Friday, August 29, 2008

What Is The Deal With The Accents?

I am totally loving all this Australia music I'm learning about.

But for a lot of the songs, I can't really hear an Australian accent.

If I heard these songs and didn't know any better, I would probably assume the singers were American.

What is the deal?

Am I ethnocentric and hearing "American" when it's not even there? Is there a neutral accent that I mistake as being American?

Are Australian singers purposely singing with an American accent? If so, why?

Does the American accent work better for singing for some reason?

I don't know. Maybe this is how the American accent was invented in the first place.

Maybe the Puritans liked to sing a lot. They kept singing and then said Hey. Let's get rid of the British accent and just use that accent we use for our singing!

I googled this whole thing and found a somewhat disturbing article. It basically talks about how young Australians are adopting aspects of the American accent. I guess it makes sense since Australia has so much American television. We watch ONE Australian TV show and I started picking up the Australian accent.

Speaking of accents....when we were in Sydney, Tim got one of the worst insults of his life. My friend's son whispered. He sounds like George W. Bush. Oh no!!

Accents are a funny thing.

I personally like the Australian accent the best. When I receive my superpowers and take over the world, my first law passed will be that every English-Speaking person must speak with an Australian accent.


  1. Three cheers for Australian accents!

    I like to fake one sometimes just for fun. Unfortunately I sound more like a drunk Aussie trying to sound like an American.

  2. my australian 5 year old daughter and i have lived in the US for 18 months. she lost her gorgeous accent in less than 6 of those months. im trying to cling to mine for as long as i can. check out Missy Higgins if you want to hear an aussie accent in song, if you havent already.

    cool blog, i just stumbled across from facebook...interested to know how your sheep-stay goes ! very rural. watch out for flies, huh?!

  3. Darcy: LOL about the drunk Aussie sounding like an American. It's probably what I sound like.

    Disenchanted: Oh no! That's sad she lost the accent so fast. Does she ever use it around you--go back and forth? I know some people lose accents, but can pick it up again. My husband was born in Korea and adopted when he was about 2. He lost the ability to speak Korean, but he's really good at imitating a Korean accent.

    I've heard Missy Higgins. I can hear a little bit of her accent.

    I think we're going to skip the sheep-stay and do the beach instead. We should do the sheep one day though!

  4. Yep, many of the Aussie singers use an American accent when singing but there's a few who use their own Aussie accent, but they're in the minority.

    Watching some kids quiz shows on TV we've noticed quite a few kids have picked up the American accent from watching TV/movies, etc.
    So I get extra Ocker-like and throw around the slang like a mad cow at a barbie :P

  5. Jayne,

    Good on you for that!!

    I think we should get Americans to use an Aussie accent. We could work on the children.

    That's usually the best place to start.

  6. Weeeelll... there certainly is a lot of hubub about "OMG-Ohnoes, the Aussie accent is disappearing and being replaced by -ZOMG- American accents from TV!!", but any speech pathologist will tell you that's not how it works. Yes, new words will be added to the lexicon, but as far as actual accents...children don't learn accents from TV unless that's the ONLY influence in their lives; they learn primarily from interacting with the people around them. Perhaps the real problem is more parents using the TV as a babysitter? Hmm, but then we'd have to blame ourselves and not teh ebil American TV shows! hahahaha

    The American accent was born primarily of Irish/Scottish roots... you can still hear it when talking to people from New England.

    Children will change accents faster than adults because their speech patterns are far more fluid. Talk to any child of immigrants. It's natural, and if you don't want your kids to change, well...don't move! :)

    As far as singing goes, I think it's done on purpose in order to have mass appeal (i.e. in the biggest market, the USA). It's unfortunate but most Aussie stars have to make it big overseas before they make it big "back home". :(

    (btw, hi... can't recall if I've commented on your blog before, but I'm Tors and I'm an American living in Oz. I run the Yanks Down Under website for Americans living in Australia. I really love reading your enthusiasm, reminds me of myself before I moved here and everything lost its novelty. May you keep yours!)

  7. Tors,

    Hi! Thank you for sharing your insights!

    I never knew that about the American accent (having Scottish/Irish roots). That's pretty cool.

    Are you a speech pathologist or just interested in the subject? I really shouldn't say "just" because someone who is interested in something could probably know as much as a professional.

    I think it's pretty normal for parents to worry about their children losing their cultural identity or accent. I think it's going to happen more and more though. It's so common to communicate with people from different cultures/countries these days.

    I feel myself picking up words. At first they feel so foreign to me, but then after feels that this is what SHOULD be said.

    Like "Going on holiday" or "Spot on"
    "Good on you".

    About the singing though. It seems a lot of the big Aussie singers I've been recently exposed to are NOT big in the USA yet. But they're huge in Australia. long have you been in Australia?? Are you planning to stay permantly? Are you homesick a lot?

    I will check out your website!!! I'll try not to get to jealous of everyone on there ; )

  8. Just dropping in from Jayne's blog. I was discussing this very topic with someone the other day. I do wonder if Aussie bands are bunging on an American or 'international'accent because their record companies think it makes them more saleable internationally.

    Off the top of my head I suggest that you listen to a band called Powder Finger for an authentic Aussie accent (they are from Queensland) or the wonderful Archie Roach.

  9. lid,


    I can sort of hear an Australian accent with Powderfinger and Archie Roach, but I have to strain and concentrate on it.

    I don't think I'd hear it on the radio and say "Hey! They're Australian!"

    It might be that I'm American and not as good as picking up on the Australian accent.

    My ear might not be as intuned as an Australian's might be.

  10. Hi again Dina,

    I've lived here 4 years now...married to an Aussie bloke and never went back. This is my home now.

    My oldest son has a mild form of autism and goes to speech therapy. We've had some interesting discussions about the acquisition of speech and accents. :)

    I dunno... I get that people become anxious when they see their children "losing" their culture, but I think we're missing the big picture. Cultures by very nature are not static... they grow, they change, they develop, as a result of time and new influences/experiences. American culture is a fine example of this; do we speak the same way we did 100 or even 50 years ago? Personally, I see it as like a marriage; you aren't the same person you were when you were single, but you haven't "lost" anything either, you just add to it. I truly believe children are better for having such experiences, not lost.

    I'm not sure which singers you're listening to... Missy Higgins, Powderfinger, Silverchair, and most of the country stars (ever listened to Aus country? hehe) are "known" but not what I would consider to be "huge". People seem to only get a lot of notoriety when they make it big overseas and then return triumphantly, like The Veronicas and Keith Urban. 'Our Nic' was never a big star in Oz til she made it in the States. (but then she's American by birth, so she doesn't count...haha)

  11. Tors,

    How are you adjusting to living there? Do you feel it's your home, or do you still think of America as your home?

    My son had a speech delay and had some therapy when he was younger.

    I think speech and accents are fascinating.

    I think you have some great points about culture. It is changing. I also think more and more we'll be borrowing from each other.

    I think it will be less and less "This is an Australian thing" or "It's an American thing" or "It's a Chinese thing"

    And more "This originated in Australia" This originated in America", etc.

    We borrow and take from each other's cultures.

    I really know nothing about the music industry so I should probably not even respond to what you said there about. I'd be totally talking out of my ass. I have no idea what's popular or not--not even in the United States!!!!

  12. ok as a proud owner of an australian accent thanks:P

    ok if u want an australian accent in songs listen to jebediah paticularly there songs "jerks or attention" "harpoon" or "leaving home" true aussie grungey rocky sorta stuff!

  13. The American accent in Australian music is a fascinating thing. I think it's best demonstrated in a lot of hip hop. Australian hip hop (AKA skip hop) used to be hopelessly American in accent because the style was so American. I don't think it was anything to do with overseas appeal. It just sounded wrong when done in an Australian accent.

    But over time outfits like The Herd and Hilltop Hoods did the Australian thing and we got used to it.

    Then you get bands like The Cruel Sea and a lot of what Nick Cave does... again I don't think it's about trying to appeal to overseas markets, it's just this thing that happens when you sing a certain kind of song. Those guys are kind of about the old American western outlaw culture so that's how they sing.

    I was in a bar in Surry Hills today and Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire came on. I can't imagine even trying to sing that song in an Australian accent. It would be weird. I think maybe that's what it's all about. Saturation of American pop culture for a prolonged period.

    But as the hip hop thing demonstrates, we are slowly getting used to hearing our own accents on the radio.

  14. Please, I am begging any and ALL Americans, please don't try and talk with an Aussie accent. It sounds mangled and we laugh at you.

    [Especially cartoons that try and do our accents. Pee myself laughing at them generally]

    I do however second the vote for Missy Higgins as a good Aussie voice. Plus all the country stuff, that is VERY outback Australian.

  15. Kep: Thanks for the suggestion! I added it to my playlist.

    Lee: I think you have great insights into this. It makes sense to me. I agree certain types of songs work better with certain accents. Or at least it takes time to adjust to a different kind of accent in that type of song.

    Veronica: Hey! That is SO unfair!!!!! Then Australians will have to stop doing the American accent. What will that do for Nicole Kidman and Toni Collette?????? Huh??? I'm going to find you Veronica and follow you around with my mangled Aussie accent. I will try to drive you insane (insert evil laugh here)

  16. Veronica,

    I forgot to say. The first song I heard from Missy Higgins was Scar and I couldn't hear much of an accent. But then I listened to some other song....forgot what it was. And the accent was much more obvious.

    I haven't listened to much country--only John Williamson. Does he count as country or as that more folk music?????

  17. How are you adjusting to living there? Do you feel it's your home, or do you still think of America as your home?

    I feel Australia is my home. Now, if I had gotten married and raised a family in the US and then moved here, it might be different...or maybe not. But I grew up in the States and am now living my "adult life" here. If that makes sense. :)

    Another interesting angle is that, up until 50 or 60 years ago, having a distinct 'broad' Australian accent was considered to be really low-class... having a more British accent was much better. I think Australia is still coming into its own as far as identity, and all the growing pains associated with that.

    Totally OT, but I am a HUGE fan of The Pet Shop Boys, who are British and sing/rap in their native accents... they've been successful for over 2 decades. But perhaps they are the exception and not the rule.

  18. Tors,

    I'm glad to hear you feel Australia is your home. It's funny because I don't really feel like any place is my home. We've moved around so much. I don't feel I belong anywhere.

    I like the Pet Shop Boys. I used to LOVE the song "Go West". You know they played it somewhere in Australia...maybe in Sydney Tower????

    I forgot.

  19. Oh yeah, the PSB toured Australia last year - went to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide. (I think) I SO wanted to go see them, but I was very pregnant at the time. :( Oh well, I'll just have to settle for YouTube! hehe

  20. I think what happens is that American music is more of an influence to us than Aussie music is. It's just the market that is more popular.

    When we listen to our favourite bands it's much easier to be a musician and try and imitate that.

    Nothing is original, we all take parts of everything and make something out of it.

    so if I listen to so much american artists, I am going to start rhyming words like that.

    And also, when you're looking at a page with the words "Fire" and "Desire" and you start to sing them, you try to pronounce them as they are spelt. Which is something us Aussies do not do.

    We would say "Fiya" and "Desiya".

    Maybe I'm talking out of my arse but I just believe it's all imitation. We may have an original song, but the concept is always a copy.

    By the way, Hi. I'm Melyssa :)

  21. Hi Melyssa!

    I think you have interesting ideas whether you're talking out of your ass or not ; )

    Sometimes our asses (or you say) have brilliant insight.

    I'm sure music does include a lot of imitation. I'm really ignorant about the history of music--not really sure where each type originated.

  22. welcome to the outtside world yyyya'llllll