British Accents for Beginners

Everything I know, I learned from indie rock. Back in the nineties, when I still listened to the Spice Girls, and later (and possibly worse so), to the radio, I was unaware of the existence of such a thing as a British accent (and believe me, I know there are many). It just wasn’t cool, back then, to sing with a discernible English pronunciation. Actually, that phenomenon is as old as The Beatles (at least): I assume none of their success would have happened, had The Beatles sung with an authentic Scouser accent.

So today while listening to Larrikin Love (in case you missed their brief success in about 2007, they released one album, which is amazing, and great for starting to study a London pronunciation) I had the idea of doing a pointless blog post about how indie rock taught me most of what I know about British accents. So most of the examples below hail from the time when my obssession with Britain started, but they are still good for a laugh or maybe even able to spark your, the reader’s, own interest in linguistics. Or maybe not. (It’s perhaps not quite as entertaining for a native speaker as it is for a foreign language nerd as myself, but I’ll try not to use the terms ‘glottal stop’ and ‘intrusive R’.)

I’m pretty sure that the first person to ever make me notice there is something else than the generic American accent apparently used by pop singers of any country was – Mike Skinner. That was in 2002, back when I still listened to the radio, and the following song was a source of neverending amusement to me:

OK, Skinner (who is from Birmingham icydk) isn’t exactly indie rock, but most others to follow are. Except for her of course, Kate Nash, prime example of the picture-book London accent (pay special attention to the way she says ‘bitter’):

Another act which clearly played a role in my fetish for the London accent were The Rifles, your standard British indie rock hype back in ’05. (I have always been delighted by his nice ‘all’ and ‘always’.)

Mentioning ’05 and Britishness, you can’t not talk about the Arctic Monkeys from Sheffield, whose emergence was a major factor for my starting to care about both England and music. I beg to note, here, how they rhyme ‘look’ and ‘fuck’ (something which seems to work for the whole north of England).

And speaking of the Arctic Monkeys: their good friend Miles Kane once fronted a band called The Rascals. They hail from near Liverpool and have a fantastic way of saying ‘perfect girl’ (if you can’t wait, it’s at 0:56):

And what lies between Sheffield and Liverpool? Manchester of course, my sweet home until a few weeks ago. If you wonder what I’ve been through, listen to the amazing Elbow and their Mancunian pronunciation of the words ‘it does you no good’ (2:15; it’s so beautful that he sings it three times in a row):

Living in the north of England not only ruined my fʊcking accent (which used to be Received Pronunciation), it also made me more aware of the regional differences up there. But don’t worry, we’re almost done. Not without a quick excursion to Newcastle, though, and their one and only Maxïmo Park. Singer Paul Smith is originally from Billingham, but that’s pretty close still. Most noticeable is probably his unique pronunciation of everything that ends in ‘-ation’ (like, exactly, ‘pronunciation’), which is why I picked this song: It has four of those words in the first 30 seconds alone. If you like, compare them to the way Kate Nash says ‘foundations’ in the above example.

Yes, I had fun times listening to all those English lads (and birds). But then the day came when the fun ended. Then the day came when I first listened to Glasvegas. Who named themselves after their city of origin … Glasgow. This was when I realised that not all British accents are cute and lovely. This was when I met Scottish.

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to it on said radio, but I never found the American accent quite as hilarious. The only strange thing that comes to my mind is the way they will stubbornly say ‘meeeerror’ instead of ‘mirror’, when even Oxford’s American Dictionary says it’s a short /ɪ/. And yeah, I remember always being appalled at the way the singer of Illinois’s now-defunct The Hush Sound used to pronounce the word ‘been’ (and probably still does):

(In case you wonder where the hell he said ‘been’, he sings it twice, starting from 0:16).


2 thoughts on “British Accents for Beginners”

  1. Hello luv,

    would you please stop mocking ’bout the Scots?! 😉

    Ok, well, maybe their accent is a wee bit funny…

    (This is one of the videos for my induction-week)

    So just wait ’till I get back from Edinburgh… 😉


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