Wednesday 1 May 2013

let's go native....

A friend once asked me where I was born.
"Northampton" I replied.
"Ah yes.  You've got a Northampton accent."

This remark mystified me somewhat.  I've never really considered myself to have any kind of an accent - does anyone? - but given that I only spent the first 18 months of my life in Northampton and have spent almost no time there since, it seemed highly unlikely that the accent had somehow rubbed off on me.

My dad is from Plymouth and my mother is from Essex.  I was at a boarding school between the ages of 7 and 18 and then I went to University, first in Warwick for three years and then in York.  I lived in York for a year after completing my Masters degree and then moved down to Nottingham, where I've been ever since.  I don't even know what a Northampton accent sounds like.  It seems inconceivable to me that I have somehow got one.

Many years later, after I had been living in Nottingham for a few years, someone else asked me where I was born.
"Ah, that makes sense.  You have an accent that sounds like it straddles the great vowel divide"

I didn't know what that was, but apparently it's an imaginary line drawn across the country between Bristol and the Wash and it acts as a sort of linguistic tipping point.  You know, "sconn" on one side and "scone" on the other.

"I asked the maid in dulcet tone
To order me a buttered scone
The silly girl has been and gone
And ordered me a buttered scone."

For reference, I say "sconn".  But I also say "barth", and "H" is an aitch and not a haitch.  And, for my American friends, it's also definitely ALUMINIUM.  There's a whole extra syllable, you know.

Anyway.  I mention this because I think I am largely without accent.  Received pronunciation.  I realise that this is likely what everyone thinks, but in my case I think it's true.  English, for sure, but other than that, rather more difficult to pin down to any specific location.

....except that this evening, I warmly greeted someone with a broad "'EY OOP".  I didn't add the "me duck" onto the end of the sentence, but I might just as well have done.  I've lived in Nottingham now for 15 years, longer than I've ever lived anywhere else in my life and it appears the accent is finally rubbing off on me.

Hmm.  I'm not at all sure how I feel about that.

good introduction to the dialect can be found here.  Sample quote:

"To the outsider, the Nottingham accent might make the person speaking it sound thicker than Barry White's shit on Boxing Day morning, but don't kid yersen; it’s actually the most complex dialect in the UK., drawing in and absorbing speech patterns and slang from Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and the South before spitting them back out in a concentrated stream of inflection, tone, tempo and swearing."

Perhaps I should just relax into my fate.

Or move.

Yer get meh, me ode fookin dookeh?


  1. Funny about accents. I grew up in South Africa, and am now living in Manchester. People still struggle to know where I'm from because I don't have the broad Manchester accent, neither do I have a South African accent.

  2. Hello lovely.

    One of my housemates in the 1st year of university was from Northampton. She used to say "I kent be doin' with this shite" a lot.

    Finding it unthinkable that an ex-boarder could speak with anything but a classic "posh" (mild RP) accent, wherever they were born. Is this chippy comp tripe? Probs.

  3. ah - foxy! a delight to see you. School made such an impression on me that, to this day, I still take it as a (slightly childish) badge of pride that almost nobody picks me out as being a public schoolboy from my the way I speak or from my accent. Posh? Possibly, but not *that* posh.

    Ironically, I not only met one of my most cherished friends at school, but she is Northampton born and bred.

    Threelight - Manchester and SA? That's an accent combination to conjure with.

  4. I'm hopeless at accents - I always thought a bloke I worked with was Welsh, when he was in fact a Geordie. As soon as I found out three years' worth of conversational gambits on the subject of Wales, and his curious reluctance to discuss his motherland, flashed through my mind. At least I could tell what he was saying. One of the most nerve-wracking conversations I ever had was in a club in Newcastle (a dreadful, dreadful mistake), from about 15 seconds in I was constantly thinking, "If I say what? one more time this bloke's going to thump me". He may as well have been speaking Polish.

    As for my own accent, like you I don't really think I've got one. This was sort of borne out when I heard a recording of my own voice without realising I was listening to myself (I'd accidentally left a message on my home number instead of my wife's mobile and then checked our messages a few hours later). I thought it was a message from my brother. So, yes, I sound exactly like my brother.

  5. As a Londoner, who has lived in Yorkshire longer than in the Centre of the Universe (well it is), my vowels and speed of speech betray me less than word choice: while not whilst, since not while, among not amongst, alley not ginnel.
    Although at a party , a sociolinguist accurately placed my accent to within two miles of where I grew up. It's interesting to (amateurishly) try and place people's accents. I usually can distinguish North/South/ East/ West London accents and major geographical regions e.g. Yorkshire v Lancashire, but am constantly stumped by Suffolk. Northampton? No chance.