We often hear people say that someone has “such a strong accent”, or complain that his or her accent is “difficult to understand”, or, vice- versa, compliment highlighting how it is “lovely”. Having an accent means uttering the words in a specific way, which is usually influenced by the geographic location or social features of the speaker (Crystal, 2008). It shouldn’t be confused with a dialect since accent doesn’t imply distinguishing features in grammar and vocabulary. In some cases, the same language speakers from different parts of the world may misunderstand each other because of those pronunciation peculiarities. Therefore, people appear to ascribe a particular way of speaking to this or that country or city. Such stereotype is reflected in the video which was selected for interpretation that shows the attempts of English speakers with a Scottish accent to imitate American and British accents.
The purpose of this analysis is to explore the beliefs that the manners of American and British accents imitations imply in the Youtube video “Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland”. Therefore, I used a qualitative approach. To achieve my goal, I examined how the speakers pronounced the word “eleven” when trying to say it in American and British style. That would explain the way they perceive American and British accents. Along with that, I decided to pay attention to the phrases they used in their conversation in order to understand their beliefs. I couldn’t leave out the comments since there were some which added up evidence to the pattern that I found from the video. So, I analyzed them too.
Aforementioned video is a sketch from a comedy sketch-show called “Burnistoun”. The incidence takes place in the elevator with an installed voice-recognition system. Two Scottish men are stuck in it because the system doesn’t recognize their accent. In order to get to the floor they were heading for, one by one they try to imitate American and British accents. However, their attempts fail (VideoFunStation, 2011).
I noticed several techniques that they used. When trying to imitate American and British accents for the word “eleven”, the men changed the way they pronounced the vowel sounds. In the beginning, they used their own, Scottish, accent and I heard it as [әlevn]. However, when their manner of speaking wasn’t identified, they decided to try American accent and pronounced the word as [ilәvn]. After seeing that it wasn’t working they used British accent and said [әlәvәn]. Along with that, every time when changing their accent, they had to repeat the word several times. While repeating the word, they tended to break it down into syllables, presumably, in order to be intelligible. Moreover, use of the body movements was spotted. The second speaker moved his shoulders forward when he was imitating British accent which, I think, was intended to support his British sounding. One of the commenters noticed it too, he/she pointed out that it is an imitation of not only pronunciation but also of the Londoners’ habit while speaking:
“I’m from London, and it cracks me up when he does the english accent…puts a bit of cockney shoulder into it lol. Classic sketch “(VideoFunStation, 2011).
In this way, the vowel sounds’ change, thorough pronunciation, and body language support were observed in the process of attempting to sound like an American or Englishman.
The manner of “speaking” with American or British accent reveals the perceptions of those characters regarding how they think American or English people sound like. Those beliefs are usually constructed by the society (Giles, 1970). However, in this case, there appears controversy between two Scottish men about how American and British English should sound. The attempt of the first one made the another to oppose him saying it didn’t sound like American at all. In his turn, the second gentleman tried to imitate British accent but ended up being criticized the same way. This might indicate that the representatives of the same community don’t necessarily share identical beliefs about this or that language variation.
Another thing that caught my attention is that American accent was used in the first instance. I believe starting from British accent would be more logical for Scottish people since England and Scotland are the parts of the same kingdom. So, in the end, I came up with two possible explanations. American accent might be considered to be more popular, therefore, more likely to be recognized by the voice-activated elevator. My second interpretation of this is that the voice itself spoke American English which was noticeable not only by its pronunciation but by the word “elevator”, which the voice used. According to the Oxford Dictionaries’ website (n.d.), “elevator” is the US variant for the UK’s “lift”. Thus, their choice of American English could be the attempt to comply with their “interlocutor”.
The video also presents the stance on Glaswegian accent as well:
– Voice-recognition technology? In a lift? In Scotland? You ever tried voice-recognition technology?
– They don’t do Scottish accents (VideoFunStation, 2011).
This fragment is taken from the beginning when they haven’t tried anything yet. The first speaker predicted that their voices wouldn’t be recognized. In my opinion, that was based not on his experience, in case of which, I believe, they wouldn’t even try Scottish accent, but on the awareness of the hierarchy of British and American accents, even in their own hometown.
Another message, which I got from this video, is that Scottish accent is difficult to understand. One of the commenters wrote:
“I don’t get it. When he says “eleven”, it sounds more like the way I say it than any other accent he tried. (I’m from Minnesota, US.) Half the things they said I had a hard time understanding, but “eleven” sounded exactly like how I say it. Or is that somehow the joke, that it can’t understand “eleven” because it’s a Scottish accent, even though it in truth sounds pretty much the same in almost every accent? I’m probably missing something basic here” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
This commenter assumes that the machine refuses to accept the command “because it’s a Scottish accent”, which I would interpret as something different, unintelligible to be specific, compared with American and British accents. Actually, Scottish commenters confirm it on the comment section:
“This is literally what would go on if this were real xD” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
“Seen it and its so true” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
“OMG, I can’t stop watching and crying with laughter at this clip. It’s so true! Bloody voice recognition technology never understands a Scottish accent. I have so many friends who would react in the same way these guys would if they were stuck in this lift, PMSL” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
“I’m living in Edinburgh and… yes, it may happen :D” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
“Haha this is so funny I’m from Scotland myself and it’s dead true tbh” (VideoFunStation, 2011).
Overall, the video shows the struggles of Scottish people when their accents are not understood by others. Unfortunately, technologies with such voice-recognition system are put to use for real. But the more disappointing thing is that people tend not to take into consideration language variations. In my opinion, such practices limit the rights and opportunities of the people who don’t speak the standard language. Therefore, referring to this sketch I would recommend addressing the requirements of all the speech community representatives in the society when creating the technologies which “facilitate people’s lives”. In case of impossibility to install all the varieties of the certain language, it would be eligible to leave the option of using the previous technique of utilizing that technology, that is, buttons in the situation with this elevator.
The analysis of the Youtube video “Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland” revealed that the stereotypes regarding the accents are not always formed by society as a whole, in some cases representatives of the same speech community perceive the other variations of their language differently; possible explanations for giving an advantage to the specific accent could be adaptation to the accent of the dialogue partner or hierarchy of the language variations. The scriptwriters and actors excellently showed the difficulties which the speakers of less “popular” language variations face in reality. Ignoring the existence of that diversity may lead to the reoccurrence of such unpleasant situation, however, this time, it might be not rehearsed and experienced by ordinary people.
Accent. (2008). In D. Crystal, Language library: A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu.kz:2359/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/bkdictling/accent/0?institutionId=7630
British and American terms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/usage/british-and-american-terms
Giles, H. (1970). Evaluative reactions to accents. Educational Review, 22 (3), 211-227. DOI: 10.1080/0013191700220301
VideoFunStation. (2011, September 7). Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU&t=1s