s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: I say, old chap

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I say, old chap

I watched a TV movie over the weekend which featured a bunch of evil guys chasing some good guys. (And possibly a talking car.) Anyway, you could tell that one of the evil guys was extra evil, because he had an English accent, and it made me think about the markedness of English accents in American television and film. In my observation, English accents can signify (or amplify the signals) that a character is any of the following:

1. Evil
2. Brainy
3. Sexy

There are also a number of reality TV show hosts who would not have their jobs, I'm convinced, if it were not for their English accents. (Since I assume they are not meant to be evil and reality TV show chatter is hardly brainy, I suppose we're going for "sexy," here.)

On the flip side, it's interesting to think about what the lack of an English accent signifies, namely, on TV shows where a character is played by a British actor, but has an American accent. I guess it wouldn't make sense for Battlestar Galactica's Apollo to have a British accent when his dad and brother don't, nor do Chuck's aunts on Pushing Daisies, but there's no reason that Dr. Gregory House couldn't be British. Except that, for American audiences, British accents are marked, so it would distract from the character, I think. With Hugh Laurie doing an American accent, we're free to concentrate on other aspects of his character (and he was free to mock Chase for his accent).

Of course, Americans are equally stereotyped on British TV, where an American accent generally signals someone who is rich, ignorant, or vulgar. I guess turnabout is fair play.

7 Comments:

At February 27, 2008 10:16 PM, Blogger Mr. Fob said...

I think in Simon Cowell's case they're going for evil.

 
At February 27, 2008 10:17 PM, Blogger Mr. Fob said...

(I hate it when I forget to check the box.)

 
At February 27, 2008 10:35 PM, Blogger Peter said...

The Brits definitely get a better list of options than we do. Two out of the three (brainy and sexy) are pretty good gigs. We only get one favorable trait to accompany our accents (rich), and that's arguably not a favorable trait at all. At least in the English-speaking world, an American accent is the bottom of the barrel. Although it apparently sounds quite exotic in much of Latin America.

 
At February 28, 2008 12:13 AM, Blogger Confuzzled said...

I think it should also be noted the British accent serves another function: the fill-in accent when nobody is quite sure what the actual accent would sound like. If the character's a native Danish speaker, give him a British accent. Finnish:? British. Swedish? British.

It's the all-purpose accent that way. My particular favorites are older movies set in France, where the French sound remarkably . . . British.

 
At February 28, 2008 3:17 PM, Blogger Betty Edit said...

When I was in Germany, the kids I was staying with begged me to teach them American English, as they'd been taught only British English. At least to them, American English was also associated with being cool.

 
At February 28, 2008 5:17 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Mr. Fob - Good point. Although some people also find him sexy. (But still not brainy.)

peter - They like Americans in South Africa and Australia, too, I understand. But it would be a lot of work to map all of the possible perceptions that the speakers of various dialects of English have of each other.

confuzzled - Well, betty edit has a good point, most Europeans probably do learn British English.

 
At March 04, 2008 3:44 PM, Blogger Asmond said...

When I was in England (5-7ish) I got the 'prettiest girl' in school to have a crush on me because I had an American accent.

It's much the same way that a British accent in America... they just like the sound of it.

 

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