I bet that you believe that all foreigners, like the Nigerians, Polish, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, have deep ‘horrible’ accents that are hard to understand.
I also bet you believe you don’t have an accent; that foreigners are the ones who have accents but you don’t. Right?
“An accent is a way of pronouncing a language,” says The Linguist, an on-line information service. “It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent.”
You have an accent that millions struggle to understand. Everyone on earth has an accent; only mutes do not have accents.
Accents are like attitudes. We always accuse someone of having an attitude yet everyone has an attitude; everyone has an accent. Accents and attitudes become noticeable when they are different from our own and then we start labelling.
The truth is we just don’t notice or think about accents until we hear one different from our own.
Setswana spoken in Goodhope has slight differences from Setswana spoken in Kasane, Maun, Mochudi or Selibe Phikwe. That is normal in all countries.
Accents should, however, not be confused with dialects, which are “varieties of language differing in vocabulary and syntax as well as pronunciation and are usually spoken by a group united by geography or social status.”
For some reason, we ‘accept’ white people’s accents more readily than we accept a non white’s accent.
We even laugh when a fellow African speaks broken English but ‘sympathise’ when a white person from, say, Russia, chews up the Queen’s language.
”All languages are spoken with several different accents,” states The Linguist. “There is nothing unusual about English. And not everyone who comes from the same place speaks the same: in any place there is a variety of accents.”
A Nigerian friend of mine drives me up the wall by constantly asking me to write down what I am trying to say, telling me that he does not understand what I am saying. He forces me to speak slowly as if I am spelling and even had the gall to advise me to go back to school for a little while longer.
But I declare it’s him who speaks unintelligible English; he is adamant mine is worse. I insist I have no accent yet my ‘no accent’ cannot be understood by some people.
In almost every country, the most outrageous and notorious accent thieves are radio music presenters and deejays who struggle so hard to imitate “American” accents but which American accent? Only they can lie about it since there is a Boston accent, New York accent, southern, mid-western, western, Appalachian, etc.
Perspective also plays a big role in determining whether someone thinks someone else has an accent.
This is illustrated more in foreign singers singing English and, for that matter, English singers singing a different language. They will sing phonically, “using the word sounds rather than the words themselves, and by doing so, loose much of their accents.”
A good example of this is the Swedish music group, Abba.
In the first few years of their remarkable career, not one of them spoke enough English to order a meal at Hungry Lion, but if you hear them sing, they are much easier to understand than many whose native language is English.
“Those who hear an accent probably speak English as a second language, and sing the way they speak,” says Ask Yahoo. “The really good English singers and bands also use this technique to get rid of accents. Also, if you listen to good choral music, choruses that you can understand every word they sing, even if they have 150 voices, it is because they are singing the “word sounds” rather than the word.
Yahoo says the technique to do this is basically singing the vowel sounds of the words.
“By singing vowels, you can match the phonetic equivalent of every word, and make it fully understandable.”
Answer Bag says an interesting thing about singers is that many of them speak with heavy accents and yet seem to sing with none. “Of course, all they are really doing is singing with a different accent than the one they speak with.”
So, in short, when you hear someone from another country singing and sounding “normal”, it most certainly does NOT mean that “we” do not have an accent.
“Your accent results from how, where, and when you learned the language you are speaking and it gives impressions about you to other people,” says The Linguist. “People do not have a single fixed accent which is determined by their experiences. We can control the way we speak, and do, both consciously and unconsciously. Most people vary their accent depending on who they are speaking with. We change our accents, often without noticing, as we have new life experiences.”
Why do languages develop different accents?
”Human nature,” says The Linguist. “In all sorts of ways, we behave like those we mix with. We are members of social groups, and within our social group we like to behave in similar ways and show that we belong. We do this in language as well as in other ways (e.g. what we wear, what we eat).
When groups become distinct, it says, the way they speak becomes distinct too. This happens socially and geographically.
It says that there is not a single correct accent of English; there is no neutral accent of English.
“All speakers of English need to cope with many different aspects and learn how to understand them. Some accents are associated with social groups who have high prestige (the kinds of accents spoken by highly educated people, for example), but there are also many of these high prestige accents, all of them regionally based.”
And people, apparently, are not the only ones with accents. Last year, researchers in the UK told the BBC that some cows were mooing with a regional accent or twang.
The BBC said that language specialists decided to examine the issue after dairy farmers noticed their cows had slightly different moos, depending on which herd they came from.
John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, had said regional twangs had been seen before in birds.
The BBC went on to say that the farmers in Somerset, who noticed the phenomenon, said it may have been the result of the close bond between them and their animals.
“I spend a lot of time with my ones and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl,” said farmer Lloyd Green, from Glastonbury.
Said Wells, “In small populations such as herds you would encounter identifiable dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group.”
Dr Jeanine Treffers-Daller, reader in linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, agreed that the accent could be influenced by relatives.
“When we are learning to speak,” she said, “we adopt a local variety of language spoken by our parents, so the same could be said about the variation in the West Country cow moo.”
So, do I have an accent?
Yes, I do (eye do) or, maybe, I should say ‘A do.’
SOURCES: Ask Yahoo, Answer Bag, Wikipedia