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Where do we get our accents anyhow?

  1. Sep 5, 2005 #1


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    Where do we get our accents anyhow? I dont even know if this is a biology question. Why do Americans sound like Americans. Why do Germans sound like Germans. Why do Brits sound like cows.

    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2005 #2


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    I was about to post an answer to your question, but now I'm just going to scowl at you :grumpy:

    Seriously though, I think accents are learned, rather than aquired by biological means, so this is probably more of a social sciences question.
    People learn by copying. If Isolated groups (socially of geographically isolated) begin to speak slightly differently, their children will copy, and so on.

    linguistic difficulties also seem to contribute: http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Pagoda/8037/accent.html
  4. Sep 6, 2005 #3


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    There are 115 letters in the IPA alphabet, representing every atomic sound made by speakers of natural human languages. It is inevitable that any one language is going to use only a handful of these sounds. Because each language uses a slightly different set, each will sound different. The really strange thing, though, is that even these atomic sounds can vary from language to language. Take the difference between the German 'ch' and the Armenian 'kh' (transliterated into Roman letters). They are both a simple unvoiced aspiration, but nonetheless sound different from each other. Then again, it is possible that the German version simply sounds harsher because it is usually followed by a glottal stop, and so is really a combination of sounds and not atomic.

    Either way. Interesting topic.
  5. Sep 6, 2005 #4


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    Yep, the atomic sounds, phones or phonemes, can vary slightly in their pronunciation even within the same speaker, depending on the phoneme's environment. For instance, compare the [t] sounds in

    And when people learn a new language that uses sounds similar to their native language, they may keep using the native sounds instead of switching to the slightly different ones. So you can sometimes tell when someone is not a native speaker (English speakers learning French comes to mind). I wish I knew more about this to offer a better explanation - there's lots more information out there if anyone's interested.
  6. Sep 6, 2005 #5
    What interests me is the difference in types of accent across various countries. American accents are entirely comprised of regional dialects with varying levels of prestige - there is no national American accent these dialects tend towards with increasing prestige. Australia, on the other hand, has only one accent, again with varying levels of prestige. Two Australians speaking with the same level of prestige will have the same accent no matter where they are from (apparently). England, like America, has many regional dialects, but all these tend towards the same national accent with increasing prestige. Weird.

    Or should I say: 'moo'?
  7. Sep 7, 2005 #6


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    Okay, I skipped ahead in my book and did some refreshing and learning.

    Take a look at the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ipa/images/ipachart.gif (maximize it if it shows up too small to read - it's big.)

    On the top and left, you'll see the symbols used to represent atomic sounds, or segmentals: Consonants (top), More Consonants (mid left), Vowels (mid left), and Other Symbols (bottom left). These are the basic building blocks.

    On the right, you'll see the symbols used to represent suprasegmentals (mid right) and diacritics (bottom right).

    Suprasegmentals are properties that arise from putting the building blocks together. These properties include variations in loudness, duration, and pitch. All three combine to produce differences in the relative amount of stress placed on a syllable, as makes the difference between the noun CONvict and the verb conVICT.
    Variations in duration and loudness produce differences in rhythm. My book says that languages sound different "in part because of their characteristic rhythms". That's something that I wouldn't have thought of immediately, but it does ring true.
    Variations in pitch create differences in tone. English isn't a tone language, but in other languages, the tone alone can change the meaning of a word. Pitch conveys other information about an utterance, called intonation. For instance, in the way that you would say He saw the show differently if it were a question instead of a statement.
    Suprasegmentals also communicate the speaker's attitude and such in various ways. Just taking a look at the symbols for suprasegmentals, you can see that there's a lot of detail to account for.

    To add more detail or flexibility than the building blocks permit, diacritics are added. For instance, toot would be plainly written /tut/. In one way of pronouncing toot, there is an extra puff of air (aspiration) following the first /t/; So the first /t/ gets the 'aspirated' symbol: /thut/. The second /t/ is cut off abruptly without an audible release, so it gets the 'no audible release' symbol: /thutL/. (That's not the right symbol, but I haven't figured out a way to add them yet.) You get the idea, I hope. Diacritics allow you to add more detail. And taking a look at how many symbols there are...

    I should point out that a single language (AFAIK) won't use all of the symbols in the chart. But I think it's still an impressive amount of variation and detail.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
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