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Anwndur
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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I was asked this question last night, and would be interested to know the answer, since I have no idea. If a British person or an American was in France - speaking French - could a Frenchman tell, purely by their accent, whether they were British or American, or would they be unable to differentiate? For France, of course, read any foreign language country - the important point being that the Briton and American are not speaking English, but a foreign language.

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'I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.' P.T. Barnam

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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I've been able to distinguish between British and Non-British peolpe here in Germany, but not from accent alone. It's rather a combination of accent, certain key-words used, and general behaviour. I didn't manage to distinguish whether you'r from the US or from Australia, though (without looking for the flag sewed to the backpack, that is).

Don "Are you lost? May I help you?" Enrico

Edited because it's "certain", not "ceratin"

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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Not quite the same but I once identified a group of Quebecois on a bus in Indonesia because they were speaking French with what sounded to me like a Canadian accent. So I guess it's possible in principle...

(edit) And one of my friends moved to France a couple of years ago and used to speak French with an Essex accent, so as an English person listening to her you could even tell which area she was from, let alone which country. I guess a French person who was good with accents could have done so too. I think she's losing it now because it was apparently hard for French people to understand...!

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Spikey
Jingle Bell Hock


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It's hard for English people to understand let alone French! [Razz]

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"The fact that "uvula" and "vulva" look and sound similar was just a happy coincidence." - Lainie

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Unusual Elfin Lights
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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As an anglophone, I can often tell when a French person is speaking English whether they are from France, Wallonia, Quebec, New Brunswick or Haiti.

So, I am pretty sure that this ability can be reversed.

The interesting thing about this, I believe, is that when I was travelling in France, the people there could tell that I learned my French in Quebec. This was because of my choice of words and different pronunciation of certain sounds.

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Lunasa
Jingle Bell Hock


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UEL, I had the same experience in France - I was often asked what part of Canada I was from. Having learned my most of my french in Ottawa from native Quebecois, apparently the accent's very noticable. Although, a few asked 'are you from Montreal or Toronto?' cause apparently there are only 2 places in Canada!

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"England and America are two countries divided by a common language." - George Bernard Shaw

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BlueByrd
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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Finally, an opportunity to expound on something that first struck me ten years ago!

When British people speak Dutch, the accent ends up sounding German. Seriously. It's something both my parents have remarked upon after conversations with various teachers at my (international) school. Americans speaking Dutch sound American, but many Britons attempting same sound like Germans.

I can only guess it has to do with the fact that both high German and estuary English are pronounced at the front of the mouth, whereas the Dutch (and the Americans, I suppose) simply open their mouth wider when speaking. It's what produces the bewildering distinction between "short" and "long" vowels in Dutch - a short "a", "e" or "i" will turn into a long one when you pull back the corners of your mouth.

Conversely, the estuary variety of English is wont to produce what I like to (affectionately) call a Brit lisp, a pronunciation of the "s" that involves a considerable amount of false air. A prime example of someone sporting a Brit lisp would be Anna Maxwell Martin, who portrayed Esther Summerson in last year's BBC adaptation of Bleak House. It's more of a quirk than a lisp in the full Jamie Oliver sense of the word (though my guess is Mr Oliver would've stood out more on the Continent in this respect), I mean, there are opera singers out there getting away with Brit lisps. Yet to someone unused to it, the phenomenon really stands out. I never really noticed it myself until my sister pointed it out to me.

Blue "She finds it highly amusing, too" Byrd

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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Spotting if it's an American or a Brit trying to speak Swedish is dead easy. I can pick them out in less than five words. An Irish dialect is even easier (but it tends to lend itself better to Swedish).

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/Troberg

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Zorro
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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I was told when I was in Germany last summer that yes, in German you could tell simply by the speech who was British and who was American. Although, we were occasionally mistaken for Candian, too, because, "You're too polite to be Americans." [Roll Eyes] Also, "Americans only know English." [Roll Eyes]

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-John Keating, "Dead Poets Society"

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Mosherette
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by The Norwegian Blue Byrd:
Finally, an opportunity to expound on something that first struck me ten years ago!

When British people speak Dutch, the accent ends up sounding German. Seriously. It's something both my parents have remarked upon after conversations with various teachers at my (international) school. Americans speaking Dutch sound American, but many Britons attempting same sound like Germans.

Heh. My (English) sister has been told by her (German) colleagues that she sounds Dutch when speaking German!

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Silence should never under any circumstances be construed as agreement. A lot of the time, it's simply a reflection that someone just said something so stupid that no response could possibly do it justice. - Ramblin' Dave

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Troberg:
An Irish dialect is even easier (but it tends to lend itself better to Swedish).

I used to know a blonde Swedish woman who spoke English with a Southern Irish accent... I think she was going for some sort of Dream Woman image...
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Anwndur
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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Hmmmmm interesting. I wonder, then, about a British person whose native dialect is broad West Country, which is thought by linguists to be the major influence on the development of the American dialect - unlike the Australian, which is clearly derived mainly from London speech.

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'I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.' P.T. Barnam

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
I used to know a blonde Swedish woman who spoke English with a Southern Irish accent...
Well, I'm pretty sure it wasn't me. I'm neither blond, female or speaks with an Irish accent.

While we are at Swedish people talking to Irishmen, a friend of mine was in England and was talking to a man of Irish heritage. My friend had noticed his dialect and when his heritage was mentioned, he tried to mention this by saying: "Yes, I noticed your R's". There were some misunderstandings.

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/Troberg

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Electrotiger
Deck the Malls


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My mother, a French teacher for 20 years, has had French natives tell her that she has a pretty American accent.

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Mr. Sagan did not go too fars, If you just took the time to scan its,
You'd count billions and billions of stars, And billions and billions of planets.

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Deansinger
Deck the Malls


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My mother is German, and she has lived in Texas for over twenty years now. That, friends, in an indescribable accent. She also speaks French and Italian, probably with a combination German/Texan accent. I can't see any way that the accent wouldn't cross over into the other languages. I imagine that would really throw a curveball at anyone trying to figure out where she's from by listening to her speak Italian or French.

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It doesn't matter if you're wrong.. Be Wrong Loud!

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booyacrowd
Ron Mexico


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When I was in Paris a few years ago, I met a girl from a small town in Quebec at the hostel I was staying at. She was in tears because the Parisians could not understand her accent and asked her to speak English. She didn't know English! I ended up acting as a translator for a couple days. We had quite the hodge-podge group, me (a Torontonian with *some* French knowledge but manages to switch into Hebrew mid-sentence), a guy from St. Louis who for some reason spoke French with a southern drawl, an Aussie who didn't know a word of French but believed that if you yelled, people would understand you; and the Quebec girl.
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dewey
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I am doubtful that people could tell the difference between an American and an Briton when speaking another language. I think how difficult it is to distinguish between English spoken with a Russian accent and a Polish accent and then I wonder if I could tell the difference between English spoken with a Moscow accent versus a Siberian accent. I think it would take an amazing ear to be able to do so. Not impossible but unlikely.

I realize that some people here have claimed to be able to do this but I wonder how much you were influenced by other factors such as clothing. When I travel to Europe I am usually pegged as an American before I open my mouth.

dewey

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magpie
Deck the Malls


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When I lived in Germany (I was born in America) I was often mistaken for Dutch. Apparently in the Netherlands they watch more American TV and movies that are subtitled, not dubbed, they get more of the American English. In Germany they learn British English in schools, and the American movies and TV they show there are usually dubbed. So I agree with Blue Byrd that there's a more American > Dutch, English > German thing going on there.

On a side note, when I went to Paris I was often mistaken for a German trying to speak English! (I didn't know any French and I figured more people would know English than German). Maybe it was the clothes I wore.

On a side note, I was told by a German friend of mine that he absolutely could not understand anything Irish people said when they talk, he said they speak terrible English, lol.

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BeachLife
The Bills of St. Mary's


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I would agree with Dewey. I think the visual cues are more important than the spoken word. I would doubt anyone could tell the difference between an American and a Brit in a phone conversation with any reliability.

And of course there is the issue of which sub-dialect they're speaking. Certainly there are several different sub-dialects of both British English and American English.

In practice I find it hard for people for whom english is not thier first language to tell Brits from Americans by accent alone. My daughers and I have been guessed as Americans, Canadians, Scotts, Kiwis and Aussies. From my experience when someone get it right they usually site some other cue such as dress, mannerisms and customs.

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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Jack Dragon, On Being a Dragon
Confessions of a Dragon's scribe
Diary of my Heart Surgery

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Elkhound
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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I speak Spanish quite well, but oddly. My Spanish teacher was from Madrid, but our textbook was 'keyed' to Mexican Spanish, so I speak with a Castillian accent, but us Mexican idiom. When I studied classical singing, of course, I had to learn Italian, and when I was in Italy I got mistaken for a Spaniard a lot. I also got taken for German or Swiss.

Among non-native-English people I'm often mistaken for British; I'm not sure why, although I've been told "Oh, but you're too polite to be American."

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"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart."--Iris Murdoch

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Malruhn
The "Was on Sale" Song


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I had a buddy in the Army that was kicked out of DLI (Defence Language Institute because he could NOT kick his accent.

He was from Houston.

Being a German speaker from eight years in school, we would have conversations... until I could no longer control myself and start laughing my butt off.

Please read the following - with a DEEP southern drawl:

Was machst du heute?

And, yes, I know he was bounced from DLI for his accent, as I saw his paperwork. That boy couldn't FALL DOWN without a drawl! [lol]

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Babies are like tattoos. You see other peoples' & they're cool, but yours is never as good & you can't get rid of it.

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Seaboe Muffinchucker
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
Originally posted by Deansinger:
My mother is German, and she has lived in Texas for over twenty years now. That, friends, in an indescribable accent.

I have a friend who can imitate it--and has.

She is very good at imitations (and accents, so far as I know). She lived in Stuttgart in 1978/79 and tells a story about an older Texas couple who were standing, listening politely to the spiel of some teenage beggars (my friend stuck around just in case the couple needed interpretation--they were obviously Texan). To her everlasting joy, they told the beggars where to get off in German with a strong Texas accent.

Like Malruhn, my friend just about died laughing listening to them.

Personally, if I can make people understand what I'm saying in French or Swedish, I don't worry about whether they can tell I'm American--I assume they can. Although (bizarrely enough) I've been told by two people from different South American countries that my accent is Spanish is very good. I don't speak Spanish, actually. I merely memorized one of those "beginning Spanish" conversations.

Seaboe

E because "couple" and "company" are not synonyms. Two Texans do not a company make!

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Education is not the filling of a hard drive, but the lighting of a bulb. -- Yeats via Esprise Me

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Deansinger
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker:

E because "couple" and "company" are not synonyms. Two Texans do not a company make!

It's sometimes hard to convince Texans of that....

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It doesn't matter if you're wrong.. Be Wrong Loud!

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Andrew of Ware, England
A-Ware in a Manger


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quote:
Originally posted by booyacrowd:
We had quite the hodge-podge group, me (a Torontonian with *some* French knowledge but manages to switch into Hebrew mid-sentence), a guy from St. Louis who for some reason spoke French with a southern drawl, an Aussie who didn't know a word of French but believed that if you yelled, people would understand you; and the Quebec girl.

Sounds like the characters in a British comedy film.

I have lived for most of my life in 'tourist areas' (York and close to London) and I can usually tell Americans from French from German from Australians by other clues rather than speech. Clothing, mannerisms, size, etc are big clues. The biggest one though is the guide book they are holding.

Slightly OT: I often visit historic churches and I can usually tell American entries in the visitors' books. Their handwriting style is very distinctive.

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Andrew, Ware, England

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Unusual Elfin Lights
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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Here is an exercise for people that don't think there is a discernible difference.

Here are two clips of people speaking. The first is our former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the other is a Swiss Police investigator.

Listen to the syllables that each emphasize more (first or last in the words). To me that is a key indicator.
Jean Chretien at 0:15 of the clip.
Swiss investigator at 1:27 of the clip.

Another indicator is how the the letters "th" are pronounced. In exaggeration, the European style is turned into a "z" sound while the North American style is a "d" sound.

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Zorro
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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quote:
Originally posted by Andrew of Ware, England:I often visit historic churches and I can usually tell American entries in the visitors' books. Their handwriting style is very distinctive.
Just curious: How so?

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"Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!"
-John Keating, "Dead Poets Society"

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EmmaInAu
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Huh! As a native [and only] English speaker, who has only been out of the country once, to New Zealand, I have enough problems with people figuring out what country I'm from as it is. I can't imagine how it would be if I spoke another language! [People usually guess Canada, or American, but been here a while.]

Emma"You have an accent!"inAu

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Going blonde, one strand at a time.

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Cold DecEmbra Brings The Sleet
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Originally posted by Andrew of Ware, England:I often visit historic churches and I can usually tell American entries in the visitors' books. Their handwriting style is very distinctive.
I don't know if I'd be able to tell American handwriting but I usually notice a difference between British and continental European handwriting. Although we seem to be taught "handwriting" in school, there's a very laissez faire attitude to style, especially after primary school. The French and Germans for example seem to keep to a more formal style of joined up (cursive?) script - I don't know what the names of any kinds of handwriting are - sorry!

Anyway, when I was learning joined-up writing at school, we still didn't join g, y, j, r or b, or capital letters (except C for come reason).

A lot of British handwriting can look quite "printed", especially if the writer learned to write more recently than about 1960.

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I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.

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Il-Mari
We Three Blings


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In Finland, people can generally tell the difference between people based on accent, as long as it's British, Irish or one of the more common American ones. However, ones from Africa, Indai, New Zealand, Australia and most other Anglophone countries/regions generally won't be recognized and are likely to be categorised either as American or British (though we don't really get that many visitors from Anglophone countries other than the EU ones and the US, so that's understandable in that way too).

I credit this to us getting most of our music and TV programs from the U.S. or England, making those types of speech relatively common for people. I assume it also helps that Finnish is totally phoenetic (in that you always write and speak letters and combinations therof the same way), making us generally good at analysing or learning other languages (plus we're required to take two additional languages in school, so we get a good deal of exposure to other languages).

- Il-Mari

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When you mix faith with science, you serve neither and weaken both.

- Richard P. Sloan and Larry VandeCreek

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Il-Mari
We Three Blings


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Oh, and I don't mean to generalize, but your natural accent tends to have a large amount of effect on how well you can speak Finnish too (since pronounciation can be especially important in Finnish).

Based on my (limited) experiences: Americans and Canadians tend to speak slower than other Anglophones, and for some reason pick up a style of speaking that resembles that of immigrants from China (which I find really funny, since it doesn't seem very logical).

Brits can generally speak at a more 'normal' tone for Finnish, but generally speak worse in terms of pronounciation and word choice than other Anglophones in Finland.

Interestingly, Irish people can, at least based on my observations, learn to speak the best - except that they seem to have a tendency of speaking too fast and with the words too close together.

The above are all generalisations that I got from attending the International School of Helsinki and the Helsinki School of Economics - I take no responsibility for their accuracy in the real world in general.

- Il-Mari

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When you mix faith with science, you serve neither and weaken both.

- Richard P. Sloan and Larry VandeCreek

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Rorgg
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
However, ones from Africa, Indai, New Zealand, Australia and most other Anglophone countries/regions generally won't be recognized and are likely to be categorised either as American or British
Don't worry about it, the other night we were watching TV and my wife told me she couldn't tell if someone on it had an accent or a speech impairment. I listened for a second... "She's South African!"

My South African co-worker was not so amused by this story.

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Dactingyl
Anchovy of a 1000 Days


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I find it quite weird the way Americans refer to a British Accent, it's a term you'll never hear on this side of the pond. While I appreicate there are regional differences in every country the Scots accent is hardly comaparible to Welsh, Irish or Estuary.

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Dactingyl is meant to sound a bit like Christingle.

It's not very good but I couldn't think of anything else.

Sorry.

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Loulabelle
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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I studied in Strasboug for a year. Strasbourg is a French city that has spent a lot of time in German hands over the centuries. Consequently the majority of people there speak both languages not to mention a local dialect which is sort of a mix of the two). Whenever I asked anybody something in French they would reply to me in German (fortunately I speak both); apparently I had a German accent.

Over the years I have tried really hard to develop an authentic French accent. I thought I was getting close but last summer when I asked my parisien boyfriend what he though he said that he'd never heard anyone speak French with an accent like mine... Judging by his laughter I haven't been entirely successful! lol

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Andrew of Ware, England
A-Ware in a Manger


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quote:
Originally posted by Zorro:
quote:
Originally posted by Andrew of Ware, England:I often visit historic churches and I can usually tell American entries in the visitors' books. Their handwriting style is very distinctive.
Just curious: How so?
It's the style. The handwriting often has loops and is a lot more cursive than British.

It's not the spelling. Very few, either American or British, can spell 'beautiful'! (Sometimes they write the date the American way, but most 'conform'. After all when in Rome...)

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Andrew, Ware, England

Posts: 1709 | From: Ware, England | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Ramblin' Dave, quietly making noise
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I spent some time in Denmark several summers ago. My friends there told me my Danish sounded like Swedish. (The two languages are close enough together that speakers of one can usually understand the other, but they are distinct - at least if you speak them correctly!)

Incidentally, I've met a lot of foreigners who insist that they can tell different American accents apart. They're not nearly as good at it as they tend to think: I've been placed everywhere from Texas to Canada, but the one thing they always agree on is that I'm definitely not from the East Coast (which, in fact, I am).

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Another lifetime I'd have fallen in love with you
Swept away by my feelings, ashamed and confused
But just now it's enough to be walking with you
Let the mystery play as it will! -Lui Collins

Posts: 2669 | From: Jouy en Josas, France | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
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