Capturing Accents and Jokes

One of the challenges for the Conversational Analysts is capturing accents and humour in naturally occurring speech. Accents can say so much about a person: where they grew up, their social class and their attitude towards others. It can also add meaning to the discourse and create humour. But capturing an accent in a transcript is not a simple matter.

Consider the following transcript of Dennis Skinner who cracked a joke in the House of Commons recently regarding a story in the news on the Queen and the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg.

SP: mister Dennis S::kinner
DS: I’ve never- I’ve never been to this er palace
Chamber: ((expressions of sympathy))
DS: so I don’t know wh- I don’t know
Chamber: ((noise and some laughter))
DS: I don’t know what takes place
    but the most <bizarre thing for me
    what on earth was the Queen doing
    confiding in Clegg>
Chamber: ((laughter from both sides))

External link to clip

Skinner’s Delivery

Skinner delivered this joke, as he does with most Commons discourse, in his pure north Derbyshire accent, which accentuated the initial humour of the working class fellow who had never been to ‘this palace’ (Buckingham Palace) – for which Skinner received sympathy from the chamber.

DS: I’ve never- I’ve never been to this er palace
Chamber: ((expressions of sympathy))

The analyst could simply transcribe the discourse with meta-comments surrounding the text:

((north Derbyshire accent))
((end of accent))

Or he could try and capture the pronunciation of the individual words using standard orthography.

DS: ai’ve neva- ai’ve neva been to this er paulis

Skinner’s pronunciation of ‘palace’ /pælɪs/ contains an interesting diphthongisation of the vowel in the first syllable [paʊlɪs]. The use of the diminutive term ‘this palace’ to represent the Queen’s official residence, the slight pause before the articulation of ‘palace’ and Skinner’s off-pronunciation of the word all add to Skinner’s masterful delivery as he starts his joke.

As he continues, he increases the pitch range and slows his delivery to highlight the upcoming punch line. A slowing of speech is conventionally illustrated in CA with angled brackets < >. (Articulation rate slows from 3.19 to 2.24 syllables per second.)

DS: I’ve never- I’ve never been to this er palace
((increase in pitch; slowing of delivery))
but the most <bizarre thing for me


He finishes off the joke with an odd pronunciation of the name ‘Clegg’, perhaps to poke fun at his political opponent from the Liberal Democrats?

confidin’ in khhegg

All of this results in great hilarity on both sides of the house which last for several seconds.

For the conversational analyst however, capturing the accent and delivery is no joke and as yet we do not have an easy or time-saving method of doing this.


House of Commons – 14th March 2016

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