I’ve recently noticed several comments on my weeks-old Orphan Black post taking issue with my praise of lead actress Tatiana Maslany‘s “Southeast English” accent. Here’s a representative example:
I’ve only just watched the first episode and presumed Sarah was meant to be Australian. Perhaps to a non-Brit she may sound like she’s from the south east of England but she really doesn’t. I’ll give it another episode to see if it gets better but it’s hard to maintain the necessary suspension of belief when something fundamental jars you out of it every so often.
A valid point, but I should mention that the original post clarifies that I did not actually find Maslany’s accent representative of how Londoners talk. The actress plays a character who has lived in Canada since childhood, and thus any inauthenticity on Maslany’s part would arguably be due to her accent not being muddled enough. (A cursory listen to either of the Osbourne children will give you a sense of how much “damage” an accent can sustain from an early trans-Atlantic move!)
The comment above is perceptive in a way the commenter may not have intended, however. At least in my experience, Brits from Southeast England who’ve spent years in North America often do end up sounding a bit Australian.
I once worked closely with a British co-worker during his first year in the States. While observing his speech during this period, I noticed that one of his earliest shifts was to replace glottal stops in words like “better” with the more “American” tapped t (ɾ). This variant is common in Australian English as well, so it can give American-influenced British accents a bit of a Aussie flavor right off the bat.
This is not the only such quirk. Common “intermediate” qualities of the vowel in “nurse” for those transitioning from rhotic to non-rhotic English tend toward front or front-lax rounded vowels like ø or ʏ, not that far from a marked Down Under pronunciation of the phoneme (although I find this more typical of New Zealand than Australia).
None of this is meant to suggest that Australian English lies “in between” British and American; its vowel system remains far far closer to London than General American. It’s AusE’s very cousinhood to Cockney, perhaps, that makes Londoners sound vaguely Aussie when they have lost certain Londonisms.