British Accents, The Secret Garden, and a Muhnkeh!

I'm nothing if not an Anglophile, and we tend to find our own. Thus, it surprises me that I don't encounter more links to Sounds Familiar, the British Library's interactive map of dialects. Its recordings reach back several generations, representing the vastly varying speech patterns of that venerable island kingdom. Sounds Familiar also includes fascinating and accessible written explanations of the linguistic phenomenons as one hears them, and the recordings reveal an oral history that is engaging in its own right. My favorite discovery? That "Queen's English" is really a misnomer. What we think of as the most proper British accent is called Received Pronunciation, and it is not region-specific at all, though it can tell us a lot about the social class of the speaker.

So what does the Queen speak? Linguists claim that Queen Elizabeth II has a dialect entirely to herself. This is so richly symbolic of the entire state of the British monarchy that I nearly fell off my chair.

Click this screenshot to visit Sounds Familiar.

Click this screenshot to visit Sounds Familiar.

When I teach The Secret Garden I like to introduce my students to recordings of Yorkshire speech so that they understand why Mary Lennox had a hard time understanding Martha, Dickon, Ben Weatherstaff, and the rest. Sometimes I show them Sounds Familiar, but usually we don't get any further than this YouTube clip of little Millen Eve I've before the classroom erupts in delight.

Millen Eve's uncle made the video, and I told him in the YouTube comments that we used it in class. He direct messaged me and said that his niece's accent is sadly almost gone now, some five years later. I'm glad he preserved it, and my class and I were thrilled that he reached out to us. Someone tell the British Library to put this on Sounds Familiar!