Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ruminating . . .

. . . on accents.

Lisa posted about Hugh Laurie a few days ago, and it had me thinking about accents. Laurie effects an accent that is rather mid-western. That's the one that most TV talking heads use because it sounds fairly neutral to most people. At least I think so. How about you?

However, there's really no such thing as AN American accent. We probably have at least 20 different identifiable ones. Upper New England, New York/New Jersey, da Bronx, Mid-Atlantic, Chicago/Detroit, upper Minnesota/Michigan to name a few. Then there are the southern accents. The Carolinas are different from Georgia, which is different from Alabama, which is different from Mississippi.

The same is true with British accents. Although I can't identify the various regions, I can recognize many different versions on the Brit TV shows I watch - usually in reruns, as I don't have access to the BBC right now.

Unfortunately, when American TV or movie actors try to effect a British accent, they usually sound like a bad imitation of a Cockney sweep - or a caricature of Prince Phillip. Brit actors taking American parts often effect some horrible southern sheriff.

There are exceptions, of course. Hugh Laurie as Dr. House. Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. Michelle Williams in The Bionic Woman. Nicole Kidman in most any movie.

I wonder what our Brit friends consider to be the most neutral British accent. I find some of them very hard to understand. I assume most actors and actresses are trained to minimize their accents somewhat. Richard Burton and Diana Rigg immediately come to mind. Are they typical, or have they moderated somewhat for universal clarity?

As an example, I was an avid Honor Blackman fan in "The Avengers," and later in "Goldfinger." No problems understanding her in those vehicles, but I had great difficulty with this interview.

Nonetheless, she shows a very nice ashi garuma and her trademark tomoe nage . The kesa gatame at the end has the interviewer begging her to "get off." That, I understand. Lisa would understand also . . .