“Incomprehensible” Accents

On occasion, I may refer to a certain accent as “incomprehensible” or “inscrutable” or some other questionable attribute. I would like to take a moment to clear up what I mean.

I love the dialects of English. I think they are all beautiful in their own unique ways. When I refer to comprehensibility, however, I am making an objective statement: some dialects are more understandable to outsiders than others. Just as Portugese speakers can understand Spanish speakers more than vice versa, a man from Belfast is more likely to know what an American is saying that the other way around.

But I do not want to give the impression that I think certain accents are “dodgy” or “ugly.” I want this site to be free of the kind of prejudices that loom in people’s minds about certain accents. In fact, some of the most gorgeous dialects–Scottish, Western Irish, the various Carribean creoles–are amongst the most difficult for foreign ears to process. The beautiful things of this world are often the hardest to understand.

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About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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