Amusing with Accents

The Beatles at Kennedy Airport, by United Press International [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I admit to doing accents in front of my kids. I’m rough with some of them, but I try every one I can think of. If we’re listening to a Beatles song, why not deliver my own impression of Paul McCartney? If I’m giving orders, why not shout them like a German commander? If I’m inviting my kid to hang out with me, why not go linguistically Down Under with my “mates”?

I have a fairly good ear for accents and dialects. I also love hearing the fluctuations, intonations, and variations when people from other areas speak. There was a book agent at a conference I recently attended who was on a forum panel. She spoke eloquently about her field, but frankly she could have been giving recipe instructions and I would have loved for her to hog the microphone. She had a South African accent. It was beautifully rich. And it’s an accent I haven’t mastered.

I don’t speak any foreign languages. (Well, I speak Texan–which I understand is a whole other language.) But one time, when I was crooning through a conversation in a French accent, my son asked, “So can you speak like that because you learned French in school?” I had to admit to him that everything I knew about doing a French accent, I’d learned from Inspector Clouseau and Pepé LePew.

Pepe LePew

Maybe you can learn from other people who do this well. One of my personal favorites was Steve Landesberg, known to me for playing Detective Sergeant Arthur Dietrich in the old TV show Barney Miller. He could mimic an amazing number of accents. I’ve picked up a few tips from watching him and others.

There are plenty of accents you can attempt. The Linguistic Society of America cites the most accurate count of languages in the world at over 6,800. Think about that! (And here I am just trying to get my book published in English!) That doesn’t even take into account that people from Toronto; Dublin; Melbourne; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Midland, Texas; Queens, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts are all speaking the same language, but it sure doesn’t sound the same!

I don’t know how to teach anybody to do accents, although my younger son picks them up pretty well and tries them out on his friends at school. His current specialty is Australian. In fact, we recently discovered that “cobber” is another word for an Aussie male friend, so we’ve added it to our repertoire.

Is anyone else doing the same thing? Trying on accents from other regions or countries? What are your favorites? I’d like to know.

While waiting for responses, I think I’ll go watch an episode of Star Wars. I need to work on my Wookie.

Round of Words in 80 Days update:  4,729 of 5,000 words written for the week; 271 more to go!