Author Archives: Ben Trawick-Smith

About Ben Trawick-Smith

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.

Accent Prejudice Isn’t “Prejudice Lite”

I’m hesitant to respond to Gawker‘s “Ugliest Accent” tournament. For those who haven’t read it, the piece is a “March-Madness-style” competition to determine America’s “ugliest” regional English. (Pittsburg was crowned the winner last week.) I’m clearly no fan, but Josef Fruehwald offers great critiques … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged | 32 Comments

Scotland, Borders, Secession and Language

Scotland voted against independence last week, an event which got me thinking about how I, as an American, distinguish the UK’s component parts. For me, when I envision Scotland (or Wales, or England), I think of its unique language. Not Scots or Gaelic, exactly, but “language” … Continue reading

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Posted in British English | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

John Oliver and Contemporary Brumminess

Like many HBO subscribers, I’ve become a fan of John Oliver, a British comedian who brings journalistic rigor to the “news parody” genre. He particularly excels at trans-Atlantic humor, injecting British wit into American jokes (“you’ve constructed a straw-man so … Continue reading

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Posted in British English | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Iggy Azalea and Ethnolect Appropriation

A few years back, I was talking to an Irish musician about the American blues. I found it strange that British and Irish musicians, particularly those honing their chops in the 1960s, seemed more taken with the form than Americans. “Well,” the … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

“Fargo” Redux: Dialect Work in TV’s Renaissance

When Fargo was released in 1996, “Minnesota speech” was largely unknown to the majority of the American populace. With a handful of exceptions, the dialect had little representation in popular culture. The film’s appeal lies not only in the quality of … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Australian Broad-A

Speaking of Shane Jenek/Courtney Act (the Australian drag queen that served as the topic of my last post), I noticed that he uses a “short-a” in words like dance, France, and demand. That is, Jenek pronounces “dance” with the same vowel as … Continue reading

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Posted in Australian English | Tagged , | 25 Comments

“Courtney Act” and Non-Rhotic Puns

This season of RuPaul’s Drag Race featured Courtney Act (aka Shane Jenek), a renowned drag performer from Brisbane, Australia. In an early episode, Act/Jenek laments that Americans don’t get the pun in his stage name, which sounds similar to “caught in … Continue reading

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Posted in Australian English | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Urban Southern English

A reader wrote me recently with a question about his “fading” Southern accent: I am a native, fourth generation Georgian who has lived in Roanoke, Virginia for two years. Before then I spent three years in Austin, Texas; two in … Continue reading

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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 14 Comments

Jim Hawkin’s “Blues”

I recently read Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a story I greatly enjoy as a child. The novel’s pirates speak with a dialect I find puzzling as an adult reader: is it the West Country of the early chapters’ setting (akin to … Continue reading

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Posted in British English | Tagged | 6 Comments

Reformed Views on Spelling Reform

Back in college, I obsessed over English spelling reform. Why deal with silent gh’s, I figured, when things can be so much cleaner? So I started inventing phonetically-precise alphabets, ending up with results like this: Tu bii or not tu … Continue reading

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Posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects | Tagged , | 31 Comments