Tuesday, September 20, 2011


In case you missed it, yesterday was 2011's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, when otherwise normal people dress up like pirates, pepper their language with piratical expressions like aarrgghh!, demand grog served by comely ladies in corsets, and generally seize the opportunity to act stupid without the hassle of having to run for Congress first.

But there's another - and, to me, more interesting - aspect to talking like a pirate. Yes, Dear Readers, the linguist in me has again bubbled to the surface at the intersection of two news items: International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and the World's 10 Sexiest Accents. According to the linked article from The Chicago Tribune, OnePoll.com surveyed 5,000 women around the world to determine their perceptions of the sexiest accents. Here are the results of that poll (with my commentary, of course):

10. American. Frankly, I'm surprised to see American on the list, as I've often heard foreign friends talk about how grating an American accent is ... particularly variations like Texan and Brooklynese. See British.

9. Welsh. I don't know that I'd recognize a Welsh accent. The examples given in the story are from Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but I've never really noticed their accents. Odd.

8. Spanish. I'm surprised to see Spanish at #8, as I've always thought that a Spanish accent, particularly when spoken by a beautiful woman, was pretty darned sexy. Perhaps it's because Spanish accents are so commonplace that they lose effect because one hears them everywhere.

7. Swedish. Remember the Swedish Bikini Team? Remember what they sounded like? I didn't think so.

6. British. BBC standard English is the gold standard for sounding aristocratic and well-educated. Sexy, not so much ... more sophisticated, I'd say. It's been said that an educated Englishman reading the want ads out loud will always sound better than an American reading the Gettysburg Address.

5. Australian. Often called Strine (a corruption of how an Australian would say Australian), an Australian accent is a broad variation of British English. Think Crocodile Dundee. Sexy? Not so much, in my opinion, unless spoken by someone like Kym Johnson.

4. French. The true gold standard for sounding sexy, at least for women. What more can I say?

3. Scottish. Sexy? No. Way cool? Yes. Think Sean Connery. Sorry, Fiona.

2. Italian. French may have an edge, but the contest between Italian and French for achingly sexy accents is very close. I'll be listening to Elisabetta Canalis on Dancing with the Stars this season as much as I'll be watching her.

1. Irish. Irish at number 1? Irish? A nice Irish brogue is easy on the ears, but sexy? ... not so much.

Want to hear more accents? English spoken with just about any accent you could imagine can be heard at the Speech Accent Archive maintained by George Mason University here in Northern Virginia, where many hundreds of speakers of various languages were recorded speaking this standard "elicitation paragraph", designed to contain most of the consonants, vowels, and sound clusters of American English:

"Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station."

A trip through the accent archive is really fascinating if you have the time and interest. Give it a try.

Have a good day. Aaarrrggghhh! More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

Arrgh! I was a bit disappointed with the Malaysian accent at the Speech Accent Archive - it sounds nothing like what Malaysians sound like when they speak English. I should go find you a speaker that is more representative of "Manglish" speakers.

Mike said...

Interesting accent site.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

When it comes to American accents, the Southern accent or the Coastal accent do sound sexy. The New England or the Midwestern ones, no so much.

And, hey, those women in Minnesota or N.D. really sound cool!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Unfortunately about accents, there is no uniform American accent. However, certain accents are unkindly associated with stupidity or know-it-allness.

I have a Cajun accent; it made for being underestimated in academe. I'm not complimented by the occasional comparison to the Bostonian accent.

KathyA said...

I think an Irish brogue is VERY sexy!!!