Somerset Accent

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.