Thursday, June 20, 2013

Say What? How to avoid verbal confusion in the USA

As a Brit who's lived in the USA for 23 years, it never ceases to amaze me how much room there still is for a completely baffling conversation.
Pop over to my current post at the BBC America web site to see what I mean.

7 comments:

MsCaroline said...

I think I'd have less trouble understanding you than I would understanding some people from the Deep South (DH's family=Louisiana. Fun and games.) For me, having lived overseas for so long, and having a majority of co-workers and friends who speak British English (which is what's taught in German schools,) it doesn't sound too bad. Here's what I'm dying to know (both as a linguist and just for curiousity's sake): have you been to New England - especially Boston? I think you'd find yourself extremely intelligible there. For example, in the rest of the US, I'm 'Care-oh-line,' but in Boston, I'm 'Cah-ro-line.' 'Harley' would most definitely be 'Hah-ley' there, and 'Holly' would be closer to 'Holy' than anything else. My parents were my 'mothah' and 'fathah' and my car was a 'cah.' It's similar (to a lesser extent) in NJ and NY. Have you found it easier to make yourself understood in the Northeast? ; )

Expat mum said...

Many times MsC, and I love the accent. I don't really think it's particularly like a British accent, and I sometimes can't believe I'm not surrounded by extras in a movie, but it's wicked good all the same!

Paul said...

I commented over at the beeb. But I thought I'd say something here too! ;)

Because I am from the North of England, I think some of my issues are a little different. For example, I generally speak with short vowel sounds, so that confusion doesn't occur for me.

There is no "British accent" as all Brits know (there's at least 20). Americans tend to associate standard English or cockney with the UK, but they don't usually expect a northern accent (I am often asked if I'm Australian). I am hoping that Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones might change that... ;-)

Paul said...

I've always loved this Kenneth Williams clip where he's talking about accents and demonstrating his theory that they are influenced by climate. I personally find it easy to see the US Southern drawl as being influenced by the hot, humid weather. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh29gBLoHVU

MsCaroline said...

I didn't mean to imply that I thought the British accent sounded like a New England accent. I guess I didn't state it very clearly, but I was just curious if you found it easier to be understood in New England. It sounded like many of the issues you run into in the US are related to the letter 'r.' Since New Englanders are known for dropping them at the end of words (mother) and adding them where they don't belong ('idear') it seemed to me that you might possibly run into fewer misunderstandings since BE often does the same. I'm sure you weren't keeping tabs, of course: I just wondered if one would experience less 'verbal confusion' in New England than in other parts of the country due to some of the linguistic similarities.

michiganme said...

Funny---I'm from the Midwest and after i read this I can hear myself. I think we define 'long a' differently too---sounds like my short a is your long a!

Expat mum said...

MsC - Haven't noticed it but will definitely make an effort to next time I'm there.

Blog Archive