From Glasgow to New Jersey via Las Vegas – accents, crows and the mafia.

Scotland’s an amazing place and I love it for many reasons. The breathtaking landscapes, the multitudes of brilliant bands, the smell of the distilleries,………and, and, and the accents!! Yes! There’s real personality and spirit in the way people speak up there. My rather ordinary southern English accent pales into insignificance when surrounded by these folk.

Here’s a song. You can read some of its lyrics below.

«When your sparkle evades your soul
I’ll be at your side to console
When you’re standing on the window ledge
I’ll talk you back from the edge


I will turn your tide
Do all that I can to heal you inside
I will be the angel on your shoulder
My name is Geraldine, I’m your social worker»

Glasvegas are from Glasgow. Not Las Vegas. Maybe you noticed that by the accent. Or maybe not. Maybe you were so taken by this beautiful song of human compassion that the accent didn’t even seem important to you. And maybe none of the above seemed important to you because you were just thinking ‘this song totally rocks!’ And maybe you knew all this already and you’re, like, ‘Can we get to the point, please?’

OK, so I chose a band from Scotland partly because people do, understandably, say that the accent can be difficult to understand. The other part of why I chose that song is that it’s a beautiful song of human compassion that totally rocks.

You may have heard of ‘RP (received pronunciation) English’ or ‘BBC English’, ‘standard English’ or even, errr… ‘the Queen’s English’. And you may still be thinking, ‘Yeah, but the point, the point…???’ Well, the point I’m trying to make is that it’s all nonsense. Obviously, there’s no one way that native speakers should speak their own language. Nor, by the same rule of thumb, is there one standard that non-native speakers should adhere to. To hell with RP English!! That, dear reader, is my point.

To some extent, all of this goes without saying*.The way we speak our native language may well be a reflection of where we are from, but is, more importantly, a reflection of who we are. So, the way we speak as non-natives should be just the same.

You want to speak RP English? Great! You want to speak English the way you learned it in Birmingham UK or Birmingham Alabama? Right on! You want to speak English in a way that denotes where you’re from and/or the person you are? Excellent!! Here’s a quote from superhero linguist David Crystal: «There is no such thing as an ugly accent, like there’s no such thing as an ugly flower

As the crow flies, it’s 8261 kilometres from Glasgow to Las Vegas. Crows are amazing birds, and so it’s fitting that it should be the crow** that we use in this expression. If you say ‘as the crow flies’ you’re talking about distance in a straight line as opposed to the distance when travelling by car, train or whatever.

If we’re talking Las Vegas then we might as well talk about ‘The Godfather’ Here’s a scene in which Michael Corleone is negotiating the move of the family business from New York to Las Vegas. Incidentally, it’s 3604 km from NYC to ‘Sin City’ as the crow flies.

In this scene, while discussing the move with brother Fredo and Johnny Fontane (singer and godson of Don Vito), Michael says «I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse». In doing so, he echoes probably the best-known quote from the film: «I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse», the infamous line that the Don utters to Johnny Fontane earlier in the film. Fans of future tenses will know that what Michael said sounds like a spontaneous decision (will + infinitive) whereas what Don Vito said was more like a decision made before the moment of speaking (going to + infinitive). In any case, Johnny Fontane was on the receiving end of one of the most famous quotes in cinema history. Twice!

The character of Johnny Fontane is known to have been based on one of New Jersey’s most famous sons – Frank Sinatra. There was actually a pretty ugly public altercation between Ol’ Blue Eyes (a.k.a. The Chairman of the Board) and writer of the novel Mario Puzo in a Los Angeles restaurant. Sinatra was not at all impressed or flattered. This, and a great deal*** more about the making of ‘The Godfather,’ can be seen in the excellent TV series ‘The Offer’.

One of my favourite Sinatra records is ‘Cycles’, which was made at about the same time as ‘The Godfather’ was written. On the LP cover you can see Sinatra lamenting his thuggish bullying of Mario Puzo in that LA restaurant. Well, that’s how I see it anyway. Here he is singing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’.

We seem to have left the accent thing behind. Well, never mind. My whole point was that the accent of non-native speakers isn’t really that important. But pronunciation most certainly is. Don’t get me wrong! All I know about the way people speak in Jersey is that when they say ‘coffee’ they say ‘cawwfee’. Cool.

The untimely death of James Gandolfini in 2013 robbed us of an immense acting talent. Gandolfini was another son of New Jersey and, of course, is best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano. ‘The Sopranos’, one of the most highly acclaimed TV series ever, was set, sure enough, in ‘The Garden State’ (NJ).

So life’s too short to worry about speaking English with an RP accent. Here’s James/Tony with a few tips on how to get the most out of our time here : )

* It goes without saying that ‘it goes without saying’ is a great phrase to use when you want to make a point or toughen up your argument.

** Crows are so cool that they deserve a blog entry of their own. To be continued..

*** The phrase ‘a great deal’ is a useful alternative to ‘lots of’. You’re not going to impress anyone using the latter (you were saying ‘lots of’ when you were 5, anyone can say that!) but the former can be used to refer to uncountable nouns in large amounts. You might say ‘A great deal of time and money has gone into this project’. Maybe that’s what Michael Corleone was thinking with that «offer he can’t refuse»and maybe he was thinking that ‘a great deal’ (now in the literal sense – un gran trato) would be the result.

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