Posted by: Chelsea Novak | January 16, 2003

Never try and do an accent, unless you’re an actor

Those words of wisdon came to mind moments ago when one of the people in my office tried (in jest) to say something with an Irish accent. Not being a linguist and having a pretty strong regional accent from the states, it was fair to say that his attempt didn’t sound so much Irish as it did him being impaled.

I’ve found this to be true of many people trying to sound Irish. Yes, it’s a rolling and song-like dialect, but the way it’s often mimicked it sounds as though the mimicker has sat upon something intrusive and speaks just a little too high. I’ve found a similar problem with people mimicking Scottish brouge accents. It usually ends up sounding like they really need a good cough.

People from these places with different accents (different from we Central to Eastern Canadians and North Eastern Americans) are kind enough not to go totally insane when fat tounged people from all over the world try desperately to sound like them. Maybe they know that they’ve got the cool sounding accents, so they’re not upset by it. I’m mean you rarely hear someone from Dublin or Devon trying to sound like they’re from Northern New York.

Actors can do accents. It’s their job. They spend hours, they spend days, learning how to speak differently. It’s part of their craft and some of them (Ewan McGreggor, Mini Driver, among others) are just amazing at it. Some, well, aren’t so good at it, but at least they can make fun of it from time to time. I’m thinking of the Angel episode where they all think they’re 17 again and Angel thinks he’s Liam and asks “where is my accent?”, saving us all the pain of DB trying to sound Irish again.

Now I can’t do an accent to save my life. But I generally have the sense not to try. I may have, during the days in the Irish pub -surrounded by the Irish-, altered the way I say “brilliant”, “cheers” and “tosser” but I think that’s as far as I went. I had two lovely Irish friends who seemed to just dare me to try and speak with their lovely Limmerick Lilt, but the fact remains, I’m not an actor (I don’t play one on TV), so I didn’t.

I’d love to be able to speak with a Cambridge accent like my friend Klara, with Karen’s lovely Belfast mix or sound like that new guy at the language school from New Zealand. Heck I’d even like to have my Nana’s newfie accent. Well, okay, maybe not that one.  However, the fact remains, that unless I learn to act (unlikely), I’m just going to sound like a girl from the edge of the Ottawa valley: part hick, part Kanuck and just a dash or two of Yankee. Yep. my accent is reputed to be the most closed mouthed English dialect in the world. At least I have a linguistic excuse for why I mumble (as does Avril). What’s yours?

Oddly enough, someone told me yesterday that I have a perfect Californian accent and wanted to use my voice for a tape of American accents from all the 50 states. Clearly, this person didn’t know me well, but I’m hedging my bets that he has partial if not total deafness in at least one of his ears. He can’t have heard me use any word with an “ou” sound in it nor, I’m sure, has he ever been to, or met someone from, California.



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