6 films to listen different accents

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Teaching a second language to someone can be quite the challenge, and one of the many resources used to help, or accelerate, the learning process is mass media, mainly pop music and films. There are countless articles on the internet listing films that are supposedly good for improving English skills and pronunciation. However, it’s not at all surprising that most of these films, such as The King’s Speech, feature prominently the English Received Pronunciation (RP) or the General American English Pronunciation (GAEP). They will praise Julie Andrews’ and Christopher Plummer’s “perfect” pronunciation in The Sound of Music and the transformation of Audrey Hepburn’s “poor” cockney accent into a “fine” and “elegant” Edwardian pronunciation in My Fair Lady.

It is telling that most of these lists consider the “best” pronunciations to learn are the ones associated with the upper class of hegemonic countries, and completely ignore or reject the Englishes of the working class of these same countries or the Englishes associated with former colonies and other countries of the English speaking world. Now, while it is fun to watch the pronunciation classes for the stuttering king in The King’s Speech, we must remember that there are other englishes in the world other than the RP and the GAEP, and here are six films for you get to know other pronunciations from around the world.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way suggesting any of these films to be used as learning content of any kind, nor am I suggesting that one should use any of these films as material for pronunciation practice. The idea is to listen and remember that there are multiple Englishes and multiple pronunciations other than the hegemonical RP and GAEP, even within the United Kingdom and the United States.

Trainspotting (1996)

Directed by prolific English director Danny Boyle, Trainspotting follows a group of young men living in an economically depressed Edinburgh as they battle unemployment, boredom and, first and foremost, heroin addiction. A visually mesmerizing film, with an Academy Award nominated script and iconic performances by all the cast, but especially Ewan McGregor in his breakout role as Mark Renton.

The novel by Irvine Welsh in which the film is based is narrated through the perspective of multiple characters and written with each character’s voice, so there are chapters written in Scots, Scottish English and British English. As such the characters in the film speak mostly in Scots and Scottish English with Edinburghian pronunciation. Scots is considered an indigenous language of Scotland and roughly a third of the population of the country speaks it. The language derived from Northumbrian, a dialect spoken in Northern England during the Middle Ages and as such it shares many characteristics with many northern english dialects, such as Geordie. Scottish English is heavily influenced by Scots and the pronunciation of both is very similar. Perhaps the most recognizable characteristic of the Standard Scottish English (SSE) is the /r/ is pronounced as a /ɹ/.

It is noted that actor Jonny Lee Miller, who played the character Sickboy and was the only english actor among the main cast, adopted the Scottish pronunciation for the film and didn’t drop the accent until the very end of shooting the film.

24 Hour Party People (2002)

Those who like music, especially post-punk bands, this film is a must. Styled as a mockumentary, it tells the story of the Manchester scene from 1976 to 1992 through the eyes of journalist and record label owner, Tony Wilson, and mixes fact and fiction. Rumors and urban legends are played as real events, usually to a humorous intent as stated by the narrator himself. Among the many bands that are featured in the film are Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays, as well as the emergence of DJ culture in the 1980s.

24 Hour Party People features a cast of actors mostly from Northern England, this film boasts many different accents from the North, more prominently the Mancunian, a dialect associated with the city of Manchester, where most of the film is set. The actor and comedian, Steve Coogan, who plays the main character and narrator, is himself a native mancunian. This pronunciation has among its most distinctive phonetic phenomena such as h-dropping, where the /h/ sound is suppressed, as in “head” /ɛd/ and t-glottalisation, the reinforcement of the consonants /k, t, p/. Another characteristic of this pronunciation is the th-fronting, where the dental-fricatives are pronounced as labio-dentals, like in “death” /dɛf/. Like many other northern english accents, there is no distinction between the vowels in words like “strut” (/strʊt/) and “foot” (/fʊt/), or “trap” /trɑp/ and “bath” /bɑf/.

Singapore Dreaming (2006)

This film follows the Loh family, a typical Singaporean working class family that aspires for a better life and suddenly obtains the means to live said life. Acclaimed as one of the best Singaporean films to come out in the last decade, it was praised by local critics and audiences alike for the realistic, but still relatable portrayal of life in a working class setting in Singapore.

In Singapore Dreaming, the dialogue flows from English to Mandarin and to Singlish, an English-based creole language spoken in Singapore. While the Standard Singaporean English is almost identical grammatically to the Standard British English and its pronunciation is very similar to the Received Pronunciation, Singlish is a whole other matter. As many other creole languages, it started out as a pidgin language and contains elements of local malaysian languages, such as Hokkien and Malay, chinese languages and even Tamil, an indian language which is also spoken in Singapore. Singlish shares many similarities with Manglish, another English-based creole spoken in Malaysia. Among its most distinctive features, the dental-fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ become occlusives, such as in “three” /triː/ and “then” /dɛn/ and in the end of a word its replaced with the labial-fricative /f/, as in “birth” /bɜːt/. When it appears in the middle of a word, the /ð/ often becomes an /v/, as in “without” /wɪˈvaʊt/

The Harder They Come (1972)

Considered by many as “Jamaica’s ‘The Godfather’”, The Harder They Come tells the story of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a young man who wishes to become a Reggae singer and ultimately gets involved with drug dealers and corrupt record label executives. Starring Reggae musician Jimmy Cliff, this film is one of the most influential movies ever made in the Caribbean and is noted for being responsible for spreading Reggae music outside of Jamaica. Its soundtrack is iconic, with several songs from Cliff himself, such as the title song, and other musicians.

The Harder They Come is spoken in both Jamaican English and Jamaican Patois, a creole language. Both share many similarities, such as the merger of diphthongs in “fair” and “fear” /fɪə/, or “bear” and “bear” /bɪə/, making them essentially homophones. Patois, or Patwah as usually referred to by the locals, coexists with Jamaican English in what is known as a post-creole speech continuum. Both languages are used throughout the country, but the creole language is relegated to a lesser position. Even though it is used in everyday life, at home, in popular music and it is generally the language that most Jamaicans are most familiar with, the Standard Jamaican English is viewed as the language of the upper class, of higher culture and is the official language taught in schools. Most Jamaicans use both interchangeably depending on the context in which they are in.

93 Days (2016)

The African nation of Nigeria is home to Nollywood, an ever expanding cinema industry that produces over 2,500 films per year, becoming the world’s second largest in terms of output and surpassing the Indian powerhouse that is Bollywood. One of the recent hit films that came out of Nigeria is 93 Days. Inspired by true events, the film recounts the work of a group of health workers that successfully contained the 2014 Ebola outbreak, stopping it from becoming an epidemic.

Nigeria has over 300 languages and some of them had an influence on Nigerian English and Nigerian Pidgin. Both languages borrow many words from Yoruba, Hausa and Igo, for example. Nigerian English differs greatly from region to region and also depending on the context of the speaker, but there are some common features between them, such as words with the /z/ sound in words that are spelled with an s, are pronounced with an /s/, like in “boys” /ˈbɔɪs/.

Delhi Belly (2011)

Taking its name from the infamous stomach condition that affects many tourists that visit India, Delhi Belly is a dark comedy action film that revolves around three roommates that live shabby lives in a run down apartment in Delhi until they inadvertently get involved with a global crime plot.

Delhi Belly is considered a film in Hinglish. Most of it is in English, however some of the dialogue is in Hindi and a lot of the words and phrases get mixed up between both languages. Contrary to other languages in this list, Hinglish is not a creole or a pidgin language, but is also a hybrid between English, Hindi and other languages from the Indian subcontinent, such as Punjabi. While Indian English is not so different from the Received Pronunciation when it comes to consonants, there are many differences concerning the way vowels are pronounced. For example, /ɔ/ is pronounced as /o/, as in “thought” /θot/; /æ/ and /ɛ/ as /e/, as in “better” /ˈbetə/; and /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ as /a/, as in “naughty” /ˈnɔːti/.

These are just six options and there are countless other examples of different Englishes and English pronunciations to explore through cinema. For instance, there are many different American accents that can be explored, as well as the Irish pronunciation. There are many different Scottish accents and many different Indian accents.

This article was a class assignment for the Analysis and Practice of Pronunciation (APP) course ministered by Prof. Daniel Ferraz at the Universidade de São Paulo in the first semester of 2022.

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Alexandre Aimbiré

Alexandre Aimbiré

Sociólogo de boteco, estudante de Letras, guitarrista ocasional, pai e leitor ávido de caixas de sucrilhos. Leio e escrevo sobre o que me dá na telha.