This is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever come across. People from around the world are asked to read the same paragraph in English. The paragraph has been designed to include most of the consonants, vowels, and clusters found in standard American English, so that one can really get a sense of all the variations in an accent.
I love the gentleness of Lebanese Arabic (perhaps I associate it with the charming, well-educated, velvet-voiced Lenanese gentleman at work). The interesting thing is that it sounds completely different from Palestinian Arabic. As a small example, the former has a more exaggerated “ee” sound, while the latter has a windier “r” sound.
I hate the painful sounding Cantonese accents. Somehow, each one is so uniquely bad that it’s passed humourously bad, and gone back to uniquely bad again. None of them can properly pronounce “pl“s, “th“s and “ll“s, and the consonants are harsh to the ear. There are also very subtle differences between these Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, and a Cantonese speaker from China. One can hear the slightly more delicate letter combinations from a person surrounded by Mandarin speakers on the mainland.
For me, the most interesting comparisons are between native English speakers. I let Shirley listen to the Glasgow version, and she couldn’t get over how hot it is. Of course, the most neutral accent to me is from Toronto, seeing as how I grew up there. I hear this accent the most, and always find it amusing when foreigners can pull off a fake accent (I’ve been told we sound very bland). Jackie had the most adorable New Jersey accent, and at one point Angie admitted that she had somewhat of a Southern drawl.
Perhaps my fascination with (and attraction of) things speech related stems from an early study of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. One of the scenes in My Fair Lady that really stuck out in my mind was the ability of the protagonist (whom Shaw describes as an “energetic phonetic enthusiast”) to distinguish 130 vowel sounds from a simple, short recording of a voice going through A–E–I–O–U in one fluid motion with no consonants.
Usually I can recognize someone from a voice and accent, sometimes better than I can from a face.