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How are accents formed?

Posted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 9:57 pm UTC
by Rammi
...I know that accents are generally formed by mimicking those around you, but being a second-generation immigrant, I've always wondered how I ended up with a fairly posh English accent in the middle of London. It certainly wasn't my parents who taught me to speak like this.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 10:51 pm UTC
by H2SO4
I know people who still change accents in their 40s. My aunt, who lives in Australia, naturally talks with an Australian accent while living there, but when she comes to visit in the US, after about a day she's speaking like us again ("us" being the family). My uncle says that the same thing happens when they go back. It's purely an environmental thing from my understanding, and while your parents have a major influence, sometimes a lack of figuring out how to move a certain muscle (a friend of mine is the only one in his family that pronounces r's at beginning of words to a sort of back-of-the-throat roll) or being more immersed in a different environment can change your accent.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 10:51 pm UTC
by ThomasS
I think I'm missing something. How is it surprising to learn to speak with an English accent in London?

In any case, once in high school I was working in a store, helping customers, and an audibly British family came in. Partway through I found myself saying a few words back to them in the same accent. (Normally I have a rather neutral American Midwestern accent.) Suddenly I'm trying to not copy the accent because I'm worried that it might sound fake/out of place and don't want them to think I'm making fun of them.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 10:53 pm UTC
by H2SO4
ThomasS wrote:I think I'm missing something. How is it surprising to learn to speak with an English accent in London?

I think he's coming from the assumption that you learn every part of how to talk from your parents. I could be wrong, though.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 11:32 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
Yeah, you actually learn rather little of your accent/dialect from your parents. Most of it's from everyone else you talk with all the time.

(Not sure why you assume Rammi's a he, though...)

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 7:54 pm UTC
by Rammi
H2SO4 wrote:
ThomasS wrote:I think I'm missing something. How is it surprising to learn to speak with an English accent in London?

I think he's coming from the assumption that you learn every part of how to talk from your parents. I could be wrong, though.


I know you don't learn most of your accent from your parents, but if a young Spanish kid moves to an English-speaking country, they'll nearly always have that little dialect. A neighbour I grew up with and went to school with has a Cockney accent, whereas I managed to get stuck with some posh accent. We were exposed to the same environment, yet have drastically different ways of speaking.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:23 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
Rammi wrote:We were exposed to the same environment

No you weren't. Environment includes the movies and television you watch, the music and news you listen to, the friends you spend time with, the family you visit, as well as the varying reactions and attitudes you and all those people have to the way you speak. And so I bet most of that wasn't the same for the two of you.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Fri Dec 11, 2009 8:45 am UTC
by H2SO4
gmalivuk wrote:(Not sure why you assume Rammi's a he, though...)

I'm using the gender-neutral "he", like how "man" can be used to mean "mankind".

I always wished I had developed a cool accent. Like a Liverpool accent. Instead I'm stuck with this lame West-Coast American one...

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Fri Dec 11, 2009 4:37 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
H2SO4 wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:(Not sure why you assume Rammi's a he, though...)

I'm using the gender-neutral "he", like how "man" can be used to mean "mankind".

"He" is not gender neutral even when used to refer to a nonspecific person, because people still think "male" when they hear it. And it's never been gender neutral when it refers to a specific person. It is masculine, and you had no reason to assume Rammi was.

And while she may not particularly care, I'm rather annoyed by your blithely treating everyone as male until you're explicitly told they're not.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Fri Dec 11, 2009 8:35 pm UTC
by H2SO4
gmalivuk wrote:"He" is not gender neutral even when used to refer to a nonspecific person, because people still think "male" when they hear it. And it's never been gender neutral when it refers to a specific person. It is masculine, and you had no reason to assume Rammi was.

And while she may not particularly care, I'm rather annoyed by your blithely treating everyone as male until you're explicitly told they're not.

Sorry, but I don't care. I'm not going to use "they" because that's grammatically incorrect when referring to one person,
"he/she" is a bother, "it" is more offensive than just mistaking the gender. It's the internet, politely get over it.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Fri Dec 11, 2009 9:30 pm UTC
by modularblues
gmalivuk wrote:Yeah, you actually learn rather little of your accent/dialect from your parents. Most of it's from everyone else you talk with all the time.

Yeah, mostly from habits and listening. More on accents.

Babies are born with the ability to speak/detect all possible phonemes, though depending on which part of the world they're raised in, they lose the ability to speak/detect phonemes that are not used in their native language.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:14 am UTC
by gmalivuk
H2SO4 wrote:It's the internet, politely get over it.

It's also a forum I moderate. Either politely stop trying to justify why it's okay to use "he" for everyone, or stop posting here.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 5:36 am UTC
by Cryopyre
He has some points, though I believe he's wrong about "they" being incorrect (they has a singular form).

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 8:21 am UTC
by H2SO4
Cryopyre wrote:He has some points, though I believe he's wrong about "they" being incorrect (they has a singular form).

You gonna jump on Cryopyre too, gmalivuk? Cryopyre assumed I was male.

This post had objectionable content.

No need to show me the door.

I take my leave.
Spoiler'd for facetiousness.
Spoiler:
(If that happened in real life, it would be SO much more dramatic. There would've been a slight sarcastic curtsy followed by me smoothly turning around walking out the door. Sigh. Internet, why must you make things less awesome sometimes?)

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 1:49 pm UTC
by Makri
"they" is without question perfectly grammatical for many speakers of English, but as far as I know, it has to be anaphoric to elements like "everyone", "somebody", etc. So you can't use it out of the blue. There is simply no way to express gender-neutrality to people who are so uncharitable as to insist on grammatically encoding it except writing (s)he or something...
Or you could finally get some useful pronoun borrowed, like Finnish hän (pronounced with [æ], so no problem with integrating it into English phonology or writing). Yes, I hereby advise the English-speaking world to borrow that pronoun. :P

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 4:08 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
H2SO4 wrote:You gonna jump on Cryopyre too, gmalivuk? Cryopyre assumed I was male.

It's as clear that you're male as it is that Rammi's female. This wasn't a chauvinist assumption, but a simple matter of reading comprehension. Which you lack, or you'd have been able to avoid this whole thing in the first place.

If that happened in real life, it would be SO much more dramatic.

If it had happened in real life, the bouncers would have shown you to the door already, when I told you the first time to stop this line of argument and you ignored me.

Now, shall we try to get back on topic, please?

How about those accents, eh?

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 4:22 pm UTC
by Bobber
I read your little discussion aloud to myself in a bad cockney accent.
It was funny as hell.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 6:01 pm UTC
by goofy
"he/him/his" is definitely not gender-neutral. Is it your brother or your sister who can hold his breath for five minutes?

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 6:45 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
There are already multiple threads about gender and pronouns. This isn't one of them.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 7:25 pm UTC
by Whelan
According to my Mum, whilst living in central London, I had a Welsh accent. I now have what's been described as Estuary English, despite living in the Midlands, wherein Northern and Southern dialects collide rather. We're probably the part of England where it's 50/50 whether someone will say ass or arse. I hope I get a London accent when if I go to Uni there, but a Welsh one from Cardiff is also acceptable.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sun Dec 13, 2009 4:49 am UTC
by Sizik
gmalivuk wrote:
H2SO4 wrote:You gonna jump on Cryopyre too, gmalivuk? Cryopyre assumed I was male.

It's as clear that you're male as it is that Rammi's female. This wasn't a chauvinist assumption, but a simple matter of reading comprehension. Which you lack, or you'd have been able to avoid this whole thing in the first place.

(Not to be too off-topic, but) I don't quite see how it's clear from the first post that the speaker is female.

Responded via PM. Now drop this topic already, OK? - gmalivuk

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Sun Dec 13, 2009 7:02 am UTC
by Kizyr
H2SO4 wrote:I always wished I had developed a cool accent. Like a Liverpool accent. Instead I'm stuck with this lame West-Coast American one...

Liverpool is a cool accent?
...well, I suppose anything one isn't accustomed to...

Anyway, accents are likely influenced by so many environmental factors that it'd probably be difficult to pin down how much is effected by parents. TV/media is one source, friends another, direct family another, extended family another, other kids making fun of you until you consciously or subconsciously change your accent, etc. And I think it can change pretty rapidly, given the right conditions.

Both my parents have a Bengali accent (although because I'm so used to it, I don't even hear it), and I grew up with a mix of a standard American accent and American Southern, likely on account of my daycare/school environment growing up.

When I moved to DC in '01, I gradually (and I think subconsciously) suppressed any Southern-ness (with the exception of some vocabulary, like y'all/ain't) because it tended to make me more difficult to understand. It still comes out when I'm tired or not paying attention, but my accent definitely did change despite already being over 18.

I spent only 7 weeks in Argentina, during which time I ended up developing an Argentine accent in Spanish. Much of that was probably due to the fact that folks found it more difficult to understand me unless I spoke like that. I don't think I ever really shook that accent either. KF

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Mon Dec 14, 2009 12:54 am UTC
by Felstaff
ThomasS wrote:How is it surprising to learn to speak with an English accent in London?

London has probably the most diverse range of ethnicities in the world. Some street signs are in Eritrean (which I thought were just rejected pieces of alphabetti spaghetti). By 'fairly posh English accent' you can presume that means Received Pronunciation, which is spoken by so few city-dwellers, as to be quite an eccentricity if you come across one (they are the chief mainstay of the Home Counties, discounting Essex, which has its own unique accent).

London has accents primarily based on culture, rather than location. For instance, 'the youth' (that odious term!) in certain urban boroughs, like Islington, Hackney, Southwark & Tower Hamlets (along with most of the ones east between Newham & Essex), tend to speak an evolved version of AAVE, which is ingrained into current popular hiphop/grime culture, wonderfully exemplified by Wiley here. It's a wonderful smershing of Jamaican & African creoles, pidgins, and trade languages

Go to any market place (particularly in the East End of London) and you'll hear varying strengths of cockney, barking at you selling pineapples and potatoe,s "toofra pand" (that's £0.50 each). The stronger the cockney, the more drawn-out the 'a' (that replaces 'o', 'uh' and 'ou') is. Which is why in Guy Ritchie films, you'll hear the worst insult is always Faahckin Kaahnt, or 'I don't care if you're "Muhammed I'm 'Ard Bruce Lee"'.

Kensington & Chelsea, in West London, has some of the most expensive land in the the world, yard2-for-yard2, which explains why the stereotype there is that everyone speaks like Brian Sewell. However, on the south side of the river, you have the Lambeth Walkers in Battersea, who like to say things like 'ear, whatchoo torkin abaht?' when they disagree with your sentiments. Be careful, they might also shoot your dog. Also in The R-R-R-R-Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, you have the black sheep that is Notting Hill, home to settled West Indians and Jamaicans from over a hundred years ago. So you get a wonderful mixture of creoles and very colourful food, alongside cavalcades of meat that can be jerked (jerk pheasant, anyone?).

Further West, in Hounslow, Ealing (particularly Southall), Brent and Hillingdon you have the highest density of Indian Subcontinentals outside of the Indian Subcontinent, so the accent is predominantly Anglicised Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani accents. It's way more aurally pleasing than the Bradistan accent, in Northern England, which is a meshing of Pakistani and the brusque Bradford brogue.

Aside from East, Nawf & Sahf Landan, you have historical mass immigration into the city which has strongly affected accents. Massive Dutch immigration in the 1600s has been linked to the development of Estuary English as some of the constructs of the dialect are similar to the Dutch language of the time[citation needed] (no offence to Dutch-speaking people: Dutch is by far nicer to hear than Estuary English for all concerned! It's just that some of your linguistical nuances have pervaded the melting pot English accent around the heaviest trading areas on the Thames) Then you have strong Jewish immigration from much of Europe settling in the richer areas of North London (Golders Green) which have their own unique accent (think posh Mel Brooks)

So yeah, with such strong accents and influences in a city of over 6 million people where there is nearly 11,000 people per square mile, it is bloody hard to find an area where everybody talks with the same accent. Living in the middle of all that, it would be like trying to find a small piece of hay in a giant stack of needles.

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Mon Dec 14, 2009 3:36 am UTC
by goofy
Felstaff wrote:
ThomasS wrote:How is it surprising to learn to speak with an English accent in London?

London has probably the most diverse range of ethnicities in the world. Some street signs are in Eritrean (which I thought were just rejected pieces of alphabetti spaghetti).


Do you mean Ethiopic?

Re: How are accents formed?

Posted: Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:44 am UTC
by Anubis
Well, I grew up in a rather rural section of the North Carolina in the foothills of the Appalachians. Everyone around me speaks with a southern accent (although of course there are nearly as many distinct southern accents as there are English ones), but somehow I have always had what is considered the "neutral" Midwestern American accent. When people ask me where I am from and I tell them North Carolina, they often respond with something like "But where are you from originally?"

I honestly have no idea how this happened. I watched very little television as a child, so I don't think that's it.