Exploring Accents

Angie K over at Not Another Tall Blog started this conversation, and Ellen Hawley followed it up on Notes From The UK. They both got me thinking about my own strange experiences with my accent, and how I unsuccessfully tried to incorporate it in my writing (I’m no J K Rowling, that’s for sure).

Where My Accent Comes From

Australians don’t have strong regional distinctions like Americans do (and especially nothing like the British). I think we’re similar to the Kiwis (but you’d have to ask them – if it’s one thing I’ve learnt as an Australian is DO NOT try to speak for the Kiwis) in that our accent can be loosely divided up into “country” and “city”, or maybe more simply “strong” and “weak”. I definitely have a weak/city/international/whatever accent.

My dad grew up in Mt Isa (one of the last strongholds of Ockerania) and even though he was sixth or seventh (I forget which) generation Australian, he always found the English accent attractive. I think if you like an accent, you try to use subconsciously, which might have helped since he’s been living in Brisbane (state capital city, not big by international standards but still, it’s a city) for most of his life now. Now I can only hear a slight twang very rarely, and once, about seven years ago when I was still at school, my dad asked me if I was fair dinkum (ocker for, ‘are you for real?’) and I did a complete double-take. Looking back, I think that my reaction spoke volumes.You know that saying you can take the man out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the man? Yeah, my dad did his best to get the country out of him, and only the dregs remain. That’s why I was so surprised when he said something ocker – it just didn’t happen, at least, not around me.

My mum was born in England, spent primary school in Fiji and high school in New Zealand before settling in Australia. Okay, that makes it sound like she was part of some well-to-do family who went ‘visiting the colonies’. For the record, I am what I would call middle-class, and both my parents hovered around the lower middle-class mark for a long time. Never well-off, but never poor either. Anyway, I think I get most of my accent from my mum. To anyone in the city we sound Australian. Growing up and in school, no one questioned my accent.

As soon as I started working in the mines, it was another story.

What Australians Think Of My Accent

To be fair, mining is an international industry. I’ve worked with Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish, Italian, South Africans and New Zealanders, all in Central Queensland, Australia. So you get all sorts, even if most of the people I’ve worked with are Australians.

The country Australians speak with a varying nasal twang, and if you’ve heard a crow caw, then you’ve heard a drunken bogan trying to speak. Well, swear at you, at least. A strong accent can be indecipherable, especially on the radio. It just sounds like fast-paced mumbling.


So out bush, with the expectation by most that the scientists like myself are on 457 working visas, my fellow Australians would hear me speak and assume me foreign. Most thought I was English. Some even tried to guess the region of England. I think at least one person thought I was Welsh, and a surprising number thought I must be Irish.

I have to admit, sometimes I like to pronounce my ‘r’s. I don’t understand why we would have this incredibly useful letter and not use it. I do like the Irish accent (who the hell doesn’t?) so maybe I am a little guilty of putting it on occasionally. But it is only slight, and I think that, when you combine it with my light Australian accent that somehow marks me as an foreigner, they hear the ‘r’ and think, “Oh, so she’s Irish!”

At least, this is the conclusion I draw when I try to explain it.

So I am no longer surprised when people say:

“Have you seen any Koalas yet, love?”

“You know, my grandmother was Irish.”

“How are you handling the heat?”

“You miss home much?”

I like to think it’s a compliment. I like to think that I am trying to pronounce words properly and completely, instead of running them all together with very little change in tone. But when a guy from Liverpool thought I must be from some toffey-nosed English family who might be 189th in line to the throne, I began to wonder just what my accent sounds like.

The thing is, I have no idea.

Who really knows what they sound like? Unless you listen to regular recordings of yourself, which I assume actors or presenters might do but I can’t think of anyone else. And then if you can identify how you speak, how can you change it? The thought has made me realise why some speech pathologists would get paid so much.

Harry Potter

‘D’yeh think yer parents didn’t leave yeh anything?’

‘But if their house was destroyed -‘

‘They didn’ keep their gold in the house, boy! Nah, first stop fer us is Gringotts. Wizards’ Bank. Have a sausage, they’re not bad cold – an’ I wouldn’ say no teh a bit o’ yer birthday cake, neither.’

Has anyone else tried doing this????

Accents can be such a strong part of a character’s identity. Anyone who has read Harry Potter will instantly know that was Hagrid speaking, even if they didn’t recognise the scene. Where would Hagrid be without ‘yer’?

I had played around with accents, and I gave up. Maybe I should try again, since it can bring such colour to dialogue if used properly. Of course, if it isn’t used properly then the dialogue is unreadable, unenjoyable, and just plain nonsense. Which is what happened the first few times.

It says pewter on yer list

I don’t even need to look that one up.

P.S. For some reason, my thirteen year old copy of The Philosopher’s Stone smells faintly of white vinegar. I wish I knew why. Maybe it was packed amongst the condiments when we moved house? I hope not, but at least it looks fine.

22 thoughts on “Exploring Accents

  1. Good post, and I love that Angie K.’s post has kicked up such a discussion.
    What you say about not knowing what your own accent sounds like resonates with me. On the few occasions when I hear my recorded voice, it throws me, and I don’t like it.
    And finally, the saying here in Cornwall is “Wherever you find a mine or a hole in the ground, you’ll find a Cornishman in the bottom of it, digging.” So I’m betting some of those Australian miners are of Cornish descent.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny you mentioned Harry Potter, as this is what triggered my post in the first place (my son’s reaction to my pronunciation). Thanks for quoting my original post, yours is an interesting one. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did a great post! To be honest, when Harry Potter first became popular and I started talking about it with my school chums, we all found we were pronouncing things differently! I thought Ginny was pronounced ‘Gih-ney’ (with a ‘geh’ noise for the g instead of the ‘gee’ noise, am I explaining that right? Oh, never mind). I also remember someone pronouncing the ‘y’ in Gryffindor as a long ‘y’, like in spy.
      Then the movies came out and we were sorted. But maybe the movies aren’t so good, because now kids will grow up thinking that the characters look like the actors instead of inventing them themselves.
      Wow, you’ve got me going again! If ever I need inspiration I’ll be coming to you πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is nothing better for an aspiring writer that inspiring her reader, is it! I a glad I got you going. πŸ™‚ And yes, there are names and words in ‘Harry Potter’ that no one would possibly know how to pronounce. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi there! I’ve popped over from Ellen’s blog because accents fascinate me so. Yes, here in the States we have hundreds of regional dialects, no question. What I love about Australians outside of the accent are the terms we never hear here: chuffed, for instance. What a great word. Faffing about! Another terrific phrase. And so on. Fun post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love chuffed! Faffing about can mean any number of things, unfortunately. Be careful of the tone you hear πŸ˜‰ Even one of our most common phrases ‘Have a good one’ which is basically a catch-all term for good day/week/night/whatever, can be twisted to mean something else when the wrong tone is used. Maybe Aussies are just dirty-minded? Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed my post!


  4. I read somewhere that you should write just enough of it to give the reader the idea of the accent but not so much that it’s hard to read. “Joe Bob was a chawin’ on my ear and feelin’ for my eye when Billy Ray grabs up a knife that fell out a somebody’s boot and went to carvin’ at my innards.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I commented on Angie’s post about accents and am glad to read the follow up posts as well. I have a fondness for the good people of Mt. Isa. I was an exchange student to Australia in 1990/1991. I took a tour around Australia with 85 other youth exchange students. While out in the bush on the journey between Tennant Creek and Mt. Isa, my wheelchair tire went flat. Thankfully, the bicycle repair shop had an inner tube which fit my wheel and fixed me up on a Saturday night. I love Australian accents in all forms, and can usually pick them out miles away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, what a lovely story πŸ™‚ Unfortunately, I think Australians have lost a little of their helpful and friendly attitude (they blame my generation, but then I guess I’ll be blaming the next generation when I’m older so…). That’s awesome you have an ear for Aussie accents. Can you tell the difference between ours and a Kiwi’s? If you get a light Kiwi accent I think it can sound a little like Adelaide, but maybe that’s just me πŸ˜‰


  6. I’m finding this topic fascinating and enlightening.

    Did you notice I dropped my R’s in that sentence? Just kidding.

    My dermatologist here in Colorado is from New Zealand and I look forward to my 2X a year visits with her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Kiwi! Their accents are adorable. Especially when they pronounce their ‘e’ as an ‘i’ and vice versa. It blew my mind the first time I heard a mother, in front of her children, say to a baker, “I’d like six please.” Of course I couldn’t help saying, “Don’t we all, love.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I liked your point about your fellow mining Australians expecting you to be on a 457 working visa and so hearing ‘foreign’ in your voice, even though you’re just as Australian as they are. A lot of what we humans hear is expectation masquerading as reality, isn’t it?

    When we lived in Spain it would happen quite often that, visiting a village and being obviously foreign, locals would have already made their mind up that whatever sound came out of our mouths wouldn’t, couldn’t possibly be Spanish. They were expecting foreign and they heard foreign, even though we were speaking pretty reasonable Spanish. We might as well have spoken Chinese. They just wouldn’t hear Spanish coming out of our mouths. It was always quite disorientating – like one of those psychological experiments where they see if people will go mad if nobody believes they’re speaking the truth. There’s the one with the professor at a university, isn’t there? Where everybody except him pretends that a new statue in the courtyard doesn’t exist. When he says ‘What a nice statue’ everyone else says ‘what statue?’ Eventually he stops talking about the statue.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi there, white middle class Aussie here. I love this stuff, I did some sociology a little while back – yes there are two australian dialects: standard australian english – the accent I would use when stuck in the emergency ward of a public hospital for example – it indicates that I am a reasonable educated person like yourself, not a scumbag, so give me some attention please; and broad australian english – the accent I draw on when grabbing a beer at the pub – it signifies that I am one of us, I belong here. Generally speaking middle class folk can access both forms but working class the broad form only – not because they cant make the sounds – my working class hubby can do it no problems – but it always cames across as a pisstake, probably goes against some other wc mores to use it… I used to get mistaken for english too till I saw the class link and the cultural cringe stuff too, and deliberately toned it down. When I slip into sae hubby says `why are you using your telephone voice` Hope this helps your writing. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is fascinating, something a had an inkling about but didn’t actually know much detail. Thank you for sharing! “Why are you using your telephone voice”! LOL. Love it πŸ™‚


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