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I've just had a flash of understanding...
One of the things that always annoys me is when I come across mention of a 'British accent', almost always from American writers because, of course, there is no such thing. There are Welsh accents and Scottish accents and Northern Irish accents and lots and lots of English accents from RP to Estuary to Geordie.

So when my excellent US beta suggested that I change the phrase 'educated English accent' to 'educated British accent' my first reaction was annoyance. But then I thought about the reason she had given, to 'make it clearer' and I suddenly realised that 'English', to Americans, may just mean the language. That they speak 'English' and therefore an 'educated English accent' brings one of the educated American accents to mind. Of course, 'American accent' or, even worse, 'North American accent' is just as bad, and I hope I don't make that mistake myself.

Not, of course, that intend to use 'British accent' in any way, shape or form...

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Eh, I think they should know to be more specific. If they request editing, you should give them back some obscure Scottish accent (if you can and if you have the time for it).

To me "British accent" is code for "we couldn't find an Englishman who sounded like we think Englishmen sound so we hired a Bostonian.

Whenever I read 'British accent'my mind immediately has the character speak in a Belfast or Lowland Scots accent.

Don't get me started on this!

Because I have a rather mixed ancestry I have a rather mixed English accent with dialect input from both north and south.

This seems to puzzle USians who assume I must be an Aussie, Saffer or Kiwi because quaint accent! :oS

Oh gods yes... Same thing here in that I started with a northern English accent with German undertones, then moved around a lot including 6 years living in France and ended up with an accent no one can place - wild guesses abound and none of them get close.

My mother never lost her German accent, though it became a little overlaid with South Yorkshire - but she was identified, by other Yorkshire folk, as being from everywhere from Glasgow to Cornwall!

Same as- I come from a mining family with northeastern and black country ancestry although I sprang to life in Kent where they'd fetched up to dig coal. Add in a bit of Breton and Latvian Jewish and some Romani and the fact that I lived for some years in Belgium and what you fetch up accent wise with is, um, interesting! :o)

As something of a dialect hobbyist, I would venture to say that there are some general qualities of accent in the US that can be identified as "American" even if the person is from Boston or California. As long as the author accepts that saying "spoke with an American accent" as a description is about as detailed as saying "lived in a house" - it differentiates place in the extremely general sense (not Australian or not living in a flat) but should in no way substitute for a description meant to evoke a specific accent or type of house - and provides more information if it is needed by the character, I'm OK with it.

Of course, that's a bit different because "America" (meaning USA) is not also the name of a language (yet). The problem seems to be how to differentiate the name of the general accent of England from the language name English.

To add to this, most people who don't hear an accent regularly will not be able to place it specifically. I can place US accents fairly well - I once had a teacher who could place EVERYWHERE someone had lived while growing up from how they spoke, that was pretty impressive - and can even place UK accents within a region, but most Americans would be hard pressed to actually place a Yorkshire accent, though they might be able to say it was English.

Edited at 2014-01-08 03:16 pm (UTC)

A friend of mine, a native of the channel island of Jersey, always used to complain that no one in the TV series Bergerac, set on that island, spoke with a native accent.

Apparently, said accent sounds a lot like a South African accent, and a friend of his was once thrown into a South African jail, back in apartheid days, because he was stopped by traffic cops who thought he was mocking them with his accent.

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