Accent (linguistics)

Accent (linguistics)

In linguistics, an accent is a manner of pronunciation of a language. Accents can be confused with "dialects" which are varieties of language differing in vocabulary and syntax as well as pronunciation. Dialects are usually spoken by a group united by geography or social status.



Children are able to take on accents at a fast rate; children of traveling families, for example, can change their accents within a short period of time. This generally remains true until a person's early twenties,cite web|accessdate=2008-05-12|url=|publisher=Ask a Linguist|title=Accent changing] after which, a person's accent seems to become more entrenched.

All the same, accents are not fixed even in adulthood. An acoustic analysis by Jonathan Harrington of Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Christmas Messages revealed that the speech patterns of even so conservative a figure as a monarch can continue to change over her lifetime. [cite journal | last = Harrington | first = Jonathan | title = An Acoustic Analysis of `Happy Tensing' in the Queen's Christmas Broadcasts | journal = Journal of Phonetics | volume = 34 | pages = 439–57 | date = 2006 | doi = 10.1016/j.wocn.2005.08.001 ]


As human beings spread out into isolated communities, stresses and peculiarities develop. Over time these can develop into identifiable accents. In North America, the interaction of people from many ethnic backgrounds contributed to the formation of the different varieties of North American accents. It is difficult to measure or predict how long it takes an accent to formulate. Accents in the USA, Canada and Australia, for example, developed from the combinations of different accents and languages in various societies, and the effect of this on the various pronunciations of the British settlers, yet North American accents remain more distant, either as a result of time or of external or "foreign" linguistic interaction, such as the Italian accent.cite web|accessdate=2008-05-12|url=|publisher=Ask a Linguist|title=Australian Accents] It has been theorized that the accents of certain groups in the USA today resemble the English spoken by the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries more than it does the English spoken by most Britons today.

In many cases, the accents of non-English settlers from Great Britain and Ireland affected the accents of the different colonies quite differently. Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants had accents which greatly affected the vowel pronunciation of certain areas of Australia and Canada.

ocial factors

When a group defines a standard pronunciation, speakers who deviate from it are often said to "speak with an accent". People from the United States would "speak with an accent" from the point of view of an Australian, and vice versa. The concept of a person having "no accent" is meaningless, as even standard speech patterns constitute an accent. Accents such as BBC English or General American may sometimes be informally designated in their countries of origin as "accentless" to indicate that they offer no obvious clue to the speaker's regional background.

Groups sharing an identifiable accent may be defined by any of a wide variety of common traits. An accent may be associated with the region in which its speakers reside (a geographical accent), the socio-economic status of its speakers, their ethnicity, their caste or social class, their first language (when the language in which the accent is heard is not their native language), and so on.


Traditionally certain accents carry more prestige in a society than other accents. This is often due to their association with the elite part of society. For example in the United Kingdom, Received Pronunciation of the English language is associated with the traditional upper class.

Legal implications

Kentucky's highest court in the case of "Clifford vs. Commonwealth" held that a white police officer, who had not seen the black defendant allegedly involved in a drug transaction, could, nevertheless, identify him as a participant by saying that a voice on an audiotape "sounded black." The police officer based this "identification" on the fact that the defendant was the only African American man in the room at the time of the transaction and that an audio-tape — contained the voice of a man the officer said “sounded black” selling crack cocaine to a white informant planted by the police.cite web|accessdate=2008-05-12|url=|publisher=Courtroom: Court sanctioned Racial Stereotyping, 18 Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 185-210, 185-188 (Spring, 2002)(179 Footnotes)|title=Race, Racism and the Law]

Cultural factors

Acting and accents

Some actors have to imitate foreign accents to play parts. They usually perfect this through prolonged exposure to native speakersFact|date=July 2008. Actors known for their ability to imitate accents include:

*Christian Bale [ [ Christian Bale - Biography ] ]
*Anthony Hopkins [ [ Some actors have knack for accents, others don't ] ]

*Hugh Laurie [ [ Hugh Laurie ] ]
*Gary Oldman [ [ Gary Oldman - Biography ] ]
*Meryl Streep [ Meryl Streep - Biography ] ]
*Tracy Ullman [ [ Tracey Ullman ] ]

ee also

*Foreign accent syndrome
*Non-native pronunciations of English
*Regional accents of English
*Variety (linguistics)
*Accent reduction
*Language change
*Human voice



*cite book|last=Bragg|first=Melvyn|authorlink=Melvyn Bragg|title=The Adventure of English, 500AD to 2000: The Biography of a Language|year=2003|publisher=Hodder & Stoughton|location=London|id=ISBN 0-340-82991-5
*cite book|last=Milroy|first=James|coauthors=and Lesley Milroy|title=Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English |year=2005|edition=3nd ed.|publisher=Routledge|location=London|id=ISBN 0-415-17413-9
* Wells, J C. 1982. Accents of English. (3 volumes). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Wells's home pages also have a lot of information about phonetics and accents.]

External links

* [ Sounds Familiar?] — Listen to regional accents and dialects of the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
* [ The Speech Accent Archive (Native and non-native accent recordings of English)]
* [ Wells Accents and Spelling]
* [ I don't have an accent!] by Karen Stollznow
* [ "FAQ about Accents"]

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