Henry Higgins observes in My Fair Lady that ‘an Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him / The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him’ (my autobiography will be entitled: ‘Everything I Learned in Life, I Learned From the Musicals’). In my travels I have noted that this is also true of English-speakers around the globe.
English people take the piss out of the Irish, Welsh and Scottish accents. Americans make fun of the English. Many people make fun of South Africans (though in my experience very few can pull off a convincing SA accent). On several occasions Australians (who, to my ear have a discernibly Australian accent) have told me very seriously that Australians don’t have accents, ‘not like Americans’.
I have had my (Irish) English corrected by English people – but, conversely, have also frequently been asked if I really were Irish because ‘you don’t have an Irish accent’. Thanks for asking. And yes, I am sure.
Then there’s the Kiwi accent. My first true exposure was last week in Auckland. I had the tv on as background noise while I was packing and I heard a lady offering ‘hunts and tups’ for Christmas cake decorating. But what I like is that people here take the mickey out of themselves. Another ad (for timber decking) has a woman shaking her head mournfully at ‘boys and their decks’. Except with a Kiwi accent it’s much funnier …
Personally I like the fact that people in different parts of the world have taken the basic medium of English and added their own local flavour to it and I don’t see why any one version is any better (or worse) than any other. Because when it comes down to it, thinking your accent is superior to someone else’s is just another form of snobbery.
So here’s the deal: I won’t make fun of your accent and you won’t say, ‘Irish? Tirty tree and a turd! Top of the mornin’! Begorrah!’ Oh, and while I think of it, journalists and travel writers please try to resist the temptation to refer to Irish people and their brogue (charming, thick or other).