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Everyone Has an Accent (nytimes.com)
81 points by kilovoltaire 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

The article focuses on how standard an accent is, but to me the main factor is whether it's familiar enough to the listener for nuanced conversation to be understood. All English speakers are familiar with the Western US accent and British RP. But faced with an accent they haven't heard before, they miss nuances.

By 'nuances', I'm not talking about literary subtleties. For instance, when you ask if someone can do something and they say "Okaaaaaay...", there's a lot of content in the inflection of the aaaaaay that tells you how likely it is to happen. That content is different for different accents.

Since it's a hopeless cause that everyone will learn to speak with the same accent, people working in global businesses should learn to understand the major world accents. It seems like an order of magnitude less work to understand an accent than to speak it.

In the tech world, it's pretty useful to be able to understand Hindi, Mandarin, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Australian, Singapore, Israeli, and Filipino accents.

This is definitely useful to keep in mind, but I think one point that might not be represented adequately is the utility of a standard. I understand that there are difficulties for people speaking in a nonnative accent, but there is also actual value in being close to standard and having less accents considered standard. When many people are specializing in many things, having a standard way of speaking allows us to more quickly understand one another and skip the basics. The judgement that I personally make when I hear a non-standard accent is not that they are lower in status; it's simply that it will take more work on my end to understand them, and thus I'm less inclined to deal with them in particular because of the language barrier and my being lazy.

> The judgement that I personally make when I hear a non-standard accent is not that they are lower in status; it's simply that it will take more work on my end to understand them, and thus I'm less inclined to deal with them in particular because of the language barrier and my being lazy.

Not everybody understands this. There are plenty of people in the US who think Southerners are stupid just because of their accent, or who look poorly upon speakers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) simply because of the perceived difference in class, regardless of actual education or intellectual capability. It's terribly unfortunate, but pop culture often leans into the stereotypes, reinforcing the perception of a class distinction.

Additionally, I think your decision to still avoid non-native speakers is somewhat disappointing. How are they (non-native speakers) supposed to get better if nobody will interact with them? A native accent comes from a combination of things (fluency, confidence, and exposure to the accent itself). Choosing not to interact with them prevents them from being exposed, and it also lessens their confidence. It's super obvious when a native speaker is just trying to get away from a situation like that, and I can only imagine how disheartening it would be to be the non-native speaker in such a situation.

I've heard a theory that the slow southern accent was due to a hookworm outbreak. So maybe historically at least there was some validity in the assumption.


You have the theory reversed. It's that hookworms caused lethargy, which was perceived as laziness. As a result, the southern accent has become associated with laziness.

Personally, I think it's more related to negative opinions about the South following the Civil War, which is why even upper-class southern accents face the same stigma.

Heh no, linguists are sure it's the most similar dialect to Old English, the only difference is maybe the tempo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=mNqY6ftqGq0

Not "Old English", but the British English accent prevalent around the time of the founding of the United States.

Old English is ~500AD, Beowulf, and a completely different language to anything ever spoken in the United States.

Correct, sorry for any confusion.

You see, what you might not realize...

I'm not going to look up citations, but I will suggest that the South lagged behind the rest of the nation educationally and in other ways in part because much of the Civil War was fought on Southern turf and they burned Atlanta to the ground because it was an important manufacturing center that was probably way ahead of most Northern cities and it was keeping the Southern army resupplied. Burning Atlanta to the ground left behind a legacy of reduced infrastructure and the South was very bitter about it.

Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the book, which was very well documented, but I read a history of the Deep South at one time. It is unfortunate I can't remember the name because it documented something that flies in the face of what most people apparently believe about the Federal minimum wage law. This book asserted that it was an anti-racist policy intended to end the practice in the Deep South of paying Blacks half of what Whites made. Many Blacks were fired after it was passed because Southerners often were simply unwilling to pay Blacks "a White man's wage."

World War 2 was instrumental in making the Federal minimum wage law stick. Before that, it was proving to be a failed and unenforceable policy.

Up to half the population in the South is Black (it no doubt varies, but it is about half in the city I grew up in) and under slavery they were forbidden from learning to read and write. It was one of the ways they were controlled. So when you suddenly have something like half your population made up of freed slaves, most of whom are illiterate and who carry a lot of baggage about being forbidden from learning, yes, the area as a whole is going to lag behind the rest of the nation educationally. It will take a long time to start remedying such a deficit.

Many hot places have a reputation for being lackadaisical. In Mexico, they have a tradition of taking siestas -- naps -- during the hottest part of the day. In the Middle East, they have the expression "Only mad dogs and Englishman" to refer to who would be going about their business out of doors during the hottest part of the day.

The Deep South in the US is not only hot, it is also humid. I grew up in Georgia and I have lived in Southern California and Texas, among other places. When it is humid, you can't just drink more and sweat it out. It won't evaporate. It's like a sauna.

So the only thing that makes sense is to sit your ass down on the front porch in the shade in a rocking chair and make chit chat until it isn't so hot that doing stuff threatens to cause fainting. As a wild ass guess, this is the origin of the slow Southern drawl -- getting through the heat of the day without heat stroke, pre-AC, by slowing down and sitting a spell, during which time you didn't want to do anything too energetically, not even talk.

And then it is completely and totally normal for people to make associations that run both ways, where the Southern drawl becomes a signifier for poverty, lack of education, etc since those things were common there, though it really had nothing to do with inherent stupidity of the locals.

The South lagged considerably behind the rest of the union in education, and for that matter prosperity,before the Civil War: see de Tocqueville writing in the 1830s or Olmsted in the 1850s. Slavery did have something to do with the latter anyway.

I don't make the decision to avoid them. I said that "I'm less inclined to deal with them". That's a very important distinction.

This is just a thought from the other point of view - from a person with an accent: I tend to avoid people that avoid me because of my accent. Granted, English is my first language and Norwegian my second... but I never know what to think.

I'm sometimes difficult to understand. I know this and I'm working on it. I do switch to English if the other person understands it (It is very common, even if they have trouble speaking). I can carry on basic conversations, though sometimes I get lost with new vocabulary or am simply not fast enough to join in. I can work basic jobs with patient folks. I slowly reading adult novels. But when people avoid me for not speaking well enough, I can't tell if it is because I'm having a bad day with the language or if the person is an asshole.

Nearly everyone I speak to in English has an accent. I've one friend here that is a native English speaker, but even then our accents are different - him being British and me American. However, I also know that if you expose yourself to accents more often, they become easier to understand. This is where the lazyness comes in, I'm sure, but heck. I'd personally rather not be the asshole.

I'm just honestly representing my subconscious reaction to not understanding people easily at times. Perhaps I should put more effort into it for more people. I definitely have plenty of relationships with non-native speakers. It just takes more time for me to acclimate to them, and therefore there is a greater cost to doing so.

I grew up bilingual outside the US, and speak English with a hybrid British/Indian/Middle Eastern accent (with some of my personal quirks, and mixing increasing amounts of Californian over time). I can understand English in nearly any accent (Singaporean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Nigerian) as long as the words involved are globally used and the grammar is passably queen's. Especially after hearing it for about an hour. And people who natively speak English with these various accents usually can understand my English better than they can an average American accent. Yet in this country, my accent is mocked, despite being perfectly understood and more versatile. Even by others who don't speak with the American accent!

This is the problem of the "default accent" anywhere being referred to as "no accent", and therefore anything deviating is considered "having an accent". This makes "accent" a negative trait, scaling from 0-bad to heavy-bad. But if the vernacular were such that we said "American accent" instead of "no accent", then noone's accent is bad, just not used to.

This isn't directed at parent in particular, but just voicing a pet peeve:

It's extremely offensive to imply someone's command of a language is bad just because you aren't familiar with their accent. Most of my non-American peers who were raised on English have a better command of the language than my American ones, yet they are mocked for their accents as if they don't know the language, when in reality it's the Americans lack of familiarity with the language (as its used globally) preventing them from comprehending the language.

So yes, put in more work, the world is shrinking and English is the global language. What you're saying is spoken from a position of privilege because the culture allows you to mock others' accents rather than the other way around.

Remember, every time you hear English with an accent other than British, American or Australian, it usually means the speaker knows at least one entire other language as well, probably one that you would sound like an idiot if you tried to speak it. Don't be rude or dismissive of their intelligence.

I have to agree with this assessment. My accent is actually quite neutral and while traveling outside of USA, it's easily understood by local people in comparison to accent from USA, Australia or England. This summer I was traveling in Balkan countries with an American friend from USA, and people had hard time understanding him. I had to chime in lot of time to explain what he is asking for. Also, there were certain words which I think are very specific to American English, but not used outside of USA e.g. crosswalks instead of zebra crossing. This also makes it bit more difficult to understand American accent for those who don't watch lot of American TV shows or movies.

Thank you for your comment. I too have that pet peeve, and I'm glad you voiced it. Just to give you some personal context, I'm a dual citizen between the UK and America, so I've had an interesting relationship to various understandings of the "default accent". I've been told that my pronunciations and word choices are too American or too British in different contexts. I think the important thing to realize is that there is a barrier to understanding that needs to be overcome, and I'm not saying that one side is more responsible than the other for overcoming that barrier. All I was trying to give voice to was my genuine inner process for better or worse. I'm not saying it's right, just that I've gotten by in this way for the reasons stated.

This is in fact directly stated and addressed in the article:

>It’s certainly true that a marked accent can get in the way of making yourself understood. E.S.L. learners and others are well advised to work on their pronunciation. As a teacher, I do try to lead my students toward some version of that flawed ideal, the native accent. ... My point is not that we need to forget the aim of easily comprehensible communication — obviously, that remains the goal. But we do need to set aside the illusion that there is a single true and authentic way to speak.

Yes, but given the context of the article, this did not seem to be an adequate representation of the other side. There is more to it than the idea of "a single true and authentic way to speak". I would say that a better way to frame it is "an organic coalescence into normative standards for better cooperation".

Did you try to learn another language? I found that people who learnt another language are less conservative on their native language and make effort to speak slowly etc. Generally speaking they are more open-minded when they travel abroad.

I would not say that I'm fluent at Spanish, but I have and continue to put in some effort to speak it.

> but there is also actual value in being close to standard and having less accents considered standard

So who gets to decide what is standard and what isn't and why?

For the US it's the accent located in the population center of the country, of course. A little south of Kansas city on the Missouri side of the river.

I would say that it's a nebulous and organic process that settles into particular pronunciations. One thing a lot of people don't realize is that the British accent is actually considerably more divergent from the one that was common to America and England in 1600 (I can't seem to find the source right now, but will edit if/when I do). I'm not saying that it's right, just that it happens and that there are valid reasons for it happening.

We do this by consensus, instinctively choosing whatever is most typical for the powerful, or perhaps a slightly exaggerated version of that.

So: doctors, lawyers, politicians, rich people, random TV personalities, CEOs, generals...

So the same accent as Malcolm Turnbull, Jacinta Ardern, The Queen, Donald Trump, Leo Varadkar, my Polish GP, my Italian dentist, Elon Musk, Alan Sugar and Duncan Bannatyne.

I'm not sure that works.

As a child I had a strong South African accent, although I could not hear it. I remember visiting some relatives in the north of England and being very surprised by their accents - and saying to my mother, "thank goodness we don't have accents!". I now have an American accent and equally don't hear my accent when I talk, and laughed at a recording I recently heard of my childhood accent.

I grew up in NZ, lived in Silicon Valley for 20 years starting in my mid 20s, have been back in NZ for 15 years now - I variously have an American/Australian/English/Kiwi accent depending on where I'm being listened to and the general exposure of the person doing the listening to the rest of the world.

In fact there's no where on the planet where I don't have an accent, and I'm old enough that this will always be true. I am well and truly screwed.

I happen to have a slight Scottish accent, despite never having lived there (or in any other country where English is the dominant language, for that matter.)

Reason is simply that when I was a kid, the house next door - the only house next door, this being rural Norway - was purchased by a family from Aberdeen, who'd decided to move to Norway to try something new.

If I wanted to play with their kids, I'd better learn some English fast - and the only speakers around were the Scottish kids next door.

Incidentally, I now go to Aberdeen for work on a regular basis, and the locals never fail to ask how long I've been living there, seeing as I've started to pick up their accent and all...

I'm 40 years old and still have a very strong Afrikaans accent. I've made peace with it and actually embrace my accent. Although my English grammar is good and my vocabulary above average I definitely perceive different reactions when I have a discussion with an English South African vs written communication. It frustrates me, and since I realised it I also picked up on how many white people mock black South Africans' English accents. The prejudice will hopefully stop one day.

Having been in a similar boat, what I find amazing is how there are words I say with an American accent 99% of the time, but in the context of a South African reference, will say it with a South African pronunciation. Tomato is one of these words. I say tomato like any other North American, but when I am referring to a tomato breedie, well suddenly, I say it like a South African. What I find most odd, is that I don't feel weird when I say it in context, but if I try and say it out of context, it seems so forced.

My mother is Australian and my father is American. We (my two sisters and I) had a distinct Australian tinge to our speech which was obvious in elementary school. This caused me to actually miss test questions on syllabification in class, since a more typical US accent would say e.g. i-de-a but our mother broke it into i-dea. Mom actually protested that one to the teacher.

I've lost most of that except for a residual tendency to say eye-ther (either) and tomahto (tomato), which my Strine wife smirks at.

I'm Australian born and bred, lived here my entire life, and I say 'tomahto' and 'eye-ther'. I'm also firmly on the right-hand-side of the trap/bath split.

It's a mistake to think that there is a single Australian accent.

There's definitely a few different Aussie accents.

I live in central Melbourne, and most people I meet have an accent very similar to a Kiwi accent, close enough that after only a year since I came from NZ, most people think I'm an Aussie. The accent has been easy to pick up, just say 'feesh and cheeps' and use a high rising terminal (like you're asking a question), and you're good to go.

However, go to the outer suburbs, or rural Australia, or up the coast to NSW or QLD, and you get a whole array of different accents. You've got the ocker accents, the wog accent, the aboriginals have their own accent.

My family back in Madrid would have a hard time understanding the Spanish of my English-speaking students in my first-semester classroom.

There's good reason for this. In English, if you pronounce a vowel wrong or leave it out, you have an accent. If you pronounce a consonant wrong or leave it out, you're unintelligible. Spanish is closer to the reverse, where the vowels are essential and the consonants are supplemental. If you're native to one language you'll need a lot of pronunciation drills to get good at the other.

> If you pronounce a consonant wrong or leave it out, you're unintelligible

I don't know anything about Spanish but this seems like an overgeneralization for English. There's rhotic and non-rhotic accents. Public figures start dropping their gs to appear folksy. My dad's side of the family says "the" as "da" and they're understood if occasionally lightly mocked.

I'm overgeneralizing both on the English side and the Spanish side. But there's enough truth in my description to cause speakers of one language to focus on the wrong parts of pronouncing the other language.

It's not just foreign accents that might lead to discrimination. After 25 years in the US I still have a German accent but I'm pretty sure that's less of a liability than a southern or african american accent (or vernacular, probably), at least on the coasts where I'd be likely to job-hunt.

> Worldwide, nonnative speakers of English outnumber natives by a ratio of three to one.

I was vaguely aware of this, but hadn't really thought about the numbers.

For reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of...

In the event it's not obvious, English is 3rd in terms of native speakers, but you'll need to calculate all the others to compare with all non-native speakers of English.

Of the languages on this list, here are the subset where non-native (L2) speakers outnumber native (L1) speakers by a factor of two or more:

- English (378m L1, 744m L2)

- French (77m L1, 208m L2)

- Malay (77m L1, 204m L2)

- Swahili (16m L1, 82m L2)

- Thai (21m L1, 40m L2)

Technically Thai isn't quite 2x, but the error bars on these numbers are generally big.

Some languages have an opposite distribution, where nearly all of the language's speakers are L1 speakers. Bengali, Japanese, Portuguese, and Wu/Shanghainese are in this category, as well as perhaps Spanish (only ~14% of speakers are L2, which surprised me). Many others fall somewhere in between.

This would make an interesting data visualization.

Thailand's population is around 68 million. So they are saying that only about a third of Thais are L1 speakers of Thai? That seems quite strange.

About 20 million people in northeastern Thailand speak Isan, a dialect of Lao. There's also a long tail of languages spoken in minority communities. Thai is widely spoken in Bangkok but the rural areas are much more of a patchwork in terms of languages used. As I said though, these numbers have large error bars so it's hard to be very certain of what the actual distribution looks like today.

Well, there's India. Which sort of blows up the curve, what with their billion-plus population.

Only a minority speak English.

A 12% minority of one billion[1] is still greater than the combined populations of the UK, Canada, Australia and South Africa.


I consider it a point of pride that I can understand virtually anyone speaking English no matter how strong their accent is. I assume it's from being around a lot of people that learned English as a second language.

It would make sense that one of the factors that has made English successful is that it's very forgiving of varying pronunciations. Some other languages are much more precise.

But it does often require a lot more effort to understand someone speaking with a heavy accent. A really great podcast, History on Fire, is hard for me to listen to because the author has a strong Italian accent. I can understand it perfectly well but it's mentally exhausting so I don't listen regularly. I consider it a shame because I like the content.

Accents are also a class signal. Given that it’s easier to adjust your accent than to change people’s opinion on them, it’s probably worth maki g the effort to soften up the accent.

I've been trying to make my own accent. I sometimes hear people pronounce things differently and prefer that way so I start trying to say it that way. I guess less of an accent more just preferred pronunciations.

I also do this. There are some words that I prefer to pronounce as Brittish English for emphasis.

As much as I agree, let’s obviously not judge people based on accents, I find this a bit ridiculous. I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at the idea of visiting let’s say France, completely butchering pronunciations, and then claiming that anybody who corrects me just has a different accent. There’s obviously more or less correct ways to speak a language...

I've lived in enough different parts of the U.S. that I've lost track of what sounds the vowels are supposed to make. I sound odd wherever I am.

I can relate. I've lived in many areas of the US, and picked up bits and pieces of accents from here and there. I'll even pronounce the same word differently at times without even realizing it, the most notable word being creek, pronounced either "creek" or "crik". I'm liable to pronounce it both ways in the same sentence!

>that nobody hearing their American accents presumes that they are less capable, less ambitious or less honest than if their R’s had a nicer trill

I don't know if i'd say...less capable personally, but I'm a Urban-Modern-Australian english speaker, as distinct from what I'll call the lower-class suburban australian, rural-strine, or "snooty adeladian-recieved". I've included 4 accents there where most older australian academic literature seems to recognise 3, and I'm not including the various ethno-tinges based on how you might pronounce the phrase "fully-sick sub-woofer" for example.

I've been personally told my accent sounds "upper-class and educated" from an american perspective, which I find hilarious considering I think i sound like an absolute bogan whenever in the presence of americans/english. However, I've also been told by non-english speaking persons that they really like the way myself and my wife speak: something to do with clear annunciation or something.

Anyway, back to the main point: I question whether this is true, because you can bet I pick up on and have various aesthetic opinions on the various english accents. I find it very hard to believe that there are not connotations attached to how various english speakers speak and pronounce other languages. This would make english some kind of "magical" language that overcomes social-regional-contextual interpretation, and I simply do not believe that can be the case. And i know enough american friend's experiences overseas. I know there were parts/towns of the middle east while travelling I was advised not to stay in for very long with my accent, and I am well aware of the general advice for certain american accents to take advantage of the ambiguity and identify as canadian while travelling.

For the record, the non-exhaustive list of accents I identify and their subjective opinion are something along the lines of (keeping in mind, I'm not saying these are my explicit-acted on opinions, they're the subjective-connotations I recognise them as carrying in my own subculture):

> Californian: loud, extroverted, a little bit of extroverted stupidity, annoying.

> New-york: loud, extroverted, annoying in a different way.

> Boston-twang: personally, a bit humorous, not exactly intellectual (park the car in the harvard yard)

> Various-southern US: slow, naive but friendly

> English-RP: snooty, but never hear anyone who actually talks like this, except on some BBC programs, where sometimes it comes across as a bit comical like someone's taking the piss.

> English-other: pretty friendly/approachable in general, obviously can't list all the many english-native accents

> Scottish: cool, though stronger ones border on unintelligible until you get used to it

> Irish: extremely cool + attractive

> New Zealand: its practically urban-australian except for a handful of fish and chips-esque give-aways, basically one of us

> Wog-english (using the term in a friendly way, not as a put-down): generally to cover the greek, lebanese, italian accents. Does have lower-middle class connotations for better or worse.

I'd had quite a bit of experience in my time with different US accents by the time I hit college. In my experience, I generally don't have a problem understanding anyone I'm listening to from the US. Sometimes they have a hard time understanding me, or don't get the slang or vernacular I'm using.

When I first got to college, I was suddenly emerged in hundreds of foreign accents (for an undergrad school of ~1200 students, I think we had at least 180 different nationalities represented). Hardest for me to understand were the mainland east-Asian accents. I think because they natively just don't have some of the same sounds we use in English. For instance, my 1st semester, I had a Chinese native professor for Calculus 2. It took me a good 6-8 weeks to figure out what the hell "arfa" was (possibly adding to the confusing was his hand writing was atrocious). Finally figured out he meant "alpha" after he wrote the symbol slightly different one lecture (normally in his handwriting, "alpha" looked more like "<" than "α").

Anyways, I learned a lot about how to understand and interpret various accents while I was in college as I worked as a door guard in the dorms, so I was forced to interact with a lot of different nationalities than I otherwise would have. It has served me pretty well professionally as I've been able to easily work understand colleagues from other countries pretty easily (although they cannot always understand me). One of my favorite encounters was when I worked at a hedge fund that had several multinational offices, but had an all-hands on-site IT gather in the US. I gravitated towards the Brits, as they were a fun lot and I got along with them great. I could understand them perfectly, but they could hardly understand a word that came out of my mouth. Cracked me up to no end at the time, but I was eventually able to communicate to them once I was able to sloppily fall into their vernacular. May not have been perfect, but I made contact. Certainly helped cross-ocean cooperation and communication.

Before I moved to Australia from NZ, I always though of the Australian accent as your typical Ocker Steve Irwin accent. That's the Aussie accent we use in NZ to take the piss out of Aussies.

I've since moved to Melbourne, and in under a year, nobody even thinks I'm not an Aussie. The inner-city Melbourne accent is so similar to the Kiwi accent. All I had to do was start saying 'feesh and cheeps' instead of 'fush and chups' and I was 90% of the way there. The other 10% has been picking up the slang.

No way am I going to start calling jandals thongs though. That's just odd.

I think the point there is that an English speaker who learns a second language doesn't suffer the social stigma of a someone who learns English as a subsequent language.

(I have a pseudo-scientific theory that the Australian accent's more piercing qualities are a consequence of having to carry clearly through dense bush. But a more compelling explanation is that it's an accent of expedience that accelerated some of the phonetic changes in British English once a small and socially-mixed group of speakers split off from the main pack.)

Is that true though?

I mean, there's the obvious point that if you're coming from the in-power group, its very hard to be "meaningfully stigmatised" by the out-power group no matter what. You will be identified, but if the other group has little power, no one from the in-power group really cares. And for better or worse in the majority of contexts, native english speakers are coming from in-power groups, and the context of them meeting with people with english as a second language is going to be usually in the context of dealing with low power groups and stereotypes.

I, of course, recognise that happens, and that it will be a common occurence in east/west coast america.

But take the "baka gaijin" phenomenon as a contrasting stereotype for example. I don't accept that english speakers learning a second language, outside of the context where the english speaker is just authoritatively in the positive-power relationship, suffers no social stigma or consequences when trying to learn a second language.

See also connotations around gringo, bule, laowai, gweilo, etc.

Given that WITHIN english and context there are disparate and conflicting connotations of having various accents, and that we (and others) can discern various ethnic and regional cross-language influences, i think its either a very localised-specific phenomenon (i.e. with the caveat as long as you're power dominant white english speaking person in the coastal US cities) or something that can't just generally be held to be true.

"Snooty Adelaidean-received" is better known as the Australian Cultivated accent, and is spoken by a number of Australians not from Adelaide.

In fact the most famous of these people were born completely outside of Adelaide. The three examples listed on Wikipedia are Malcolm Fraser, Cate Blanchett, and Geoffrey Rush. They were born in Toowoomba, Toorak, and Ivanhoe -- the latter two being suburbs of Melbourne.

Personally, I definitely speak Snooty Adelaidean-received, but I do have the excuse of originally being from Adelaide.

> > Various-southern US: slow, naive but friendly

That's a common misconception ;) More like strategic.

For those of us from the wrong part of the world, could you define "taking the piss"?

It's short for "taking the piss out of (someone or something)." To make fun of, but in a light-hearted way that implies the speaker has the advantage of the target. In the instance above, it means "using an exaggerated British accent to lampoon people who genuinely speak that way."

The "piss" in question is seriousness, authority or importance (compare "piss and vinegar"), but you can take it from someone with the aid of humour. Piss-takes can be a form of speaking truth to power.

Huh, thank you for explaining that. Prior to this I had only recognized the phrase "Are you taking the piss?" from watching Misfits, and from that context had always assumed it meant "are you out of your mind?". Seems more like "Are you screwing with me?" or "are you serious?" would be the more accurate meaning given this definition.

"Taking the piss out of someone" has the same meaning as "taking the mickey out of someone". Perhaps that's the expression in the English you speak.

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