accent — a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class.
I used to think that accents just originate from a particular country or region. If you’re born and raised there, you acquire the accent of the people living there. Over time, there have been a couple of things that have burst my bubble.
It’s no controversy to say that the way a person talks can be indicative of what they’re like as a person. Sometimes you can form an accurate impression of whether they’re shy, confident, introverted or extroverted, intelligent, etc, as well as temporary things like mood, tiredness, disinterest, and whether they have a cold.
However, I think things go even deeper than that. I think that the way a person pronounces words, in context or not, is also a subconscious infusion of their individual past, personality, physique, lifestyle, and social influences. As an example, I believe that the way a pronounces the word “really” can encapsulate one or more of their individual attributes.
Even between people with the same accent and dialect, we pronounce words slightly differently. I’m not suggesting that these differences can be practically distinguished; even if they could, there are too many contributing factors such as the shape of our mouths and the physiology of our larynges (plural of larynx; you learn something new everyday!). Two people could have completely different personalities, lifestyles, and even countries of residence, and happen to pronounce some words almost identically.
So, my hypothesis is that our way of being shapes the way we talk and enunciate, and yet I acknowledge that we cannot reliably infer what the influences are. (Or maybe some rare people have such an innate ability, but I’m unaware of them.) What’s the point then? Why do I even have this silly theory?
There’s no point. INTPs specialize in pointless intellectual topics.
- In some places there are strongly differing tendencies in speech according to social class.
- Even within the same social class there is so much variety in the way people speak.
- Over a mediocre phone connection my vocal characteristics are simply deep and indistinguishable to my brother’s, but I get figured out more than 50/50 even when I try to emulate what he’d say.
- The other languages you speak can influence your pronunciation. Extreme example; non-native English learners whose native language does not have the ‘l‘ sound.
- Over a long time, your speech can affect your facial structure.
- Over a long time (decades), our facial features may noticeably increase in resemblance to our partner face due to unconscious mimicry. Convergence in the physical appearance of spouses (1987).
- Our physiology (which may be highly genetic) can affect the way we enunciate. As an Asian, I believe there is a trace of that in how I talk.
- Watch this video Fun Tour of American Accents | Amy Walker and be amazed by how much sense the explanation behind the practical aspects of American speech patterns makes.
- I live on an isolated island country with a very brief history and a unique accent. The technically correct description of our accent is “lazy” (e.g., lazy vowels), and our people might also be described as lazy and laid-back, both in terms of attitude and as a nation due to our lack of clear identity; we adopted laziness as a result. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sociolinguistics, musical pedagogy, social commentary, and cultural identity converge on a matching description in seemingly separate contexts.
- The sounds and impressions of specific languages in relation to the stereotypical nature of their speakers. You know what they say about German and Spanish…
Discriminating by accent
Have you ever been alone in a situation where you’re forced to overhear the only conversation happening near you? And the conversation is civilized and not obnoxious, but you feel… annoyed by a particular voice without even looking at its speaker. There’s nothing wrong with their voice or what they’re saying. You just realize: they’re American. Not just any American, but that kind—perhaps one of the pretentious types who think everything they say is important and profound.
Admit it. It happens to all of us, even other Americans. It may not be the pretentious kind of accent but the typical loud and obnoxious kind, or you might have felt something other than annoyance.
I suspect this is a natural instinct, perhaps evolutionary in nature. It makes sense that we sometimes need all the information we can get to make a snap judgment about someone. Our instincts are not always reliable, but more often than not it might save our hide from a lot of trouble. Of course, I’m not saying that we are honed in an evolutionary sense to have a stereotypical bias against certain American accents. I’m saying we form unconscious associations based on our experiences and we have the innate ability to apply judgments from these associations without rational effort. For example, it’s known that there is a correlation between where an American is from (West, Central, East), the general friendliness of its people, and the neutrality of their regional accent.
In addition to one’s native accent, I think the way a person’s idiosyncratic speech patterns can be distinguished from a generic accent can also give clues that are sometimes actually useful.