My cat goes nuts whenever he hears a West Country accent.
I noticed a while ago that whenever I watch clips from “Time Team” on YouTube, he starts walking around and yowling. At first I thought it was Tony Robinson’s voice for some reason that he was mistaking for someone else, but then I had a thought: what if it’s Phil Harding’s voice?
Phil Harding, one of the Time Team archaeologists, has a very distinct West Country accent (Wiltshire, apparently).
I played another clip of a Somerset accent, which is another West Country dialect, and my cat went straight to the door of the room, yowling as if he expected someone to come in.
Incidentally, John probably had a Somerset accent in his youth that he later gave up for a standard RP accent if my memories are correct.
On a hunch, I tried petting my cat and speaking to him in the best West Country accent I could manage, addressing him as “puss,” and he calmed down immediately. He’s now curled up next to me perfectly calm.
I was overdue for some weirdness. Not sure what to make of this; I don’t remember having a cat in that life. PKD was a cat person but I can’t imagine John would have been, since he was a bit more rugged. Then again, you never know.
Last night, I had a dream that was largely nonsensical, but there was one element that stands out.
In the dream, my fiance said the word “army” with a heavy Somerset accent (maybe he was trying to talk like a pirate?). Just hearing the word “army” said that way triggered something undoubtedly past-life related within me and soured my mood. It left me feeling unpleasant even after I had woken up.
What else? I seem to remember there was also a moment going to one of those small, mid-century grocery stores with tall glass fronts that were still common in my childhood (but seem to be vanishing now that everything’s gone to big-box retail). The usual colorful kiddie rides and candy vending machines were out front. I wonder if that means anything? It was a lot like the Piggly-Wiggly in Goose Creek, SC that we would shop at if we were down that way when I was young.
Beyond that, the dream made no sense whatsoever and I’m still in a hazy, dreamlike state (probably because I took something for anxiety right before bed… I hate what those pills do to me though so I rarely take them).
As an American in this life, I have a non-regionalized accent that comes from many years of moving from place to place. I’m currently in the Pacific Northwest but grew up in the Deep South, and I actually sound more at home here on the West Coast.
But in my previous life, as John Harris, I probably had a Somerset accent. For those who don’t know, the Somerset accent is something that traditionally is looked down on by city folk as being plain and humble and more than a bit quaint, as shown here.
More than likely, while serving in a regiment from further north and trying to gain credibility, I would have at least attempted to speak with received pronunciation, or RP. And for much of the 20th century, the regional dialects of the UK began to vanish as RP became the standard pronunciation, enforced by cultural norms and the advent of radio and television. Until as recently as the 1980s, you couldn’t get a job in radio or TV in the UK if you had a regional accent.
But these vanishing regional accents have roots going back perhaps as far as the 16th century, toward the end of the Great Vowel Shift. There are similarities between the surviving Somerset and Yorkshire accents and the original Elizabethan pronunciation. When the pressure to look sophisticated for job markets in the big cities was on, a large part of English heritage started to vanish as the various regional accents became more homogeneous and began to vanish altogether.
I would love to hear even a few seconds of what my voice sounded like when I was an Englishman from Somerset in the early 20th century.