Excellent article on accent

Over at Daily Kos, Meteor Blades (via Scott) has an article on accents in which he points out that, yes, everyone has one and quotes Geoffrey Nunberg being smart on the same topic:

    If authenticity is a matter of heeding your true inner voice, then it probably isn’t surprising that people listen for signs of it in the way you speak. And our idea of an authentic accent reflects our idea of the authentic self. It’s the natural speech you sucked up from the surroundings you grew up in, unfiltered and uncorrected. It’s how you’re supposed to sound when you’re talking to yourself.

    It’s also a delusion. Or at least if your speech is like yourself, it’s because both are a work in progress. My own speech covers a lot more territory than it did when I was growing up in a New York suburb. Sometimes it shifts toward what people would hear as East Coast nondescript. And sometimes it gets pretty sidewalks-of-New York, particularly when I’m talking to friends from college days. (“Hey — you never used to talk like that,” my sister once said to me after she overheard me talking on the phone with one old friend.) But it doesn’t make sense to ask what part of that is my “authentic” voice. You grow up, you meet new people, you change the way you talk. If you still sound the same way you did when you were fifteen, you haven’t been getting out enough.

That’s my emphasis on the last sentence. Because, well, EXACTLY. People who travel a lot, live in other places, and pick up some of the local accents, aren’t freaks, they’re just paying attention. Accents are never set in stone unless your ears are clogged and you’re living in a hole in the ground. (And even then wouldn’t you pick up a worm accent or something?)

We are all hybrids.

That is all.


  1. PixelFish on #

    My accent veered strongly into Canadian accent territory after having lived there for three years. People pick up on it all the time. The funny thing is, they don’t always guess the same part of Canada. I lived in Calgary, and sometimes people guess western Canada, but I’ve also been accused of being from Ontario. Nobody has yet mistaken me for a Newfie.

    (As far as I can tell, the western Canadian accent sounds a lot like the western United States, but people give various parts of the sentences different stresses. Oh, and there’s the pasta-java-taco thing. USians say paw-sta, jaw-va, taw-co, and many a western Canadian will tend towards paa-sta, jaa-va, taa-co. I come up somewhere in the middle of those, and by some miracle, the USians think I say those words correctly, and the Canadians think I sound like them.)

    When I was a kid, I didn’t think I had an accent. My reasoning: I sounded just like the people on TV.

  2. PixelFish on #

    Oh, also, I tend to pick up the stresses and sounds of people around me. I don’t do it consciously, and sometimes I wish I didn’t, because people think I’m making fun of them. But I’d help out my South African friends in their store, and within a few hours, start adopting their vowels, to the point where customers would ask me where I was from. When I lived in the South, I picked up y’all, and haven’t given it back. (My ex threatened to dump me if I picked up a Southern accent. I think he was joking.) And I tried really hard in Boston not to pick up the Bostonian accent, mostly because I think it sounds like a B-movie actor’s attempt at a Joisey accent. (Sorry, Bostonians.) So my real accent is probably a mishmash of all the places I’ve lived and I’d give ‘Enry ‘Iggins apoplectic fits. The Canadians-Western US bits are still the strongest though.

  3. Emily on #

    I dont have a accent!! lol!!!

  4. anony on #

    Everyone has an accent!

  5. Mitch Wagner on #

    PixelFish – There isn’t just one Boston accent — there are many. They all sound alike, but native Bostonians can tell them apart.

    I’m interested in the original article’s streets-of-New-York comment. I grew up on the Long Island suburb of New York, moved away about 16 years ago, and have only been back a couple of time since. Like the author of the original article, I’ll occasionally get a strong note of Al Pacino in my voice — and, like the author of the article, I never talked that way when I actually lived in New York.

  6. Herenya on #

    At a guess, I probably still sound the same way I did at fifteen. Partly because it wasn’t that long ago and while, yes, I have travelled a little and been overseas, I’m still living in the same place and with the same people as I did then.
    But I don’t think I’m very good at picking up on accents – at least, I’m not very good at imitating them. So I would wonder if some people are more predisposed to picking up on accents than others…

    Also, would anyone else say there are different regional accents in Australia? I’ve noticed different slang and word use, but not accents. Not connected to a specific area, that is. There are plenty of different accents around, that’s for sure!

  7. Tim on #

    You should watch a great documentary made by the (Australian) ABC last year called “Sounds of Aus” (if you already haven’t). It’s a documentary on the Australian accent and its development. I know it’s available on DVD if you think you might be interested.

  8. Justine on #

    Tim: I have indeed seen that doco. I’m a huge John Clarke fan. It was most excellent.

  9. sylvia_rachel on #

    I have a bizarre hybrid accent. I grew up (mostly) in Alberta, but was raised by parents from Connecticut (vase=vahz, aunt=ahnt, “quahter of four”, package store, grinder) and Michigan (vase=vayse, aunt=ant, “roof” rhymes with boeuf), and have now lived 16 years in Ontario. “Auto” and “Otto” sound unmistakeably different to me, as do “Aaron” and “Erin”, whereas my Toronto-born-and-bred husband can’t hear any difference between these word pairs — but I can’t be sure whether it’s the Albertan, the Michigander, or the Connecticut Yankee in me that makes the difference.

    I have a very strong, and almost totally unconscious, tendency to mimic the vowels, speech patterns, and vocabulary of whoever I happen to be talking to. For instance, I’ve just spent three days with my mom’s family in Connecticut, and by the time I got back on the plane in Hartford I suspect I sounded exactly like my cousins who’ve never left Middlesex County. It’s wearing off already, though, with renewed exposure to Torontonians, and expect it’ll wear off altogether by tomorrow afternoon. Same thing happened when I was a teenager and spent three weeks in Australia; my mother was appalled when I got home, and was sure I was doing it on purpose, but I honestly wasn’t. I think what happens is that my brain dislikes dissonance between how I sound and how other people sound, and since it can’t adjust other people, it adjusts me …

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