I used to enjoy being able to distinguish different local accents, but for some reason I've got worse at it. I was thinking about this today when I was listening to Bette Midler on the Scottish radio. I thought to myself I quite liked her accent and also that it reminded me of someone else. Who was that? Then it struck me, she sounded a bit like Hillary Clinton, except Hillary Clinton can somehow manage to sound both screechy and deep and raspy at the same time. Not unpleasant, but I can see how Hillary Clinton's voice annoys some people. However Bette Midler sounded to me like a polished and mellowed version of Hillary Clinton. Easy to listen to. Anyway they sounded similar to me. So then I thought to myself, I bet they grew up the same place to have a similar accent like that. Then I looked them up on Wikipedia and one of them grew up in Hawaii and the other grew up in Chicago - fail! So much for being able to distinguish different accents. Then I was wondering if Leolaia sounds like Bette Midler.
I would like to learn more about different American accents. There are only a few that I think I can distinguish with any confidence. Mostly from TV shows and sitcoms in particular, so I don't know how accurate that is. Anyone who sounds like either JFK or Rick Fearon I would confidently say they were from Boston. And the nasal sort of New York accent of Woody Allen I think I can also identify. Even so I'm aware that within New York you get different accents too. And New Jersey sounds to me like New York except even more so. Then I have a very general idea of a broad sort of southern accent like the girl uses in True Blood or whenever anyone says "all y'all". But the American south is a big place so I am sure there are lots of different accents represented across the board. If George Bush's accent is typical of Texas for example (is it? I don't know) then it's pretty different from Maya Angelou from Missouri. Which reminds me that accent very much isn't just down to geography. Different ways of speaking are produced by gender, race and class as well as geography. And people move around and their parents influence their accent too, which probably affects the way Bush speaks and the way Maya Angelou spoke. And it strikes me that while I have a slight idea what someone from Chicago might sound like (Clinton notwithstanding) I have absolutely no idea what someone from Dakota should sound like, or Iowa or Wisconsin (pretty much anywhere in the middle for that matter) or even Seattle, unless Bill Gates is a typical example.
From the other direction it's a bit annoying when Americans sometimes talk about an English or even British accent as if there is one British accent. They probably have Prince Charles in mind or Stephen Fry. So I wonder what they'd make of a Yorkshire accent or Tyneside or the West Country, not to mention Welsh or various Scottish accents. But class comes into it a lot here inasmuch as a Scottish person with a Morningside accent (Sir Malcolm Rifkind for example) sounds more like Prince Charles than they do like someone from Wester Hailes, proving accent is as much to do with class as geography, in Britain at least. I wonder if the same holds for America too, or if race and geography are more important over there.
Plus to make it even more complicated accents change over time too. It occurs to me there is something about the accent of Martin Luther King Jnr for example that is located in the period, as much as location, race and class. Same is true in Britain when you think of the way Churchill spoke, from a different era. Actually Churchill was not all that different from David Cameron now I think. But that just goes to show how old fashioned Cameron's upper class accent really is. Does it make sense to talk about an accent being old fashioned? I think it does sometimes. Some accents can sound affected in that sense. An American example that springs to mind is Jesse Jackson. His accent sounds like it's in a time warp from a period where black leaders thought they had to enunciate very clearly in order to convey their intelligence and distance themselves from their background. Maybe I'm reading way too much into that. And I honestly don't know much about his background or accent really. That's just how it strikes me. Al Sharpton sounds much more contemporary to me by way of lazy comparison.
I was wondering if American posters could describe their accent. Does it have a name? How wide a region does it cover? What famous person is a good reflection of the accent?
Having said all that what kind of accent do I have? Given my location and background I was thinking I should sound like Billy Connolly (who was also on the radio today) but I don't have a very distinct accent. I can sound a bit like that. A mild sort of west of Scotland accent that covers Glasgow and surrounding areas, what used to be known as Strathclyde.