Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shall I natter on about this a bit more, then?

Julia caught a ride home from a birthday party this past weekend with a friend. "I've never heard Julia talk so much before," her friend's mother smiled at me as she helped Julia out of the car. "Her accent is adorable!" Momentarily surprised, I very nearly told her that she had the wrong child. It's Evan who is sporting quite a strong -- and definitely adorable -- British accent these days. Julia, in contrast, abruptly dropped nearly all traces of her British accent after our trip back to the States last spring ("I'm American and that's how I want to sound," she declared with a sudden sense of national pride which has surprisingly not waned since). My confusion soon passed as I realized that of course, it was Julia's American pronunciations and expressions that sounded so cute to the British ear. Here, she's the one with the accent.

The fact that Julia's speech, while normal and unremarkable to me, struck her friend's mum as charmingly different was yet another reminder of the differences between American and British English which I wrote about last week. While Denzylle may be correct that I have overgeneralized somewhat in extending the speaking patterns I've noticed among the people I've met here to the entire British population, I think few would argue that there are decidedly quite a few differences between the ways English is spoken in our countries. I still maintain that those differences include how words are put together every bit as much as how they are pronounced.

I suspect that Mobile Em may have been right on the money, however, when she suggested that my examples of verbs followed by prepositions simply indicate differences in word choice rather than actual errors, "wrong" as they sound to my ear. Thanks to Cami, therefore, for reminding me of one rule which is decidedly different; here, a group is always plural even if described as a single entity (i.e. "Waitrose do a lovely job"), whereas in American English, the entity is always singular even if it represents the group as a whole ("Watirose does a lovely job").

For those of you left wondering (Iota), yes, the problem with D was the lack of a question mark; the "please can you" construction is decidedly British (Americans would likely say "would you please" or "could you please"), but I don't think there's anything technically wrong with the sentence by American standards other than the punctuation. And for what it's worth, I hear "please can you" statements come out of Evan's mouth regularly these days and while I'll confess it sets my teeth on edge a teeny tiny bit sometimes, I'm generally (to steal yet another non-American expression) not bothered. Hell, I'm just grateful that someone's teaching him to say please. Of all my over generalizations about the British way of life, the extra emphasis on politeness is my absolute favorite. (I trust that my self mockery translates equally well into both British and American English here?)


Blogger denzylle said...

The 'Waitrose do / does...' is a good example, and it's one I find so annoying. I'll always say 'Waitrose does...' and it sounds perfectly fine to me. The only one that sounds 'wrong' to my ear is 'staff is...' when my PC self-corrects my habit of not considering staff to be a single entity. The worst offenders are writers and broadcasters talking about sport. It's *never* 'Chelsea is...', always 'England are...' which is *so* wrong (to use an Americanism).

Anyway, at least you're saying 'bothered' and not 'bovvered' (or 'fashed', which is the Scottish word I use). English words are fine, but do make sure you leave before you (or worse still, your children) start to pick up colloquialisms or London expressions (I won't say Cockney because it's another misconception that all Londoners speak Cockney. Cockney is specific to parts of East and South London).

10:56 AM  
Blogger Patois said...

Delightful post! I do love the confusion about the accent. There are many facets of British-speak I adore, but it is truly the emphasis on politeness that thrills me most. (That, and the way my husband properly pronounces "t" in my name rather than dulling it to a "d" sound as my fellow Americans do.)

1:26 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

I'm now totally flummoxed. The more I read these phrases, the less I can remember what is English English, or american English, and indeed Scottish English.

I do remember, though, that in my first week here, we were invited out to dinner. The woman next to me said "Please pass the salt, Iota" which sounded very stark and odd to me. I, like you, would way "please would you..." or "please could you...". So perhaps you are just more aware of these things in a foreign country. I'd probably have noticed the phrase as an oddity in my own country, but it wouldn't have lodged in my memory.

I was planning on doing a blog post of my own on all this, but now I'm just too darn confused.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

Patois - can you tell me why 2 friends here have sons called Renton, and it's not pronounced Rendon? Just wondering.

And while I'm back, I have often wondered why we Brits like to add an S to the end of supermarket names (Tescos, Sainsburys, even Asdas). I'd assumed it was a possessive (ie Tesco's in the old days would have been an abbreviation for Mr Tesco's grocery shop), but maybe it's the desire for a plural.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

One more thing, I really didn't mean to use capitals for English and Scottish, and lower case for american. It was just a typo. Honestly. Truly. (Comes of typing with a small bored child on your lap.)

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to say 'Would you mind passing the salt please'. I don't believe I've ever said 'Please can you..'. Maybe it has something to do with where you live in England, as Denzylle pointed out. Just my ten pennorth.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry that was a quote from Patois not Iota.

5:22 PM  

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