Friday, 23 September 2011

I Love Your British Accent!

I am excited to say that I'll be crossing the water to visit Washington and New York in just a few weeks now. It's always interested me that our transatlantic cousins refer to their country more often as "The United States", whereas we British generally call it "America".

There is a difference, of course. The United States is a political entity which occupies the land of America. Thus, at the time of the revolution, you could visit visit America without actually being in the United States. Only later did the States multiply to fill all the land.

The distinction is most obvious if you visit Hawaii when of course you're not in America at all, but Polynesia - however you are in the United States. We are short of an adjective in this respect, however the Spanish have cracked this problem. They have one word "americano" for someone from the New World, and the alternative "estadounidense" meaning "United States Person."

The point is that there is a relevant difference - and we should probably be more thoughtful in our choice of noun, especially given the delight that some denizens of the United Kingdom take in berrating a " United States Person" who is careless enough to use the word "British" instead of "English", "Scottish" or "Welsh".

"Ohh I love the British accent!" says an American, trying to be complimentary.
"A British accent!" comes the derisory exclamation. "There's no such thing as a British accent! I'm English!"

Such an argument is patently nonsense, since there's no such thing as an "English accent" either. You might be Scouse, Geordie, Brummie or Cockney, for example. Conversely, a Briton might identify a transatlantic tourist's "American accent" when the New York accent is as distinctive as the South Carolinan. And typically the tourist will turn out to be Canadian anyway.

But is it any wonder that folks from abroad struggle to understand the mess of geographical terminology which is used in our neck of the woods when most Britons don't use it correctly? Most people here avoid the full term "Great Britain" but it is painfully present during the Olympics where it wrongly applies to a team which can include competitors from outside Great Britain - e.g. Northern Ireland!
 
The shortened version "Britain" is the most common parlance when discussing our country - despite it too being wrongly used on almost every occasion. Not only does the term "Britain" exclude over a thousand islands which make up our nation, but it is politically meaningless. "Britain" only refers to the main landmass, and it doesn't describe either the entire country of the United Kingdom, nor even all the constituent parts which make up the United Kingdom - each of which are also called countries!

It is the "United Kingdom" which is recognised by Europe as a country, and yet folks from their respective corners will fiercely state that England, Scotland and Wales are all countries in their own right. It gets even more confusing when you try to explain to someone that the "British Isles" includes the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the United Kingdom.

So, as I journey to America to enjoy the United States, I will keep in mind the difference, and be good-humoured towards anyone who manages to at least correctly identify that I'm from Britain. Bonus points for identifying me as English. Although I am a bit Scottish too.

1 comment:

  1. I work with a gentleman who is from England. His voice and accent are so calming. A nice break from the midwestern twangs and east coast accents I hear all day.

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