Tag Archives: CAT

Accent chameleons and CAT

I’ll never forget the occasion when I met my cousin Andy at Kings Cross Station back in the 80s.  He just come back to London after living for several years in Australia.

His first words were ” G’Day Mate” in a broad Aussie accent.  As the conversation continued,  I was gobsmacked to hear that he sounded just like Crocodile Dundee. .

“Andy, you’re from Clacton, not Alice Springs!”

Since then I’ve experienced this kind of accent chameleonism  many times.  My brother Don lives in New York and he now sounds far more like a Manhattanite than a Pinner boy. Many Swedes from Skåne, Norrland or another part of the country with a strong regional accent water it down when they move to Stockholm. But of course, whenever they go back to their local area, it comes back. I’m sure if I met my colleague Gary Watson home in Burnley, I’d be struggling to understand him.

Most people adapt both their accent and the expressions they use so that they blend in and don’t draw attention to themselves.

Many actors, of course, do this for their work.

Hugh Laurie (Dr House) has been so phenomenally successful that most Americans don’t even realise he’s a Brit. They would be astonished to see his wonderful performance as the idiotic Prince George in the magnificent Blackadder.

This week I read an article in the Guardian written by a young American, Maraithe Thomas, working with Brits at the newspaper’s New York office and her struggles with British English.


She makes several interesting observations about the differences between US and GB English. And I also learnt that Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) is the academic term for what Cousin Andy was doing. Fascinating!