Thursday, February 17, 2011

For All You Budding Henry Higginses Out There

When I was a kid Northern Ireland was such an insular and static society that you could easily tell where someone was from by their accent. Where I grew up, Carrickfergus, I could spot someone from West Belfast, South Belfast, Larne, Ballymena etc. as soon as they opened their mouth even though these places are geographically only a few miles apart. It was also not difficult to spot someone from Derry, Armagh, North Down etc. Northern Ireland then had half a dozen regional accents and I was familiar with at least three different Scottish accents and maybe a dozen English ones. Society has gotten a lot more fluid since the 70's and 80's and regional accents have somewhat faded, but not completely.
In this little clip legendary UTV newsman Julian Simmons shows how to change Northern Irish accents in the blink of an eye. At about 22 seconds in he switches from a South Belfast received pronunciation to a broad, camp West Belfast drawl. I dont know if anyone outside of Northern Ireland will notice the difference but it is quite striking.
I dug this clip up because I mentioned Julian doing the recorded airport announcements at Belfast International Airport (which he used to do in the 80's) in my new novel Falling Glass. Gerard Doyle (the audiobook reader) wanted to do know what Simmons sounded like and hey presto the internet came to my rescue. Whether Doyle will be able to do both of Simmons's accents or even one of them remains to be seen, but his little preview for me on Skype was impressive.