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everest cs Blog » Self-Image

You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself

March 16th, 2011 Coline T. Son Lee Posted in Self-Image 4 Comments »

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If you don’t think you speak with an accent – stop kidding yourself. You do.

After living in the United States for over 10 years, I still haven’t gotten used to people asking me some version of, “I detect a slight accent – where are you from?” This is usually one of the things I’m asked by someone meeting me for the first time. To which I respond, “I don’t have an accent – you do.” But in fact, we all do.

We can generally recognize regional accents. For example, there are obvious differences between Boston, Chicago, New York and Atlanta accents. Similarly, we will notice the accent variations of foreign English speakers from Britain, Australia, South Africa and the Caribbean. The difference is obviously not the language, which is the same.  It’s the dialect and accent.

Dialect vs. Accent

Dialect is the differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, phrases and grammar in a language. For instance, most Americans refer to the storage compartment of their car as a ‘trunk’ while Brits might call it a ‘boot’. Language and dialect differ. Different dialects of the same language can be understood by anyone who speaks that language. According to Laura Payne, linguistics instructor at Wayne State University:

“Dialects develop when people of different language backgrounds come together to speak a common language. The influence of the language backgrounds is what creates the variation in the language that is being learned.”

Accent, meanwhile, specifically refers only to pronunciation of vowels and consonants, placement of stress, and rhythm of speech. Accents are a subset of dialects. When a region of people settles on a ‘standard’ pronunciation, those who deviate from it are perceived to ‘speak with an accent’. That is why everyone has an accent. ** more **

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