Why Do People Have Accents?


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Ever wondered why people have accents? How you can usually tell someone is from the south in the first conversation you have with them? It's baffling at times that people can speak one language in so many different ways. And apparently it's not just humans. Animals can also have "accents" of sorts, making their animals noises in different ways. So why does this happen?


According to one article, when babies are born they have the brain capability to learn basically any sounds. There is even one instance of a mom playing her child bird sounds over and over, to the point where the child could imitate the bird sounds, and identify birds by these sounds. As children grown however, their ability to recognize differences in sounds diminishes. Babies raised in homes where the dialogue has a soft "R" can no longer tell the difference between "R" and "L" sounds by age one. But that still doesn't explain why these differences exist in the first place.


Turns out the answer isn't all that exciting. Pronunciation simply tends to differ from place to place, even if the distance isn't that extreme. That explains why people in different parts of Pennsylvania can sounds so completely different. But once you acquire an accent, they're surprisingly hard to get rid of. Even when a person is no longer submerged in the accent, it can still hang in there for life. In other instances, say if I moved to England, it's possible to pick up an accent that's foreign. It's part of the brain's way of understanding what's being said to us.


Have you ever lost or picked up an accent? Have you ever even had one?

5 Comments

Hi Catherine, I really like this topic because I have had some interesting experiences myself with accents. I moved from Canada to the US when I was 11 and I had a bit of an accent but I quickly adapted to a more "American" tone. Also, shortly after coming to college, I met a student who was 20 years old and had just returned from studying abroad in England for one year. He had a full on British accent. Is it really possible to acquire an extreme accent like that in such a short period of time?

This blog captivated my attention!I was born in Tibet but I moved to China at very young age.I speak four languages:Tibetan,Mandarin,Szechuanese,English,and I am learning French right now.When it comes to English,my friends could not what's my accent.Though they claim that I don't sound like a American,it does not resemble to any accent they've known.A french guy even jested that it's Harry-ish accent only belong to myself.If an accent is something one picks up regionally,how a guy like me can have a ambiguous accent that people can't tell?

Interesting article! I've always been told that children were gifted with languages, hence if you ever wanted your child to speak another language, teach them while they're young. I grew up bilingual speaking both English and Chinese, but I've had a thick American accent while I spoke Chinese. It was hard to get rid of despite me living abroad in a Chinese-speaking country for six years. It has to do with our pronunciations as a child. When we are learning languages, we try out different mouth movements, and as we grow older we get used to these mouth movements. When we speak, we use our mouth and tongue movements to form the words, as children we learned how to form certain words through this. In Spanish, it is common to roll the "r" sound with your tongue, if you didn't grow up doing this vibration of the tongue, it'd be a lot harder to learn when you get older. It's all about what we learned when we were young; A child's brain is still in the developing stage, he or she also probably has nothing to do but pick up words or phrases, therefore they're faster in learning new languages. They are also good imitators, they imitate what's on television and the like, also for the same reasons. More of this can be read about here

I've lived in America my entire life and no one in my family speaks any other language, yet I roll my 'R' when there's a -thr sound (three, bathroom) is there an explanation for that? I never thought of it as an accent, but maybe it is, or just a minor speech impediment.
I also think it's so funny how the way I speak is more similar to someone from South Jersey than Pittsburgh. I'm from Philly by the way.

It's amazing how children can pick up a language so quickly. I found it pretty interesting that animals have accents as well. Where did you find this information? I'd like to know more about it; like which animals specifically have their own accents? Are you suggesting that a French cow would notice if an American cow came up it by the way it communicated or mooed?
Speaking of losing an accent, I was born in Alabama. When I was 10 I moved to Pennsylvania. School was initially awkward because I was teased about my southern drawl. Halfway through the school year I sounded more like a northerner than my parents liked.

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