Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Human Speech System: North American English Dialects

I don't even know this gentleman, but I confess that I have to like him just based on his introduction to this excellent website:
This is just a little hobby of mine, that I thought might be interesting to a lot of people. Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins. I collect dialects. Please let me know what you think of this page. - Rick Aschmann 
See what I mean?

Mr. Aschmann has put together a collection of North American accents based on pronunciation.  It is fascinating...

His work reminds me of an incident from many years ago, back during the Cold War. I was attending a dinner party at a US Embassy and was unexpectedly, but playfully, escorted to stand in front of a young woman who was with an Italian film company.  I was asked by the onlookers to say just a few words in a sentence and to stop. Once I had done so, everyone turned to look expectantly at the young woman, who, after a pregnant pause, said something along the lines of "hmmm.... American" (which brought groans from the onlookers), "south eastern" (yielding just a few groans), "South Carolina" (serious looks), "Darlington County" (at my nod of affirmation, this led to gasps and dropped jaws).  It turned out that she was the speech consultant to the film and her credits included coaching Mel Gibson (the Aussie from the Mad Max and other mainstream film series) and the New York African-Americans who needed to sound like Southerners in the movie "The Color Purple".


(Hat tip: The Economist, center left, UK, news magazine)