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    #1

    Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Hello.
    I'm just wondering, do native speakers find it hard to understand dialects/accents of English different from the one they use? And of course I don't mean totally rare dialects spoken in some far-off, inaccessible villages in the woods or highlands, but those kinds of dialects you can hear in popular movies. For instance I'm not a fluent listener in English, but I don't have huge problems understanding shows like Columbo or movies like Back to the Future or Home Alone. But recently I've decided to watch the American classic "Gone with the Wind" in the original version, and it's just brought me down, I couldn't make it! I had to rewind and listen over and over again almost every phrase in that movie just to catch 2 or 3 words of it! I've experienced the same in the western movie "Rio Bravo" when it came to listening one of the characters (nick-)named Stumpy. I think he was lacking a few teeth, so his speech might have been unclear, but it seems other characters in the movie did not struggle a lot to understand him. I think I will never attain that level of fluency to be able to understand even unclear or defected speech : (

  1. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    The only time I could not understand a native speaker of English (who was sane and sober) was in Scotland. Cajuns are also tough.

    Many time I may miss a word or two from other people with an accent very different from mine but only that one time was I left mystified over the entire conversation. Fortunately it was one taking place next to me not with me.
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 13-Apr-2014 at 10:14. Reason: typo

  2. probus's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    I also have had trouble with Scottish. Long ago on a Friday afternoon near the border between England and Scotland I picked up two hitch-hikers. They turned out to be a pair of Glaswegian labourers who were just going to the village to cash their pay cheques. But when they learned I was going to Glasgow they decided to go home for the weekend. They then proceeded to converse in what I assumed must be Gaelic, since I couldn't make out a word of it. When I politely asked them to speak English, they replied "We are!"

    So that experience is very like Barb_D's. When the Scots were talking to me I could understand them, but when they were talking among themselves I could not. Native speakers of Jamaican English have told me something similar: if they don't wish to allow me to understand, they are fully capable of preventing me.
    Last edited by probus; 08-Apr-2014 at 03:43.

  3. Calis's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Many people will tell you that the thickest Scottish accents particularly the Glaswegian accent, as we have seen cause some problems. But apart from that, as a British person who lives in the south-east (see Estuary English), I struggle to think of many other accents which would cause me many problems, except some strong northern accents (like this one, from Huddersfield; I can barely make it out). But then again, as I said I'm from the south, where people speak more like this, and so I am particularly unaccustomed to the various accents of the north of England.

    But it's not only phonological but lexical differences that should be considered. For instance, take this passage:

    I was sent down the kermit, 'cause I 'alf-inched some bread (turned out to only be a Lady Godiva) from a mutton bloke, but in my defence, 'e didn't look like he could chase me: 'e 'ad no rhythm and blues, you see, and 'e looked a bit Tom and Dick, but 'e ran like the wind! 'E whacked me round the boat race, got 'is 'ands around my loaf an' all (I tell ya, my Gregory didn't half hurt after!) and 'ollered for the Old Bill, innit! I got 'auled up before the beak, and 'e, er, didn't look too favourably on my case. 'Caused a fight, see. Well, I was aggravated, wasn't I! 'E was only making out I was, you know, Stoke-on-Trent, right there in the courtroom!
    Many English native speakers would have considerable difficulty understanding that. Yet there would be little trouble making out what the Cockney speaker would say for most speakers. This is, granted, an extreme example, but still, little Cockney rhyming slang words would wend their way into a Cockney speaker's speech, which might make it a little more difficult for their speech to be made out. And it's not just Cockney which has its own argot (although it is the most famous) every dialect has its own little words like that most are simple and used sparingly enough that they don't cause many problems.

    On the whole, in the UK at least, most of the dialects are largely comprehensible, and even if they aren't, speakers can and do moderate their accent, to make it more neutral for their struggling audience.

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    #5

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    I had trouble understanding a number of speakers in Newcastle- I had to ask three or four people before I could understand the directions given.



    my Gregory didn't half hurt
    Wouldn't a Cockney who talks like this say me Gregory?

  4. probus's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    I am wondering how many traces of rhyming slang really do remain in contemporary BrE. Having looked up the wikipedia article, I noticed "berk", a term that was common when I was in England 40-45 years ago. But I haven't seen or heard berk in ages.

    Does rhyming slang really survive to any significant extent?

  5. Raymott's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    Does rhyming slang really survive to any significant extent?
    It does in AusE, but to nowhere near the extent that people like to imply.

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    #8

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    Does rhyming slang really survive to any significant extent?
    It is still used in London, but rarely as a full-on, incomprehensible anti-language. It comes through as more of a smattering and a bit of colour. Also, it has moved beyond the original circles. Quite a lot nowadays uses names of celebrities, so it has a short shelf-life- Britney Spears for beers is probably less common than it was a few years ago.

    This is massive over-lexicalisation in certain areas, so there are dozens of terms for drinks, drugs, toilets, crime and so on, but much less use of a wide replacement vocabulary.

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    I am wondering how many traces of rhyming slang really do remain in contemporary BrE.
    berk/butchers/cobblers/raspberry are some that I can think of off-hand that are still used in general English. There are a fair few, and many that people are unaware come from it. I should coco/cocoa (= think so) is used by some, and known to be rhyming slang, but many would use cobblers or blow a raspberry without knowing where the words came from.

  6. probus's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Delighted to learn that cobblers has survived. Hardly anybody over here knows what a load of old cobblers is, but we sure do have a lot of them.
    Last edited by probus; 11-Apr-2014 at 03:51.

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    #10

    Re: Do native speakers have problems understanding dialects?

    Scots definitely give me a problem. At least in the movies like "Trainspotting," I need to use the captions.

    I have experienced in Trinidad as described above, that the natives there could speak standard English to me, but amongst themselves it was mostly indecipherable.

    And I once had an experience in the US south where I could not make out many of the words being spoken.

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