Cheryl Cole’s Accent: You Decide

Cheryl Cole with Simon Cowell

Alison Martin

I don’t want this to turn into a pop culture site, but it is hard to ignore the recent hubbub surrounding Cheryl Cole. As I mentioned a few days back, Ms. Cole is a pretty pop singer from the UK who was told to lose her Geordie (Newcastle) accent before appearing on the US version of her hit TV show, The X Factor.

Yesterday, this piece in the BBC’s magazine explored the issue, with this pointed quote from Critic Kevin O’Sullivan on Americans’ perception of British dialects:

“Americans have two British accents that they recognise – standard-issue received pronunciation and Cockney, as long as the latter isn’t too pronounced. No-one over there can understand strong northern accents.”

My pedestrian observation? I don’t find Ms. Cole that hard to understand. Her accent is already a watered-down version of Geordie. It’s certainly not the classic Geordie accent, where the phrase “I drove down to the Tyneside” would sound like “Uh druhv doon to the Tanesade” (IPA ə dɹɞ:v du:n tə ðə tɛɪnsɛɪd).

And forgive the tabloid purience of what I’m about to say but … isn’t Cole’s accent part of her “swoon factor?” It would make as little sense to tell Colin Farrell to drop the brogue in interviews.

Okay. I’m going to stop now, before this post verges into Daily Mirror territory. Because I don’t have the most typical “American ear,” I’ll let you guys decide for yourself: below is a video clip of Cole speaking to an American interviewer. Would her dialect fly in the States? Or would it be a hindrance?


About Ben

Ben T. 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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3 Responses to Cheryl Cole’s Accent: You Decide

  1. LJS says:

    She’s been sacked apparently because of the accent. I’m American. She’s completely understandable. It’s a lovely accent to my ear. I’ve been to the UK and I recall being on an elevator with a woman. I asked her a question and what she replied I have no idea. Fox has made the wrong decision here.

  2. Norkis26 says:

    Let`s face it! I am from Latvia and English isn`t my mother language, but I understand Geordie accent better than American accent! I love Cheryl!!!!!!!!!!! Her accent is sexy!!! And if America say`s, that they don`t understand her, I am starting thinking that it is f***ing retarded for me!!!! It is like that South park episode where guy was freezed for 2 years and after that nobody was able to understand him!?!!!!

  3. Kagi says:

    Wow they didn’t. I have no idea who this person is and I know this post is really really old but I have been trawling through your archives and just came across it. I can’t believe they did that, holy crap. She has a gorgeous accent, and I can’t see how it’d be any harder for americans than more common British accents – some of the fan questions were harder to understand than she is!

    To my ears (midwest US) she sounds quite a bit what I think of as Irish, or Scottish, or maybe Welsh? Something celtic influenced anyway – I’m not as good with dialect/phonetics as I am with grammar, I don’t have a good ear so my linguistic talent is more abstract, I can’t really pick out differences in accents I haven’t heard a lot of to tell you what it reminds me of, but she’s not hard to understand at all, definitely no more so than some of the accents Americans tend to go crazy over. They made a seriously wrong call on this, that’s horrible. Poor girl. She’s gorgeous and the accent is wonderful, I love the lilt.