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Behind the Myth of Elegant British Accents

The voice of actor Gemma Chan in the video of The IMDB Show: Take 5 made a lot of people excited. When described briefly, Gemma's voice ...

The voice of actor Gemma Chan in the video of The IMDB Show: Take 5 made a lot of people excited. When described briefly, Gemma's voice was not as heavy and crusty as Emma Stone, but not as thin and tall as Emma Watson. In the show, Gemma spoke with a fairly slow tempo and low intonation. He also spoke without too many variations in tone of voice.

In this way of speaking, Gemma is perfect for being a storyteller to read bedtime stories. No wonder one viewer commented, "His voice can cure cancer and make your skin glow." Another person also commented, "Oh my God, he's already elegant, calm, his voice is soothing like a queen too !!"

There are also many netizens who are attracted to their British accent. "For God's sake, his accent is really charming," commented one netizen. In fact, there were fans who commented, "His accent and voice are divine!"

What's so special about a British Gemma accent?

The British classify the accent that Gemma speaks of as Received Pronunciation — one of several accents spoken in Great Britain. It is an accent that is commonly spoken by the people of southern England, such as in London, Oxford, Cambridge. Gemma fans are not mistaken for calling the accent elegant or luxurious because it was originally spoken by the middle and upper classes, including members of the United Kingdom.

The perception that arises about the Gemma accent can be caused by a variety of things. The simplest reason is the notion that the British accent is indeed attractive. American women hold this assumption when they hear British men speak.

In 2018, the Washington Post interviewed a number of academics and psychology practitioners to find out why. One of the sources was the psychotherapist, Guy Winch. The author of the book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (2014) argues that for Americans a British accent is not common and someone tends to admire something that seems unusual.

“Americans associate a British accent with someone who is smarter, more sophisticated, and competent. These are all personal qualities that many people find attractive, "says Winch.

The same thing was also expressed by Lynne Murphy, author of The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. According to Murphy, Americans are attracted to British accents because the speakers are "royal" people which give them an elegant and intelligent impression. Thus, there is a social class aspiration tucked into one's affinity for British accents.

"People call that accent sexy because they admire their country," said Murphy, who also teaches linguistics at the University of Sussex, England. "In the American mindset, England is a kind of fantasy land with aristocrats and castles."

Popular RPs

The Received Pronunciation (RP) accent spoken by Gemma has many names. The British also know him as BBC English, The Queen's English, or Oxford English.

Linguistically speaking, RP is a fledgeling accent. The term RP for naming this accent did not appear until 1869. The RP accent has become increasingly popular since the phoneticist Daniel Jones adopted it for the English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1924. He is a distinctive accent used to socialize in elite schools in Winchester, Eton, Rugby, Oxford, and Cambridge.

“Their speech patterns which are loosely rooted in the local Southeast Midlands accent — covering roughly London, Oxford and Cambridge — have come to be associated with 'establishment'. Because of this, it has acquired a unique status among the London middle class, ”wrote Jonnie Robinson, Principal Curator for Spoken English at the British Library on the BBC website.

The RP accent has become increasingly popular since 1922 when the BBC's Advisory Committee designated it as its standard broadcast accent. This RP accent is considered ideal because it has a clear grammar structure and pronunciation.

However, speakers of RP accents are not the majority in Britain. As of 2019, notes the BBC, RP accents are only used by three per cent of British society. Most of its users are middle class and aristocratic. Nowadays, some people consider it an accent that is too old-fashioned. Its use has become increasingly limited in government and academia.

"Fewer young people feel the need to speak in RP accents. They often disguise their RP accents by accentuating regional accents, ”wrote Robinson.

Variety of Accents in the UK

England has at least 17 regional accents, including London, East Anglia, West Country, Southern Welsh, Northern Welsh, West Midlands, Scouse, and Yorkshire accents. These various accents are often heard in films or television series such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Ring, to Game of Thrones.

Apart from these regional accents, there are also local accents such as Cockney. Like RP, Cockney accents also appeared in the 19th century. He is synonymous with East Londoners and is referred to as his working-class accent. One of the hallmarks of this accent is the use of slang that rhymes.

According to the English slang lexicographer Jonathon Green, Cockney slang began to appear in the 1830s. The term "Cockney" refers to the people living in Cheapside's area.

One version says that Cockney's slang was originally the code used by bromocorahs. So, it was developed on purpose to trick the police. The second theory calls it a code among traders.

"Some experts believe that traders in Cheapside's market make up certain codes to communicate with each other without being understood by their customers," Green said as quoted by Vox.

An example of Cockney's slang expression is "Turns the Liza over" to have someone change the television channel. Liza is an expression to refer to television. It is an acronym for "Liza Minnelli" whose last name rhymes with telly - slang for television.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrel (1998) is one of the films that predominantly uses Cockney accents and slang phrases in its dialogue. While one celebrity who claims he grew up with a Cockney accent is Michael Caine.

Not only fertile in their own country, but British accents also spread and influenced accents in America. It happened along with the migration of the British to the continent in the 17th century. Their accents then developed into accents in various regions in America. The East Anglia accent, for example, influences the Boston accent. While the Scottish accent also influenced the Appalachian accent.

University of Victoria linguistic researcher Marisa Brook said the accents of some Americans today are similar to 17th-century British accents. One example is the clear pronunciation of the letter "R", as in the words card and water. Linguists call this rhoticity. Meanwhile, the British have now abandoned that method.

“Some of the immigrants who came to the US in the past were from parts of the British Isles that had not been affected by the non-rhoticity accent (disguises the R pronunciation). The shift to the standard non-rhoticity accent in Britain only started when the United States became independent, "Brook told the BBC.


Although one language, British people today often protest the way Americans speak. One of the easiest ways to view these protests is to listen to Youtuber accounts that discuss language.

Joelandlia, a Youtuber couple from England, once discussed modifications to the American-style language which they thought made no sense. Some of these words, for example, a pacifier to call tummy (dot), burglarised to say burgled (robbed), or jelly to call jealous (jealous).

In addition, there are also typical US terms that they do not understand because they are not the usual culture in Britain. One of them is the prom. "In the UK, we're not used to prom night culture," says Joelandlia. Another example is spring break. "We only know the summer holidays, when we usually spend holidays at friends' houses."

Related to this, the English writer Matthew Engel stated that there has been a phenomenon of Americanism in the use of English. It is a modification of the language of the American English speakers used in England. Americanism produces different expressions from the language spoken by native English people.

According to the author of That's The Way It Crumbles (2017), the way British people speak these days is heavily influenced by American speech and culture.

"Everything seems to be engineered so that everyone speaks the language used by the superpower. It will make the world homogeneous and boring, ”Engel said in an interview with The Economist.

However, most British people do not realize that some of the words they label as the result of Americanism actually originate from England. The linguist of The Economist Lane Greene mentions words like a faucet (tap) and diaper (diaper) that they think are American words actually come from Middle English. This style is spoken between the 12th and 16th centuries.

Another example of the word Americanism is the word sidewalk (sidewalk). In fact, sidewalk actually appeared in England around the beginning of the 19th century. Greene said the word refers to the sidewalk along Westminster Bridge. So, at some point, Americanism preserves the old language and at the same time refutes those who think it corrupts English.

“English is in very good shape. Language changes all the time in various situations and lines of society. English isn't being directed to be homogeneous either (as Engles thought), "says Greene. (tirto)

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