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Offline neilep

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Accents....How do they develop ?
« on: 28/05/2006 03:11:55 »
Should this thread be under Environmental Sciences. ?...it would be nice to have an anthropology forum !

Gentlemen.....and girlys ! :)


What is it about a Nation that develops it's own accent ?...

Why do Australians sound the way they do ?..why do Americans sound...well....American ?

Why do Scots sound like that ?..Welsh ?...English ? Irish ? etc etc etc etc etc

And then within each nation, accents are far and wide in variety.... communities within each nation..........and then even more local dialects of accent within each community.

Is it the geography of the place ?...the demographics ?.....the weather ?....

What makes a particular accent ?




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« Last Edit: 28/05/2006 03:13:10 by neilep »


 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #1 on: 28/05/2006 08:43:45 »
It's something in the water :D

A lot of it is to do with the mix of languages spoken in the area. Different languages have different vowel sounds. Contact between these different language-speakers would gradate depending on the amnount of contact; hence in the following:-

A - B - C - D - E

Assume A & E are different languages. C would tend to be influenced in equal amounts by both, B more by A than E, and D more by E than A.

This effect can be seen in action if one travels from London to Liverpool. The accents don't suddenly change, there is a gradual blending from 1 to another. Some Mancunians actually sound a bit Liverpuddlian.

There are, however, exceptions. The accent in Stoke seems to be fairly unique insofar as it does seem to have a definite boundary.

I've often wondered about the Liverpuddlian accent & I believe there is quite a heavy Welsh influence in it. Having heard a few people from places like Rhyll in north Wales, there is definitely a similarity in the vowel sounds.

The most striking thing about accents in the UK is the similarity between dialects from widely separated areas. If you take the word "boy", an East Anglian & a West Country person will pronounce it very similarly. I think this is a reflection of how little travelling people did in the past, rather than contact between them. Most of the south of England was influenced by Angle/Saxon/Norman whereas the north was largely Viking. During the middle ages when people didn't travel very far from their home villages or towns, these accents would have polarised, especially in more rural areas where contact with outsiders was minimal.

The same, of course, is true of the north of England. Although there is quite a lot of difference these days, the general vowel sounds are strikingly similar. However, when one goes further north the Scottish influence begins to appear which has a Gaelic origin. In the south there was no other such language/dialect group to be influenced by.

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Offline neilep

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #2 on: 28/05/2006 20:28:36 »
Thank you Dr Eth.

But what different language does a Londoner have from a Mancunian or Liverpudlian ?.....

..........we all speak English !!..

........it's the physical stress of a particular consonant or vowel that I'm curious about...the specific way the language is actually pronounced.

...I can understand how they may have their origins founded in different languages but for instance...how did the difference between an accent in north London differ from that of central and south London come about ?...

....surely within those small geographical areas the common language has always been the same .

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another_someone

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #3 on: 28/05/2006 21:49:41 »
London is in origin a collection of villages, each with their own history.

Kentish town was once full of people who came from Kent.  Although the men of Kent were of Germanic stock, but they were of a different tribe to the men of Wessex, or the men of East Anglia.  Similarly, although many people in various parts of the country could remain isolated with small geographic regions, you would have itinerant labourers, such as the navvy's who built the canals, or the coal miners, who would travel great distances throughout the country, and carry their dialect with them, but that dialect would be restricted to areas close to where these people were occupied in their trade.
 
Much of the reason why American and Australian accents differ from British English accents is, apart from the fact that the diverged from British English at various times in history, and so retain some archaic features of older English, but also many of the people who emigrated to these countries did so from specific parts of Britain and so carry over features of local British regional dialects in their mainstream language.

Some areas would have been upper class areas, strongly influenced by upper class pronunciation, while others were more local areas.

Beyond that, language evolves not only as people learn to communicate with their neighbours, but also as a development of local identity.  We see this as the younger generation develops speech patterns that are deliberately different from their elders, for no other reason that to create a separate identity.  This identity can be an expression of one's generation, one's social class, one's supposed education, one's locality, one's profession or trade, or all sorts of things that one would identify oneself with language just as one might identify oneself through the clothes one wears.





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Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #4 on: 28/05/2006 23:24:18 »
Neil - it's true that we all speak English now, but that wasn't always the case. After the Norman invasion most of the UK was subject to French-speaking lords whereas their own language would have been Anglo-Saxon. Also, to the west & south west were the remnants of the Celtic language groups. In Scotland there were the Gaels who also had their own language.

In addition to what George has said there were also the centres of commerce where people with different dialects would come to trade. This also caused a mixing of accents & dialects.

With regard to English accents overseas, it has to be remembered that in America there were many French & Spanish speakers, representatives from other European countries, plus the numerous native tribes. South Africans have an accent strongly influenced by the early Dutch settlers. All of those accents would have blended over time into the regional accents we now know.

Also, George's points about the period in history when those colonisations took place & the class of those who went is very pertinent. For instance, not many people realise that American English is much closer to the way Shakespeare would have spoken than is the modern day British English (I mean the usage of words & the spelling, not the accent). When we accuse the Americans of spelling things wrong, it is we British who have changed the spelling of many of the words while the Americans retain the original.

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Offline neilep

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #5 on: 29/05/2006 01:10:23 »
Thank you to you both.

Please receive some virtual apple pie that is being sent to both of you.

It is still intriguing how an accent develops anyway.

Are there any countries which display a severe lack of regional accents I wonder....

.........how diverse are accents in NZ & OZ compared to accents here in the UK.

I am still amazed as to how the actual accent itself, going back to the original mother tongue, is generated.

If, for example you had four island races populated by people whose roots were all exactly the same, and that those people themselves spoke the same language and dialect and they all had the same accent..the only difference being the different parts of the world they live in...and assuming no immigration....would they over a period of many years develop different accents ?...if so why ?...what would be the driving force then ?

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #6 on: 29/05/2006 10:39:36 »
quote:
Originally posted by neilep
I am still amazed as to how the actual accent itself, going back to the original mother tongue, is generated.

If, for example you had four island races populated by people whose roots were all exactly the same, and that those people themselves spoke the same language and dialect and they all had the same accent..the only difference being the different parts of the world they live in...and assuming no immigration....would they over a period of many years develop different accents ?...if so why ?...what would be the driving force then ?



Yes, the languages would diverge.

Firstly, even the natural environment in which the populations exist would influence language.  They would have different things that they would have to name, but this would be more vocabulary rather than accent, but the two do interrelate insofar as the accent has to be such as to be able to distinguish two different words, or the grammar change to ensure that the meaning of the two different, but similar sounding, words remain relatively unambiguous.

Beyond that, there is no such thing as two groups of people, or even two individual people, who speak exactly the same accent.  Each of us, as individuals, have small idiosyncrasies in our own speech.  Some of this reflects our own unique individual history, and some is probably genetic (even just subtle differences in the shape of our mouths and vocal tracts, or changes in the wiring of our brains, or differences in our hearing ability).  We don't even use the same accent in every situation when you speak to your children, you will use a different voice to that which you use to a business colleague.  

When your children grow up, they will have a different voice to you.  In these four islands, in which all the adults speak very similar (but not identical, because it can never be identical) dialects, each of the respective younger generations of each of the four islands will speak with a dialect that is distinctly different from their parents, but that difference will be different for each of the four islands, because there is no contact between the four islands that would allow the younger generations to share their inventions in language with their counterparts in the other islands.

If you look at another group of animals that use complex sound patterns, and the way their sound develops, one might look at song birds.  Although song birds do not use sound for such complex information transmission as humans do, but they do use it as a display of intelligence, and compete with each other to show how inventive they can be with their songs, while also learning from each other (and so, as is also true even with simpler bird sounds, such as the quacks of ducks) will develop regional dialects.  Humans too, while they may use language for a more practical function, but they also like to show off with their language, and will either try and prove how 'proper' they can be in their formal use of language, or how inventive they can be (and almost certainly, they will do a bit of both, where they will show how they can use the formal structures of the language, but just subtly be inventive to show their own individuality).  Language to humans, just as much as to song birds, is as much a display of status, group identity, and intelligence.



George
« Last Edit: 29/05/2006 10:48:23 by another_someone »
 

Offline Roy P

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #7 on: 29/05/2006 11:48:05 »
Fascinating thread. Here's my three top irritations about the use of the English language:

1. Haitch.
2. Everythink.
3. The interrogatory inflection at the end of sentences (Courtesy of Oz :-).

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #8 on: 29/05/2006 14:16:09 »
In Papua New Guinea the diversity of languages is stunning. Even in the next valley a different language has developed. I think I once read that 1/3 of the world's languages are spoken there.

I think this answers Neil's question about a common ancestor tongue. All Papuans were immigrants from S E Asia & I would imagine they originally spoke the same language. Nowadays, however, many of the languages are not merely dialects but are totally mutually unintelligible.

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another_someone

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #9 on: 29/05/2006 14:50:34 »
quote:
Originally posted by DoctorBeaver

In Papua New Guinea the diversity of languages is stunning. Even in the next valley a different language has developed. I think I once read that 1/3 of the world's languages are spoken there.



And no doubt most of those languages will disappear as communications in the region improve.



George
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #10 on: 29/05/2006 20:21:27 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone

quote:
Originally posted by DoctorBeaver

In Papua New Guinea the diversity of languages is stunning. Even in the next valley a different language has developed. I think I once read that 1/3 of the world's languages are spoken there.



And no doubt most of those languages will disappear as communications in the region improve.



George




Indeed. Many of the smaller tribes - and some of the larger ones - in East Africa now no longer speak their original language. English, French & Swahili have taken over.

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Offline neilep

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #11 on: 29/05/2006 20:41:39 »
Thank you to you all for your comments and learned answers..fascinating. I really am most grateful for the time taken to respond to this thread.

Accents are quite extraordinary in their scope, and it's the inflections which are particularly of interest to me, as stated in point three of Roys post above.

Accents really are a cultural manifestation and it's extraordinary as to their fragility where even just local geography is concerned.

When do you think an accent becomes deep seated into a persons linguistic vocalisations ? I'm trying to establish , as in the circumstances ,where a person moves to another country (or another part of the country they dwell in) as to how long their accents would be A: affected and B: totally acclimatised, and whether there is a sliding scale of change (or rate of change) dependent upon the age of the individual.

whajafink ?


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another_someone

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #12 on: 29/05/2006 21:20:18 »
quote:
Originally posted by neilep
When do you think an accent becomes deep seated into a persons linguistic vocalisations ? I'm trying to establish , as in the circumstances ,where a person moves to another country (or another part of the country they dwell in) as to how long their accents would be A: affected and B: totally acclimatised, and whether there is a sliding scale of change (or rate of change) dependent upon the age of the individual.



There is no clear answer to that.

In general, a person who changes countries in their late teens or early twenties will adapt to a very high degree, whereas anything after that age will lead to increasing difficulty in adaptation.

As I said, it is highly variable, and some people are naturally better at making the transition than others.

The problem is both that one get accustomed to creating certain sounds with one's mouth and vocal tract, but it is also that one is used to differentiating different sounds one hears.  In each language or dialect, there is a natural variation in acceptable sounds, and people hearing this variation will not discriminate between them.  This is why some foreigners from some parts of the world find it difficult to make certain sounds in English, and will often confuse those sounds with other sounds, because in their own native tongues those sounds represent acceptable variation of the same sound value, and so they have learned to disregard that difference in sound as not significant.  In the same way, English speakers may find it difficult to hear the differences between certain words in foreign languages because those words are differentiated by differences in sounds which within the English tongue are accepted as merely being variations of the same sound.

I have, since birth (excepting for a few months in my first year of life) lived in England, nonetheless, although I have what any non-English speaker would accept as a pure English accent, it is slightly idiosyncratic, and I have had one person, but only ever one, who recognised a slight trace of Hungarian in the accent (but then, in my first few years of life, I was as fluent in Hungarian as in English but now I speak Hungarian with a strong English accent, and the vocabulary of a 5 year old).

My mother, who lived the first 19 years of her life in Hungary, and then 8 in Israel, (also having learnt some Hebrew as a child, although she then had to learn colloquial Hebrew when she moved to Israel) can speak both Hungarian and Hebrew with an almost pure accent, but has a strong accent in her use of English (not clearly a Hungarian accent, having a mix of Hungarian and Hebrew influence, and has sometimes been confused with being an Italian accent).

My grandmother, who was in her 60s when she moved to England, never really learned to speak English, although she 'knew' English in theory, but could never properly master the sounds involved.  With her, I always conversed in Hungarian.

As for accents, there are some people who if the visit a place for two weeks will already be adapting their language to mimic the sounds they hear around them (my half sister is very much like that), while others (such as myself) will tend to hold on to the sound values they are used to using and will be little influenced by the sounds they hear.  I am a terrible mimic, and terrible at learning languages, and it is because I do not concentrate on sound values very much.  In a broader sense, I think the tendency to mimic sound values is not unlike the tendency some people have to mimic body language, and those people who do mimic body language, and sound values, in this way find it much easier to fit into new environments.



George
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #13 on: 29/05/2006 22:46:25 »
While I agree yet again with George, there is another aspect to consider - that of self-confidence. People with know self-esteem tend to mimic others to a greater extent than those who are more self-confident. Read into that what you will.

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Re: Accents....How do they develop ?
« Reply #13 on: 29/05/2006 22:46:25 »

 

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