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everest cs Blog » Blog Archive » You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself

You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself

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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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4 Responses to “You Speak with an Accent – Stop Kidding Yourself”

  1. Being from Long Island, or as many people hear it, “Lawng Guyland”, I found your post especially interesting. I find it interesting when I travel that I’m almost always pegged as being from New York, and sometimes even from Long Island. It’s true about the dangers of stereotyping. I’ve spoken with a number of people who hear the Long Island accent and immediately associate it with Amy Fisher – not exactly a role model for the Long Island community.

    Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Thank you so much for your story. Your example validated that accents ARE regional AND they can invoke stereotypes. Whenever people hear me speak they start punctuating their sentences with “mon” and I’m not even Jamaican.

    For me, Fran Drescher’s character Nanny Fine is one accent that is stuck in my head about NY. But I imagine there are many versions of a NY accent from one Borough to the next.

  3. Maria Smith, PhD Says:

    When I first came to Louisiana to pursue graduate studies in English, an undergrad told me I had an accent. I responded “So do you.” She kept insisting until I acknowledged my “accent,” as if we don’t all have accents. The point is that we tend to stereotype accents. So although a southern accent is quite distinct from a northern one, this southerner heard my non-american slightly British accent and I imagine, tried to feel better about her southern way of speaking. Now I live in the north east and strangely enough, children of foreign born parents would attempt to mock my accent, despite their own heavily accented speech. Nothing changes.

  4. “You have an accent,” when stated outright, is pretty much a euphemism for “you don’t sound like I think I do.” Sometimes that’s said in surprise, and sometimes (alas) in judgment.

    The linguish Max Weinrich loved to repeat a distinction provided by someone at one of his lectures:

    A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

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