Accentuate the postive

By Megan McArdle

British people think that American actors trying to do British accents are among the most hilarious people on earth. (Irish people feel the same way about stage Irish accents, with more annoyance.) Two days after I arrived in London for a stint in The Economist's headquarters, I found myself in one of the conversations that every American expat there must have at least bimonthly: "Why Americans imitating Brits are pathetic." It's very hard for Americans to hear the defects, just as the British and Irish can't tell the hilarious differences between their notion of "an American accent", and the language as spoken by actual Americans.

The Brits in question were suddenly unamused to find that I'd been watching a BBC drama set in America the night before, a Victorian period piece about an entire town populated by people with serious speech impediments. At least, that's what I thought it was about, until I realized that I was watching the dramatization of a well-known Victorian novel (hanged if I can remember which novel, and that the bizarre speech patterns were due simply to casting British people who weren't very good at doing American accents. Several of the people talking to me had watched it, and hadn't noticed anything wrong. Suddenly, the topic of accents seemed much less funny.

But American accents are hard--just how hard is brought home by this video. For that matter, is any accent easy?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/09/accentuate-the-postive/1972/