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Photo by Yuri Long
Photo by Yuri Long

Mixup: Do Brits really mistake a U.S. accent for a Canadian one?

For people from the United Kingdom/British Isles: What does the U.S. accent sound like to your ears? Can you distinguish different accents from state to state? Is it true that most British people confuse our accent with the Canadians?

Ryan29517, Gender : M, Sexual Orientation: Straight, Race : White/Caucasian, Age : 25, City : New York, State : NY, Country : United States, 10522

Replies:

When I was a kid, all American accents sounded the same. As I got older and heard more accents, I got better at distinguishing them. I’m still not very good, but I would imitate a New Yorker by doing a nasal ‘Bugs Bunny’ accent, and a Southerner with a slow, drawly ‘John Wayne’ accent. In the United Kingdom we have (to my ear) dozens of very distinct accents, some of which are national (Welsh, Scottish) and others which belong to a single city (Liverpudlian or ‘Scouse’ – the Beatles’ accent). The more you listen to them, the more you can distinguish them. My German wife speaks exceptionally good English, and after many years in the United Kingdom can imitate a few regional accents. I still can’t clearly distinguish Americans from Canadians, but now that I work for a Canadian company (Petro-Canada) I guess I’ll be getting lots of practice.

Sean H., Gender : M, Sexual Orientation: Straight, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Atheist, Age : 39, City : London, State : NA, Country : United Kingdom, Occupation : Geologist, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class

British people do tend to laugh at the more pronounced US accents. Certain strong accents are easily distinguished, e.g. broad Texan accents, and nasal New York accents. In general though we tend to assume Canadians are from the US based on accent, just like you probably have trouble telling an Australian from a New Zealander.

Rufus, Gender : M, Race : White/Caucasian, Age : 26, City : London, State : NA, Country : United Kingdom, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class

I find that the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canadian accents sound similar, but other accents are fairly easy to differentiate, even if I don’t know exactly where they might be from. It all depends on what you’ve heard during your life, where you’ve lived, who you’ve associated with. For instance, I can sometimes hear the differences in accent in people from the different towns near me, but would be hard pressed to identify more than ‘Scots’ as an accent, even though I know that Glasgow, Edinburgh and other Scottish regions have subtle differences. Back to the Canadian/American accents – a piece of advice a Canadian once gave me is: If you’re not sure whether a person is Canadian or American, ask them if they are Canadian first, as a Canadian is more likely to be insulted by being called an American than the other way round.

Duncan, Gender : M, Race : White/Caucasian, Age : 23, City : Darlington, State : NA, Country : United Kingdom

Coming from the West of Ireland (not quite British, but near-by!), I personally can distinguish between *some* US accents, i.e., New York (Sex and the City), California (Hollywood), Texas (George W), Boston (the Kennedy’s), Etc., but outside that, find it more difficult. I can usually tell the difference between US & Canadian accents, but can’t describe it. Speaking regionally, for a small country, Ireland (pop. 4.5m), to my ears, has a huge range of different accents. Even in my home town (pop. c. 20k) I can often tell the street/neighbourhood where someone grew up by his/her accent!

Dermot, Gender : M, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Catholic, City : Sligo, State : NA, Country : Ireland, Education level : 2 Years of College, Social class : Lower middle class

I think a lot of British people can recognise the southern drawl, but apart from that all North Amercian (including Canadian) accents sound the same. I have met a handful of Canadians so I might be able to detect the difference, but I’m not sure and it sounds very subtle. To my ears Presidents Bush and Clinton do not have very marked southern accents, but Carter did, do Americans agree? There are all sorts of questions about how people perceive accents, most British people can’t distinguish a southern and northern Irish accent, but when I happened to spend a couple of days in Belfast on my way back from spending a couple of weeks in the Galway area I found the difference in accents very marked.

Campbell McGregor, Gender : M, Sexual Orientation: Straight, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Atheist, Age : 43, City : Glasgow, State : NA, Country : United Kingdom, Disability : asperger’s syndrome, Occupation : school crossing patroller, Education level : 4 Years of College

As I’m from London there are many different people from many backgrounds with different accents. I have met Canadians but have only ever seen Americans on t.v and still can’t tell the difference. It is easy for me to tell the difference between all accents in the United Kingdom but I suppose it is easy to tell if you grew up hearing certain different accents and how to identify them. Northern Americans and Canadians sound the same to me but I can tell Southern from Northern American accents.

 AW19557, City : London, State : NA, Country : United Kingdom

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* Photo by Yuri Long, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License. Accompanying blog images are for generic, illustrative purposes only, and may be stock or submitted photos. Models depicted are not connected to subject matter.

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