Wrong accent!

One of the things that’s interesting about the cartoon series from a few years ago called Dexter’s Laboratory is that the character Dexter is a boy from a completely 1,000% American family, but for some reason he has a Russian accent. His parents don’t, his sister doesn’t, only he does. They never explain it. But things like that can happen in cartoons.

However, today I saw on TV a cheap crime thriller from the 1930s, in which there were an old, widowed father and two daughters. The father talked like he was from the mountains of Appalachia or some similar place. The older of the two daughters had a standard American broadcast or theatrical accent. So far, everything’s normal; you see that every day in real life. But that’s not all. For some completely unexplained reason, the younger daughter had an obviously French accent. There’s no explanation why, and I guess viewers aren’t supposed to notice it.

I looked up the actress who played the younger daughter, and it turned out she was, in fact, from France. It appears the studio simply cast her in the part without worrying much that her accent wasn’t normal for a poor American country girl, which was the part she was playing.

Weirder still, I have a friend who is a native-born American married to a Filipina. For reasons no one knows, after his first daughter began to talk, she had a German accent for about a year, even though the family knew no Germans. It just so happened that her baby accent sounded German.


Talking about accents I often wonder what Americans think about English actors on TV trying to play Americans. Do you fall about when they attempt an American accent? The failed attempt to sound like a cockney chimney sweep that is often quoted is when Dick van Dyke tries it in the film Mary Poppins. There is an American soap going by the name of House where the lead is played by an English actor, John Laurie, known here principally in TV adaptations of P G Wodehouse stories in which he couldn’t be more British. Have you seen it? I’ve tried not to watch it! But what about Laurie’s accent?


He must have changed more than his accent. In North America, we call the guy who plays the lead in the show House “Hugh Laurie”. :lol:

If the British actor is very good at the accent, we can’t even tell he’s not American. I thought Hugh Laurie was American until just now when I looked him up in Wikipedia. However, once in a while someone tries to do things on the cheap, you get an actor who’s a bad accent mimic, and it gets funny.

Several years ago, there was a British comedy shown in the US called Four Weddings and a Funeral that had a British actor trying to play a Texan. He had almost no lines, but every time he opened his mouth, something was funny. My brother and I burst out laughing when we heard his first line, which was nothing more than “yes”. It was so obvious he was British that we found it very amusing. There was an episode of Fawlty Towers in which an Irishman or Scotsman plays a belligerent American hotel guest, and he simply sounds like an Irishman or Scotsman misusing American idioms.

I’ve heard some very bad American accents in the recordings that come with British ESL textbooks. The Cambridge English Course had an actor on the recordings who was supposed to be Canadian but sounded like he was from the US. In a couple of exercises he tried to play a Texan, and it was embarrassing. Also, when such materials feature an American speaker it’s often clear that the person has lived in the UK for many years and doesn’t speak “real American” anymore. But I give them credit for using a variety of accents. Similar materials in the US have only American broadcast English, and so my students end up unable to understand people from Boston or England.

What comes off REALLY strange, though, is not when a British actor imitates an American accent, but when a British screenwriter puts dialogue into the mouths of American actors and it isn’t adapted. You’ll recognize this when there are Americans enthusiastically calling everything “brilliant” or “lovely”. It’s especially odd to hear an American man using “lovely” for anything other than women and flowers. It seems very effeminate to us, although it doesn’t seem odd to us when British men do it.


Thanks for the correction, Amy. I was thinking of another actor called ‘John Laurie’ but the guy I’m talking about is of course Hugh Laurie.


Hi Alan,

The same applies to Brits trying to sound Irish. There’s the main character in Woody Allen’s brilliant Match Point who is supposed to be Irish. But the actor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an English accent as pure as the driven slush. But I didn’t find it annoying, only slightly bemusing as he would say the odd word in an Irish way.

Hi Jamie,

I know what you mean. Sometimes it’s really embarrassing. And I have first hand experience - last year there was this guy who was looking for a native speaker (from England) with business-fluent German. He was in the process of recording a language learners’ CD, but poorly networked. I ended up working for him and tried my best to sound English when reading his prefabricated texts. He was reasonably happy with the outcome, but I thought it sounded absolutely ridiculous.

I know what you mean, Jamie.

I had seen Hugh Laurie in TV shows and movies before he started doing the sitcom House. But I’d only ever heard him with a British accent.

By the time I moved back to the US, I was already familiar enough with Hugh Laurie that I new him by name. However, when I watched House for the first time, I didn’t recognize him immediately. His American accent threw me completely. I knew that I knew him, but for a good 15 minutes or so I couldn’t figure out who he was or where I knew him from. :lol:

the American accent seem to be very popular everywhere! in Ghana now especially on the university campus you hear a whole lot of students pronouncing the T’s as Ds and sounding nasal and all that i think it is because when they do that other students think highly of them as having travelled or perhaps lived in America!
buddy kingus

But, of course, many Americans will dislike their speech if it sounds nasal. We make fun of it in other Americans.

…better to be nasal than overly rounded though – laweek, ehoo mawee gawd!

there’s quite a bit of accental variety here… I rail on the rounded Cali vowels, but I can generally understand what they’re saying. What do you guys think are the hardest accents to understand? To me, the toughest American accent to understand would probably be the (or an) Appalachian accent.

Suspension of disbelief needed there, Jamie?

I once saw a black actor play King Lear! :wink: It’s only theatre in the end.

I’ve only ever run into one American I couldn’t understand, and he was speaking some kind of Ebonics, but I couldn’t tell from where, because if he’d been speaking normal Ebonics, I’d have understood him. He was very frustrated with me, but I can understand West African creole better than I could understand that guy.

I think Appalachians are easy to understand.

The most interesting thing is when some girl has that California Valley Girl accent and doesn’t lose it in adulthood. A national news station once tapped a local TV station for a report on a murder or terrorist attack or something tragic, but the reporter had that accent and sounded the whole time like she was joking. Here whole report sounded unintentionally satirical. After that, the national network got a different reporter from that area. I find that accent is generally lost a few months after the woman graduates from college and gets her first serious job.

Which West African creoles do you understand?

Hi, Tom
Could you (or anyone else who can :slight_smile: ) explain to me the meaning of “rail on” ?
Does it mean “feel uncomfortable/not confident with” ?

Thanks !

rail = complain, get angry,etc. I think.

Alex, to “rail” means to complain strongly or persistently about something. When you “rail on” you persist and persist and persist in your complaining.

My mother had a professor who railed on about insurance for the whole class period. If they didn’t want to study that day, someone would just bring up insurance, and he’d go off on an everlasting rant.

I had a music teacher in elementary school who would rail on about the difference between the affluence we kids grew up in compared to the poverty he saw in Korea during the war. I also had a nun in junior high who used to rail on about the depravity of the teenagers of the day. It would go on for an hour every week. She never taught us anything she was supposed to.

Jamie, like ohmigod!

“I’m Janelle Pearson here like with like Channel 4 News, the grooviest media outlet in the City of Angels. The Lakers were totally rad tonight! Kobe like totally dominated everyone… he was off the hook, totally.”


(no offense to any Janelle Pearsons out there)