all compounds with "man/men": e.g.. businessman/men, sportsman/men, Englishman/men, etc.

GS :)
 
  • Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Is the difference in vowel pronunciation between 'man' and 'men' really as big in AE as in BrE?
    Thanks to you, and also to G.Spizzi for explanations.
    Hi bearded man. Yes, it is.
    In the US and Canada, according to Labov:
    General American: "man" = [mɛən] and "men" = [mɛn]; "cat" = [kæt]
    Northern Cities: "man" = [meən] and "men" = [mɜn]; "cat" = [keət] (see Northern Cities vowel shift)
    New England: "man" = [meən] and "men" = [mɛn]; "cat" = [kæt]
    Canada and California: "man" = [mæən] and "men" = [mɛn]; "cat" = [kat] (see Canadian/Californian vowel shift)
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    However, you mention somewhere that you are learning "Standard British English" - What IS that, who SPEAKS that?
    Standard Southern British English is what I speak and is what you will find in British dictionaries. I cetainly don't sound fake, I speak using all the usual slang etc., it's just that I don't have a regional accent (people have to ask me where I'm from).

    That said, I personally do not believe someone should set out to speak a foreign language with a given accent. The important thing is to be able to express yourself understandably in that language. And I don't understand why you have got it in for American English. There are British accents which are far thicker and far more incomprehensible than many American accents. Let me give you an example. My son was brought up here in Italy speaking both languages. We've been to the States on more than one occasion and he's never had any trouble but when confronted by English spoken by a bloke from Belfast he didn't understand a word the man said. He also has problems with Glaswegian.
     

    Nimbrethil

    Senior Member
    Spanish Spain
    When I started worrying about my English accent, I decided to learn British accent. From my European point of view, it was the most logical option. However, most movies, series etc. are American (at least, the ones that I liked). Besides, American accent was easier to imitate for me. American intonation is flowing and it doesn’t have some extra-complicated sounds like the final “r” (“ah”).

    In fact, I found British accent harder to understand too. In American movies and series, there are a lot of British actors. American people find British accents very sexy, but I was annoyed because I could not understand them. Now I find it sexy too (and intelligible :)) and sometimes my accent switches depending on what I have been watching on TV lately.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    The English variety learned in Spain and probably around Europe is British English, because most people take Cambridge exams. I still remember the first time I saw "color", I just thought it was a silly misspelling. Now I have misgivings about what orthography to choose, I generally have my own criteria (-ize but -our e.g.). It doesn't trouble me much anyway.

    This is a different but related issue from accent. I guess you can always choose an accent, but it won't come naturally to you unless you are exposed to it. Since I am mostly exposed to American cultural stuff I notice I have a rather American accent, and I like it that way. Maybe people whose exposure to English is just educational material will have a more noticeable British accent. I also find it a bit hard to understand Scottish (Trainspotting's at least) and Australian English. I am totally unable to distinguish different accents from Americans and Canadians (in films, series, youtube etc.) by the way. On the other hand English accents (from England) seem more diverse to me.
     

    apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    The English variety learned in Spain and probably around Europe is British English, because most people take Cambridge exams. I still remember the first time I saw "color", I just thought it was a silly misspelling. Now I have misgivings about what orthography to choose, I generally have my own criteria (-ize but -our e.g.). It doesn't trouble me much anyway.

    This is a different but related issue from accent. I guess you can always choose an accent, but it won't come naturally to you unless you are exposed to it. Since I am mostly exposed to American cultural stuff I notice I have a rather American accent, and I like it that way. Maybe people whose exposure to English is just educational material will have a more noticeable British accent. I also find it a bit hard to understand Scottish (Trainspotting's at least) and Australian English. I am totally unable to distinguish different accents from Americans and Canadians (in films, series, youtube etc.) by the way. On the other hand English accents (from England) seem more diverse to me.
    The key for me to distinguish the Canadian from the American accent is the -ou- diphthong (e.g in about), the Americans pronounce it [əˈbɐ̞ʊ̯t] or [əˈbæʊ̯t] while Canadians pronounce it [əˈbʊt] mostly.
    Generally speaking, I agree with you, in Greece we learn BE (the most prestigious institution for learning English in the country, is the British Council) but nowadays influenced by American tv series and movies (note foreign movies & tv programmes are not dubbed in the Greek language, they are subtitled) one tends to use American accent or American slang & idioms when speaking English, rather than British.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    The key for me to distinguish the Canadian from the American accent is the -ou- diphthong (e.g in about), the Americans pronounce it [əˈbɐ̞ʊ̯t] or [əˈbæʊ̯t] while Canadians pronounce it [əˈbʊt] mostly.
    From what I read it is not a monophthong, but rather a /ʌʊ/-like diphthong.

    I guess that if I heard a thick regional American/Canadian accent I could easily notice it, but otherwise I would have to pay attention in order to hear any difference among the accents of TV and film people as well as youngsters.

    Well, AAVE clearly stands out, but I don't know up to what extent of what I hear is genuine and what is staged.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    From what I read it is not a monophthong, but rather a /ʌʊ/-like diphthong.

    I guess that if I heard a thick regional American/Canadian accent I could easily notice it, but otherwise I would have to pay attention in order to hear any difference among the accents of TV and film people as well as youngsters.

    Well, AAVE clearly stands out, but I don't know up to what extent of what I hear is genuine and what is staged.
    There is a very big difference. All of the vowels seem to be open wide in Canada. There is a rise in intonation too. Plus vowel sounds seem nasalized. Listen to how they pronounce Toronto, Canada. There is a curly r sound too some of them have. The diphthong in about sounds a bit like a boat. But that oa sound like in low sound like law. And when they say not it sounds like naaht. I have heard these are Scottish and Scots-Irish influences in their language. Put it all together and it sounds really different to me, especially from Central and Southern versions of American English.

    It's kind of like I told you the accent was the same in Barcelona and Valencia. Listen to Radio Canada International on the net. They have programs in English and French. You'll see the difference. Canadian actors on series have to learn the differences, like those actors on Castle that are Canadian and Pamela Anderson and Michael J. Fox when they are in role.
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I can't tell the difference between someone from Vancouver and Seattle. The traits you describe seem to be characteristic of Eastern Canada (and Ontario in particular). Montreal English speakers don't exhibit markedly "Canadian" traits from what I can remember.

    Newfoundland, of course, is an entirely different kettle of fish and is probably closer to Irish English than mainstream CanE or AmE.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    It's kind of like I told you the accent was the same in Barcelona and Valencia.
    I don't think there is an analogy here, because Canadian, while different, can be grouped with the American ones (North American English) and even native speakers seem to have trouble distinguishing them. Catalan in Valencia belongs to the Western group, uses a different standard to that of Barcelona, has differences in phonology, vocabulary and grammar, and any native speaker can quickly distinguish them, so the comparison, if possible, would be closer to that of British English vs American English.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I can't tell the difference between someone from Vancouver and Seattle. The traits you describe seem to be characteristic of Eastern Canada (and Ontario in particular). Montreal English speakers don't exhibit markedly "Canadian" traits from what I can remember.
    Perhaps my idea of CanE has been skewed by Ontario. I've only met one person from Vancouver. It sounded like he had the vowel pattern though, but maybe there was a connection to Toronto as well. As far as Seattle goes, I have no idea what they sound like either. I imagine them fronting their "u" a bit and saying "kewl". Honestly, if you asked me to describe anything about the way people talk in Western Canada I couldn't say. That West Canada, Pacific North West US area are unknown places for me, but I'm sure I could distinguish them if I spent time there. Hearing differences is a matter of exposure. Until someone taught me to tell the difference between Australia and New Zealand I had no idea either. Now, I just listen to the short vowels and it's pretty clear. I have heard differences in England too, but I would have to pinpoint exactly where an accent is from to be sure.

    I don't think there is an analogy here, because Canadian, while different, can be grouped with the American ones (North American English) and even native speakers seem to have trouble distinguishing them. Catalan in Valencia belongs to the Western group, uses a different standard to that of Barcelona, has differences in phonology, vocabulary and grammar, and any native speaker can quickly distinguish them, so the comparison, if possible, would be closer to that of British English vs American English.
    For me it's just as clear though. I once got on an elevator at a hotel in Florida. The man asked "what flurr? Yerr ga'an doan?" and I knew immediately he was Canadian.
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    For me it's just as clear though. I once got on an elevator at a hotel in Florida. The man asked "what flurr? Yerr ga'an doan?" and I knew immediately he was Canadian.
    So is it the same impression of 'openness' as when a French speaker hears a Quebequois?

    Still, identifying someone's accent doesn't mean much regarding closeness from a strictly linguistic point of view. I'm a speaker of central Catalan, the variety used in Barcelona, but I can easily spot someone from the city area just because of a couple of common features that are not used where I live.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    So is it the same impression of 'openness' as when a French speaker hears a Quebequois?

    Still, identifying someone's accent doesn't mean much regarding closeness from a strictly linguistic point of view. I'm a speaker of central Catalan, the variety used in Barcelona, but I can easily spot someone from the city area just because of a couple of common features that are not used where I live.
    I've been watching the series Fatale-Station. It appears that there is a wide umbrella for what is Canadian French. It goes from people speaking such a neutral variety it almost sounds like it could be European to such a strong accent that I don't understand a thing and have to read the subtitles. Of course, there is everything in between. I've noticed strong nasalization, and indeed some opening of vowel sounds to the point they become diphthongs: like père becomes something like paér, and moi-même is mwé méam. The i of riche is open enough to be moving in the direction of rêch.
    It would be interesting to know if English and French have been influencing one another in Canada. The nasal character too... like in Caen ada in Canadian English.
    Canadian accents are rejected by Americans, surprising since regional Am. accents are accepted. There are numerous sites on internet for Canadians wanting to reduce accent to work in the US.

    Edit: There is a documentary you can find on internet called "Talking Canadian" by Jeff Barrett. From minutes 20-25 it gives some very interesting information about differences between Canadian and American English.
     
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