Finding America

Me and Tarah

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Those of us Brits who like to think they can nail a perfect American accent might want to think again. There are certain words that, for whatever reason - be it unfamiliarity or language complexity - are just blooming difficult to get your head (and tongue) around. And there's no need to feel ashamed: even the great Hugh Laurie insists he had trouble at first. With that out of the way, here are 5 words Brits cannot pronounce when attempting an American accent.

Almost without exception, even the most gifted impersonator or linguist will feel a strong desire to pronounce against the same way he or she would back in England - that is A-GHAYNST. If you do this in front of an American, be prepared to receive an odd look. Within virtually every accent across the United States, Americans either pronounce it A-GHENST or A-GHANST.

This one is similar to against, in that Brits instinctively pronounce it the way they always have. However, in the United States, the word been is pronounced exactly the same way as bin. As a matter of fact, the words been, bin and Ben are spoken with virtually the same pronunciation.

Words like half (and similarly, calf) are difficult for Brits to say in an American accent, mainly because the 'a' sound is so vastly different from what they are used to. So instead of saying HAAHF, they should be pronouncing it HAY-AHF.

When pronouncing the word father using American English, a lot of Brits will either really sound out the 'a' (in a similar manner to the Irish), or they'll arbitrarily insert a rhotic 'r' before the 't' (as in FAR-THUR). Neither is true. In fact, the most common American pronunciation involves the word rhyming with bother.

As with father, Brits have a tendency to insert a rhotic 'r' into the word talk (as in TORK). In truth, I can think of only one word where Americans themselves speak an absent rhotic 'r' and this would be in the word colonel. For the record, talk is also not pronounced TAWK in American English, as some Brits would have you believe. Simply put, the American pronunciation rhymes with dock.

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  1. This is so wrong! I could not possibly call my friend Ben "Bin." They might pronounce "talk" similar to "dock" in Brooklyn or Boston, but that is a regional thing. Hay-ahf? If you're in a wild west movie. Some of the others are right on.

  2. From Laura: I agree with ciarcullen...Americans from the south do say "hay-ahf, (just listen to Paula Deen! She doesn't say "ham", she says "hay-yam-ahh") but I think most of us just say "haff", although when I say it, I imagine that the "L" is being said, but it doesn't actually come out sounding like that...if you get what I mean...LOL

  3. Native Californian24 January 2014 at 08:02

    @Ciarcullen - The author made a slight mistake. "Been" and "Ben" sound almost the same ("been" may have a slightly longer and breathier "eh" in the middle, whereas "Ben" is always short.) "Bin" is pronounced like a "pin" or a "tin". I've never heard the "e" words pronounced like the "i" word, at least not on the West or East Coasts. The Midwest and South, as is often the case, may pronounce things a little differently.

    Speaking of that, "often" is usually pronounced "offen", with the "t" silent. However, in some regions, the "t" is voiced. Which way is it in the UK?

    And please let me know which you would prefer most/least in the previous line: UK, England, Britain, British English?

    Yes, I do know the difference between the UK, England, and Britain. I'm asking for which term is best to generalize the language spoken over there by a generic grouping of individuals from there. And if you think that sounds odd, it's the same way when Brits (another option) talk about Americans and American English, assuming it's all the same. In reality, there are parts of our own country that are more foreign sounding to each other than British English does. :-)

  4. This article is full of inaccuracies.

    1. Many, if not most, Brits pronounce "against" with the vowel of "fenced", just like Americans.

    2. "Half" is only pronounced "HAY-AHF" in areas affected by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. Elsewhere, it's just pronounced like "HAFF".

    3. "Talk" only rhymes with "dock" in areas subect to the cot-caught merger.

  5. The problem with generalizing American accents is that you can't generalize American accents. The country is vast with dozens and dozens of regional variations. Even here in California, accents and pronunciations vary.

  6. "Awesome" is another one. As in, "Dude, that was totally awesome!"

  7. How would Brits pronouce the word "says" ? Most Americans would pronounce it "sehz" (or "sezz"). I know that many for whom English is a "Second Language" (or ESL) don't say it that way, rather how it is spelled.

  8. I say Bin instead of been and I'm British but I'm from the North West of England near Preston

  9. @ciarcullen you don't pronounce talk and dock the same? How else would you pronounce them? I'm wicked confused....

  10. Regional dialects affect every spoken word - as a matter of fact, there are some linguists who can tell which part of the US a person if from just by how they pronounce the word "water." If I pronounced "dock" the same way I pronounce "talk," no one would understand what I was "tawlking" about.

  11. It seems this has pissed off a few Americans, but as a brit, I find this to contain inaccuracies in this country.

    Against - Pronounced Agenst.

    Been - Only said as it's spelt when speaking slowly, otherwise, almost always would be 'bin'

    The others are less easy to pick faults with, other than in Yorkshire, talk is not pronounced tork and only a div would put an artificial r in American words.

  12. I agree with the tip of not trying too hard to imitate the way of speaking. Aside from it's annoying, I think it will just blow their chances. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. As long as I can read it I don't give a damn how it's spelled out when I hear a Briton say ass it sounds like auss not arse auss here in the USA you British people sound like a little bit new Yorkers and down south folks when your talking you all say 4 different if you guys were here people would think you have a speech problem y'all say girl different too like gill but really it doesn't matter how words r said as long as we all can read them or hear them being said right.


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