Accentuate The Positive

It has been said that the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language. Thanks to staples like Masterpiece and Britcoms-a-plenty, however, viewers of public television here in the states are well familiar with the English language as delivered by voices from the other side of the pond. But just how well do we understand them?

I ask this question not rhetorically, rather spurred by a conversation I had with some UNC-TV staffers recently about the series Wolf Hall on Masterpiece.

[To interject quickly, I finally watched the premiere episode of Wolf Hall and highly recommend it. The episode repeats tomorrow – Saturday, April 11 – at 3am on UNC-TV and the series continues Sunday at 10pm, following Mr. Selfridge on Masterpiece Classic. Set your DVRs. UPDATE: It is now after April 11 but not to worry – Wolf Hall is streaming on our web site so you don’t have to miss a minute of this fabulous drama.]

Someone suggested that the British accents of Wolf Hall might be hard to understand and that a graphic directing viewers to turn on their television’s closed captioning might help bridge the gap in language comprehension. The suggestion was made in earnest, designed to aid those who might have trouble digesting the accents of Wolf Hall, but soon set aside in the belief that our viewers would either be able to navigate the linguistic divide themselves or access the closed captioning to assist them.

As a longtime Anglophile, I personally have become accustomed to the many and varied dialects of the British Isles and have little trouble making them out on TV (assuming the program audio is of decent quality, of course). That being said, I’m not averse to turning on the closed captioning to ensure I miss nothing whispered or slurred by actors with accents thick or regional.

So let me ask – how do you watch your British-import shows? With or without closed captioning? Are you able to understand the dialects without help or is the common language that separates us from our cousins in the UK a slight barrier to your enjoyment? Please let me know.

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