December 15, 2013

Cunning Linguists and Mother Tongues: Hot Accented English

By Alexa Day

More than money, more than power, more than almost anything else a man has – an accent has the power to draw women like a magnet. The only thing hotter than the sound of accented English might be the magic of foreign language itself. But why does it work so well? I’ve got a couple of theories.

It forces you to focus on his mouth. Tight Teutonic sibilance, the languid flow of French, lush, lip-curling Jamaican ease, they each make a man’s mouth work a little differently. More proof that diversity is sexy, right?

It takes a smart man to speak your language. If he doesn’t share your mother tongue, he had to have learned it somewhere.  If he hasn’t conquered it yet, he’s bringing it to heel. Maybe he fought the crazy ins and outs of the English language (especially American English, which is not terribly logical). In any case, it takes a smart cookie to who know your language well enough to be understood, even with his accent.

Ichabod and his "leftenant," no doubt puzzling over street directions.
Ichabod and his “leftenant,” no doubt puzzling over street directions.

It’s a doorway to another world. The man with an accent has something to teach us – if we stick with him, we might get a language lesson or two. Sure, if we apply ourselves, we can learn the traditional way, with instructors and memorization and all that, but my guess is that our multilingual man can teach us the words that don’t show up on the exam.

I'm just not convinced our affable host here is Dracula.
I’m just not convinced our affable host here is Dracula.

The power of the accent might be why Sleepy Hollow is working while Dracula circles the drain. I know I’m not the only one tuning in just to hear Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane say “leftenant.” Poor Ichabod is a classic fish out of water, 250 years away from everything he knows, but that smooth, British sound makes him even more vulnerable because it makes home seem even farther away. Dracula lost me as soon as he started speaking. He might have had all the power of the undead on his side, along with the long, ruthless history of an ancient warrior prince. He moved like the legendary lover and predator he was supposed to be. But Jonathan Rhys Myers sounded like he played beach volleyball for a living. Beach volleyball doesn’t scare me. Much.

Am I just a sucker for that exotic sound? (I will admit that I’ve set the voice on my GPS so that it sounds like an Australian man.) And does my American accent set foreign hearts aflutter? Would it help if I said I was from the South? Share your thoughts on international intrigue in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We deal with a couple of international languages here.


  • Post authorchristineblackthorn

    Hmmmm – accents. I am a Brit having grown up in Germany, Italy, France and the US (not a military brat, just an accident whose parents decided having a child would not mean the end of their education – good for them). Anyway, accents get me too, even though I speak seven languages and have been surrounded by accents all my life.

    I like the idea of an accent necessitating the listener to concentrate on the mouth, and therefore an aspect intrinsically sexual and sexy from the perspective of attraction. But I do believe there is also a cultural bias involved.

    What do I mean? From a European perspective, in a geographical location where accents are more plentiful and common due to the relative shorter distances between linguistic areas, there is nevertheless a difference in the way humans commonly react to the way someone says the word aluminium. And some are more sexy than others. Those nationalities coming off worst – the Germans and the Americans, I am afraid to say so. But closely followed by Australia.

    It’s a cultural stereotype, possibly supported by an unreasonable and stupid resentment of the perceived and forced Americanisation of life, but mostly the image connected to the American accent is that of bumbling ignorance. If we talk and write about the American hero we give him, more often than not, a British accent – explaining it away with European boarding schools and universities.

    But then, so do you Americans. If in film or written form, intelligence is often displayed with a British accent (if the character is hero or villain), the lover with the French, the sleazy lover has an Italian accent and the Baddie is German in his speech patterns. We all perpetuate cultural stereotypes.

    It could therefore be argued that the lack of sexiness in the American accent from a European perspective is a result of American media and its spread across the world. There, you have spoiled the chances of millions of American Teenagers to get laid in Europe.

    Reply to christineblackthorn
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      ha-ha! Very funny. Poor Americans — I think they manage to get by despite this handicap…

      Reply to Madeline Iva
      • Post authorchristineblackthorn

        I teach undergraduates – I can attest to that 😉

        Reply to christineblackthorn
  • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

    Dracula just irks me: I hate Rhys-Myers’ “Amurrican” accent and his co-star’s Australian “English” always sounds off. There are so many British accents and the nuances make a huge difference. I know southerners who can’t bear a Geordie accent, but I know plenty of northerners who bristle at the Received Pronunciation once so beloved of the BBC.

    Then again my partner is Dundonian, so I am accustomed to a certain verbal élan! 🙂

    Reply to C. Margery Kempe
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      OMG, Dracula sounded friendly and approachable, and I just couldn’t bear it. Maybe if he brought some of the smoldering resentment and rage to that California sound, I’d have been happier, but we’ll never know now. 🙂

      I do love the regional variations within accented English; I’ve been known to spend a little too much time on the online dialect databases just clicking and listening and clicking and listening. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorcpmandara

    It’s Francais for me… ah that sound on a man’s tongue… it’s the second best thing a man’s tongue can be doing…

    Reply to cpmandara
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yes, indeedy! I agree with Madeline here, too — I kind of like watching French-speakers wrestle with some of our English. I can’t help but think it’s hot, though; it makes me want to volunteer to help out. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I’ve heard that Dutch love an American accent. In their language it’s like a charming Southern drawl.

    I love (not necessarily in a sexy way) the French accent that sounded like it had to take the long way round to wrap around the American sounds. That French guy on Cupcake Wars has that accent. Like he’d speak in such a fast French slur, but in English each word is a big box he has to get his tongue around…

    Hate hate hate John Rhys Meyers — such a seriously sexy Irish man — like Olympic level sexy — reduced to a banal generic American accent. What were they thinking? They were thinking they wanted a mass audience and that people just wouldn’t understand his accent. Boo!

    And that’s the other thing that bugs me — than an American accent is assumed to be one and the same. Down here in the South we’ve got as many accents as you can shake a stick at. Give me a man speaking a good Virginian or Mississippi accent–it sends me every time…

    Great post Alexa!!!

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorchristineblackthorn

      I love the way how cultural stereotypes differ. In the US an Irish accent has a romantic flair (which makes Dracula in American so strange to me). But why was there no attempt to give it an authentic Eastern European slant? What is the American perception of those accents?

      Reply to christineblackthorn
      • Post authorAlexa Day

        It’s funny how perceptions change from place to place. What Madeline says about the huge variety of Southern accents is right — old money sounds different from country, which sounds different from the mosaic of accents near the water. My hometown’s community college actually offered classes to convert country to old money.

        You know, I think the perception of Eastern European accents is changing. I would imagine Americans felt very differently about them during the days of the Iron Curtain and Cold War, but I think we’ve warmed up considerably now. I personally think they’re hot, but that wasn’t your question, was it? 🙂

        I have absolutely no idea, though, why Dracula sounds like an American. My hope is that someone was just trying to be different, but my fear is that Madeline is right, and someone decided that would be easier to digest.

        Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    I’m with all of you on Dracula. I’m not even watching it anymore. I didn’t like the choice that Rhys Meyers (or the director) made that when he’s with Renfield he has a British accent but when he’s with outsiders he puts on this horrendous American accent to keep up his story that he’s some kind of American businessman. Bad, bad. Just . . . bad.

    As for accents, I used to like English accents, but lately . . . I dunno. I think I’m changing my opinion. Maybe because Englishmen are frequently portrayed as uptight a**holes and I’m starting to buy into it? They seem overly pompous and not sexy? Not sure, but it’s an interesting topic. Also, I’m married to a European whose first language is not English. Maybe my whole accent opinion is biased. Great post, Alexa!

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      It’s interesting to examine those shifting perceptions, isn’t it? Maybe you need a nice Guy Ritchie movie, say, Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to cleanse the palate. 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed!

      Reply to Alexa Day

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