Continuing yesterday’s discussion of the accents of transplants, I’m mulling over a related question: can someone be bi-accented? Just as there are bilinguals, are there some people who are native speakers of multiple accents?
I should clarify. I’m not talking about someone whose accent shifts in certain contexts (that happens to us all). Rather, I’m speaking of someone who was exposed to two accents at an early age, and speaks both fluently. Just as there are people who are native speakers of both Spanish and English, can you be a native speaker of more than one accent?
There are many examples of what linguists term code-switching in the English-speaking world. Here in the US, many speakers of African American Vernacular English switch to General American English in certain contexts. And many children with Carribean parents speak Patois at home but an entirely different “standard” dialect elsewhere. But these cases mostly involve dialects (i.e. grammatical differences) rather than accents (pronunciation differences).
So what about accents that are grammatically similar (as in standard US and British English), but differ in pronunciation?
There is one prominent example of this that I can think of, namely X-Files actress Gillian Anderson. Anderson spent most of her childhood in England, spent her adolescence and college years in Chicago, then moved back the UK in her adulthood. The result is that she usually speaks British English in the UK, but American English in the States.
Here she is in England, on the talk show Parkinson:
Contrast this with her appearance on an American red carpet:
If I didn’t know about Anderson’s background, this would seem to me the height of actorly affectation. Yet perhaps this is the natural behavior of someone who can’t claim either accent as “native.” She has made the choice to preserve her linguistic roots in both nations rather than allow her speech to slip into placelessness.
Intruigingly, both of her accents seem to exert a slight influence on each other. Her American accent has a bit of a British undercurrent, and her British accent occasionally slips into an American intonation. Both, therefore, seem to have a place in her subconscious. So I’m not so ready to claim either accent as “artificial.”
But she may be a very unusual case. Are there any other examples of this type of phenomenon?
I think I do this. English is my first language, and I was born and raised in Malaysia where I attended local missionary-founded schools before I left for college in the US. When I’m home, or find myself among other English-speaking Malaysians, my accent “flattens” out and I notice a change in the cadences of my speech. That said, my non-Malaysian accent, which I use in the Anglosphere, is probably a bit of a hybrid – several British people and Australians have remarked that I sound American, while my American friends think I have British accent.
That is exactly my situation. Born and raised in India till I was 15, I was already a fluent English speaker as I went to Catholic missionary (English-medium) schools in India since I was in kindergarten. So I learned Bengali (my mother tongue) and English from when I was three years old. I’ve always dreamed in both languages, as well. When I came to the US (in 10th grade), I realized I had a “British accent” — according to my American classmates. It took my accent (and my brother’s – he was 12 when we immigrated) about 6 months to “change-over”… strangely, it wasn’t an overnight change but it almost felt like it. My brother is a great mimic, however, so he may have better ears than I do. I only seem to have two accents that are authentic and “me”.
When I go back to India, within about two weeks I can feel my english accent turning “Bengali”… and of course I’ve lapsed by then into speaking Bengali (and Hindi) 24/7. I think this is a very common situation with people who’ve been multilingual/native speakers from when they were children… it may not be a physical trait, but I think we have very “porous” ears and the tongue follows automatic suit.
Kathleen Turner code-switches between accents, sometimes in mid-sentence. And I know others whose speech is subject to similar malleability.
This isn’t quite the same, but I know that I personally code-switch in accent depending on which side of my family I’m speaking with. I don’t do it on purpose – but I have noticed that I sound more like my father when speaking with him, and more like my mother when speaking with her or other members of her side of the family. Everyone in my family is from New York City, but the difference in accent is noticeable.
An odder phenomenon is my tendency to come out with BrE idiom when speaking in my own, American, accent. I think this is traceable to the number of BrE books I read, television and films I see, and plays that I coach. It may not be quite as annoying as a “junior-year-abroad” accent, but I can see that others hearing it might experience it as bizarre.
Hm, that’s really interesting. I’m British, and listening to GA speaking on Parkinson, it sounds to me to be not unbelievably British but definitely somehow off. I’d have said maybe an Australian who moved to Britain, or someone from Britain who’d had posh schooling. Something to do with a more ‘relaxed’ accent becoming less so, which is definitely how Americans pretending to be British seem to me.
There is something off, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. And as I mentioned, her American accent also sounds a bit British-tinged to me as well. In both cases the influence from the other accent isn’t overwhelming, but enough to raise an eyebrow.
Good point with Kathleen Turner. Since she grew up in Canada, England and Latin America, she may also fall into the category someone without a single, real accent. I also might posit Christian Bale (who grew up all over the UK and the US) as an accent code-switcher.
Her accent in the “Parkinson” clip struck me as slightly middle-of-the-ocean, but much closer to the U.K. then to the U.S. The cadences are a bit odd, and I seem to recall hearing an American/Irish post-vocalic R in there somewhere. But both accents sound close enough to natural that I wouldn’t have questioned either of them if I hadn’t known about the other.
Another great example of bi-accentism: John Barrowman.
Absolutely, yes. My daughter can have a conversation with a group of people and switch accents in mid-stream (British English with me, Californian or New York with others) and never notices she’s doing it. It’s not concious, it just happens.
Observers think it’s funny.
Is your daughter younger? I always wonder if this tendency tends to receded as children get older (I had a friend growing up who moved from England to America, and her Englishness sharply dropped off in her teenage years).
@Great Aunt Maude,
Great example with John Barrowman. Just watched a clip of him. Quite a startling shift!
John Barrowman is an interesting case, I think, because (regardless of his history) he uses his American accent among UKers on Torchwood. (I don’t know if I want to call them all Welsh—and I don’t know the intricacies of the English spoke in Wales.) And in real life, he often appeared alongside David Tennant, who also has a Scottish accent in real life. So there are all sorts of variables in play with John Barrowman (in addition to his split U.S./Scotland upbringing).
I have a friend who grew up in Ireland until she came to Australia as a teenager. Within weeks of being in an Australian school she had adopted a standard Australian accent. However when she’s around her family she will switch back to her Irish accent – even if she just picks up the phone to talk to her mother the switch is as complete, subconscious and instant as a bilingual code-switching into another language. As we work in an office full of linguists we like to analyse her accent-switching a lot. Interestingly her brother – who was younger when they immigrated – still mostly retains his Irish accent. I think it’s a combination of the linguistic environment and personality of the speaker that produce multi-dialectic speakers.
In my opinion, it is a trend for many people to talk in British accent in the UK and American in the US provided that they have lived many years in those two countries and constantly float between them . They kinda switch between accents and think – I’m a Brtishman in LA so let’s fit in and talk American
Of course actors do have a natural prerogative to do this so I am not sure that they are really good case studies from a linguistic point of view.
In other cases I think that there are some specific conditions where somebody would develop two distinct accents. If your original accent is not deemed acceptable in your new environment then you are more likely to shift to the new accent norm as quickly as possible. However, there may be cultural factors that lead you to retain the home accent. Irish and Scottish people in particular are often proud of their distinctive accents and somebody ‘losing’ the accent can quickly become a source of ridicule and even resentment . If the new accent surrounding you is very different from that of where you came from ‘learning’ the new accent is not unlike learning a new language. This is especially so where there is also a significant dialectal difference.
It is not so surprising that a person changes their accent depending on the environment but it can be shocking when you hear somebody who sounds like two distinct people going from one context to the other.
This is a great article with brilliant excerpts. I noticed that GA’s pitch placement was very different for each accent – this might be to do with the nerves of a formal interview with Parky, atmospheric conditions ie: studio vs openair interview, or that the 1st interview happened a few yrs before the 2nd etc. Not surprisingly, her resonance is different for each accent and, purely from the clips, I noticed that she uses slightly wider mouth shapes for the RP and more lip rounding for the Standard US
Actors can sometimes be iffy examples, although it depends on the actor. It often varies greatly by generation (younger actors have been typically told to embrace their own accents more than older actors).
Thanks, Laura! I’ve been meaning to do a post on “resonance,” actually. Still need to do a bit of research …
I can certainly hear some US English in the Parkinson interview. Particularly on the word “photoshoots”, which is spoken in a way a Brit would never speak. As a Brit, I can’t really hear the Britishness when she speaks US English.
I think this dual accent phenomenon is especially common among educated and international Indians. They often speak a more Indianised-English (though often still with the grammatical rules of British English) with friends and family, but a much more clear British/American/Australian accent when in a different context. I wouldn’t say it is standard adjustment to the other speaker, since I have known Indians switch to American English or Australian English pronunciation when talking to me…
Great, interesting article!
I wonder if this is more common in the UK with the closer geographical proximity of different accents & therefore the increased likelihood of people regularly moving between accent-regions? Because (unless of course I am completely misunderstanding the question) I have encountered this frequently enough to be surprised that the question is being asked.
Myself, I am a bad example (a colleague once told me ‘you don’t have an accent, you have about ten accents’ – I switch quite unconsciously based on who I’m talking to and what I’m talking about) but you see things like a gent with a vaguely home-counties accent switch into moderately broad Northumbrian when on the phone to his family, or another one who starts out neutral south-Midlands, grows a Birmingham accent when he gets stressed, and will occasionally slip into patois (dialect, of course, but I’m including for completeness) if you’ve really wound him up.
I’ve known more than a few Belfast lads living in England cheerfully tell you that they adjust their accents and make a point of talking slower, in order to be more readily understood – quite sure the moment they phone their mothers all that goes by the by.
(And that’s before we mention the expat-Welsh whose adopted Midlands accents disappear at the first hint of a rugby game, of course :D)
Very interesting phenomenon. I wondered about the influence, if any, of talking to Parkinson with his immaculate RP, but her British accent seems unchanged in conversation with Graham Norton.
I don’t know if this is quite the same, but Grace Jones, the Jamaican recording artist/model, has always switched between UK and US accents depending on her interviewer. But of course, neither is her true accent. I’m sure both were learned at some point.
I’ve always considered this a bidialectal/bi-accent moment, and wrote about it in my book:
Everything changes: grammar, vocabulary, accent, pitch. I think it’s a clear case of a second, learned dialect, not merely accent. Just wanted an excuse to share. It’s my favorite YouTube of all time.
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Yes, I am British but lived in California for 8 years as a teenager. I therefore switch quite perfectly from accent to accent. When i was a young teenager and first moved to the states i wanted to fit in and therefore practiced constantly perfecting the accent and then speaking “British” at home. The Californian accent then became natural for me and i spoke it everywhere but since moving back to England I now use both. This is now a bonus for me persuing an acting career. Most people don’t quite understand that both accents come naturally to me but i can switch between both. I hope this helps you out and im glad to hear i’m not the only one =)
I had grown up in South Africa and was surrounded by people who had accents that were completely different in grammar as well as pronunciation, predominantly separated by race.
Whilst my speech differential is not race-based it is based on which accent the person I am speaking to, has.
It is a natural thing, and I can be said to have 4 different accents, namely; sub-saharan caucasian [school and work], african[childhood], indian[my family] and mixed race [referred to as ‘coloured’ in South Africa – non-offensive term] which also happens to be my native accent even though I am indian, but I predominantly grew up in the coloured society, as well as the african society, in my childhood.
I am who I am and whilst it may be construed as racist by some, I plan on simply minimizing the fluctuation in the dialect to counteract my multicultural speech patterns;-)
I think its quite common. I grew up with Welsh parents in Canada and so until I went to school I had a very broad welsh accent. I lost that rather quickly at school so that I wouldn’t be teased but to this day if I’m talking with my Mom on the phone or any welsh person face to face it will come back. Or when I go visit Wales within a few hours I sound welsh again. My friends in Canada used to think it was hilarious to listen to me on the phone because I did it without even knowing! I married an Englishman and his accent brings out the welsh in mine now, so now my accent is “mid-atlantic” as in not completely Canadian but not entirely Welsh either!!
My daughter is growing up with a Canadian mom, an english father, welsh grandparents and living in the middle east attending a british school!!! I’m curious to see what her accent will turn out to be!
As a British Indian, I have three accents.
1. Home, natural and flat toned, with slight Indian inflections- that is slightly “broken”
2. Formal, used in university or around posher people
3. Yorkshire, used at work in South Yorkshire or around working class people to prove my deprived credentials or my “normality”
I’m planning to make a BBC radio programme on just this subject. Could you email me? Kim@Normanton1.co.uk thanks Kim
Loved reading the views on this. My story is as follows I moved to the east end London from the west of Ireland aged two so as my speech was developing I would have had an Irish accent, then once I started nursery I began to speak in a thick east end accent starkly different to the strong Irish accents my parents had. I spent summers in Ireland where I would almost switch back to my Irish accent by the end of the summer. Then at aged 13 I moved back to Ireland where I have been since (now 27) and within weeks had an Irish accent exactly the same as those around me which seemed to come naturally. I could switch back to my old accent without much effort and pass as a londoner however I love my Irish accent the thing i find most interesting is that i feel becuse of the two authentic accents i dont know which was my true accent if that makes any sense. Just nice to share always wondered was there a name for this.
My Mum’s cousin is British born but went to the States when she married a yank in her early 20’s and found herself living in Georgia. She answers the phone in a thick southern twang ….one minute later is back into broad cockney. !
I am relieved to have come across this blog as I feel I am not alone in this code-switching phenomenon that confuses everyone around me including myself. I grew up in England and moved to the States when I was 11 and have been back and forth ever since. I have developed a strong American accent where very few of my words tend to switch. Although, one that I can’t shake off is the word “golf” pronouncing it more like “The Gulf of Mexico” rather than with an “a” sound. However, when I get on the phone with my dad who still lives in the UK my accent instantly switches back. The same thing happens when I go home to visit, leaving a slight trace of an American accent as my friends put it, yet some aren’t able to notice it at all. I’ve found myself waking up in the morning with a thick English accent, yet have no reasonable explanation for how and why this happens. My sister, being a year older than me, who now lives in New York seems to have combined the two accents and hers doesn’t sway much. Friends and family say that I have a stronger English accent than she does when we go home, but in America my American accent is much stronger. I’d love to understand more about code-switching and finding out if there is a way to retain one accent consistently, so if anyone has any useful information, please let me know!
I’m curious, if you were to retain only one of them, which would you choose to retain and why?
Born into an Irish community in Manchester England.
My first accent as I remember was my mother’s west of Ireland accent (dad was always at work, had a Tipperary accent)
When parents split Mam married an English man and he ‘taught’ me to speak ‘proper English’ at twelve, mam brought me to live in Ireland where I went to school and found my accent change seamlessly.
When, a couple of years later I came back to England I was speaking Manchester English again, but I travel to Ireland several times a year and the Irish/Galway accent is as natural to me as is my Mancunian. There is no conscious effort involved, and it is nothing like those actors’ embarrassing attempts to speak each others’ respective accents!
I switch a lot. I went to the local primary school in North London, went to a posh school in London for most of my secondary education, lived in Stirling in Central Scotland for 4 years, Edinburgh for 14 years and have now lived in Devon for 14 years. Also I lived with a guy from Wolverhampton for 2 years and more than one person has told me that I sound like a Brummie!
I used to occasionally feel a bit awkward about having an accent that moves around geographically as it is more uncommon that having an accent that stops in one place but these days I feel relaxed about it. It would be boring if we were all the same.
I accent switch as well … I’m Indian and have lived in Indonesia (where I went to an American elementary & middle school ) , India and now live and work in the US. I tend to swap accents based on who I’m talking to even in a mixed group.. And I don’t know I’m doing it. Ppl at first assume im “putting on” my american accent … and once they understand that it just naturally happens, they find it amusing…
If I try really hard I can attempt to control the switching but I start sounding fake to myself. Found this article when I was googling to see if the phenomenon is common and what it’s called… 🙂 wonder how common this is.
What is the other accent (besides american) ?
I switch accents all the time. Born in Scotland, grew up mostly in England. I dont need to be around the accent im switching to. Just something I’ve been able to do since I was a kid. The only thing I used to find confusing was remembering who thought I was Scottish and who thought I was English. Lol
Haha! I have this very problem! I was born in Scotland but raised in England and ever since I was a small child I have switched accents as has my older brother. When I’m with my family I speak Scottish and then switch to English when talking to my friends (who find it extremely amusing when my mum phones me!). I would never be able to speak to my family in an English accent so when I’m with both friends and family I am constantly switching accents! I do feel it poses some problems though as if in the future I start a family I don’t know if I would want my children to know English me or Scottish me as I am very proud of my heritage and don’t want to lose that part of me.
I’m so glad I’ve found these threads. I was born in Scotland-with both parents and all other family fluent Scottish. We moved to england when I was 1yr and went to boarding school in Yorkshire when I was 9. At that age i hadn’t noticed a conscious switch in accents. Talking Scottish with parents and English to my English friends. Until one say when phoning home I switchedto Scottish. All my friends took the mickey out of me and since that day I have tried to hide that I switch. But actually it comes nautral to me to switch and I find it has now becomme a fear of mine to have my Scottish family mixing with my english friends while I am in the same room. Can anyone help or relate to this? Perhaps I need therapy or something.
Well, I really enjoyed this blog and the comments. I wish there was an official term for someone who has a perfect pitch in accents, but not in music…
I first found out I had “perfect accent pitch” when I was 9 and my family visited some friends and family in the UK (I’m from Australia) and we spent a few days with 2 twins who were a couple of years younger then me. I can’t remember if it was within a few hours or a couple of days, but I listened to these girls talk a while and I miraculously started talking like them without having any control of what happened. My brother was stunned and told me I was putting the accent on, but I had no idea what was happening, it just happened.
Now I have hundreds of stories like this. Some of them are funny, for example I visited a good friend in Hungary for a few days and she speaks English with a strong accent. I caught a plane to Paris after and started conversing with the waiter in a restaurant that evening in French. He said I had an Eastern European accent!!!
And besides being able to switch accents almost instantly when I meet new people, which confuses them about my origins, I can also detect extremely slight accents in others. For example, I met a young woman who was born and raised in Australia and I told her she had a slight South African accent. She was totally shocked; she lived there only until she was 2, but one of her parents in South African, but no one ever detects this.
Anyway, it’s nice to know you are not alone in this funny world of code-sharing, whatever people want to call it. It sometimes causes some awkward moments… for example, I was backpacking for a few months in Europe and had fully adopted the Euro-English accent, but got caught speaking like this suddenly by an Australian and they got really annoyed and confused at why I didn’t sound Australian at all.
But it is truly a gift and the pluses of being like this definitely outweigh the minuses. It means you have an advanced form of empathy and communication, which means you can build rapport with people from all walks of life much more easily if you wish to use your “super powers”…
PS Sorry about the typos. The South African girl was born in SA, not Australia if that was confusing…
I am Irish and I have been living in Canada for the past two years. I was 22 when I moved here. After I moved within a month or two my accent completely changed, and people can no longer tell I am Irish. Now it really bothers me and I want my Irish accent back. My boyfriend is Canadian which doesn’t help. It also makes things difficult because when I talk to Irish friends and family I switch back to my Irish accent. I have had a few uncomfortable situations when both my Irish and Canadian friends have been with me together – I tried to do something in the middle of the two! I am heading back to Ireland for a year for college. I really hope that when I come back to Canada I can hold on to my native accent. I feel like it is big part of who I am and I didn’t notice I was letting it go at the time. I do believe it was an unconscious effort to fit in, but now I wish I had stayed true to myself!
I came across this website because I was searching for what a person who can speak with multiple accents is called. Just wondering because, for some reason, I am able to do that. I was born and raised in the Philippines and has never traveled out of our country. I don’t get to speak to native speakers of the countries of the accents that I am able to do but I get to sound like them.
I have this exact same problem. Being an American who was quickly relocated to the UK after birth, I use two different accents every day. Since my parents are both American I have a pretty standard American accent with a bit of a southern twang; I also use a British accent at school. I generally feel more American than British but both accents feel like my own. My question is whether your accent has any external effects on your behaviour? I have a tendency to act more out-spoken in my American accent than my British one… Strange.
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I was the first person to be born outside of Scotland in my family and grew up in London. I have, and have always, spoken in a Scottish accent (West Coast dialect) when I’m with my family or in Scotland and in a London accent with my English friends – when I’m with friends and family together I’ll normally speak in Scottish and most of my family don’t know that I speak in English at all. It’s totally natural and I don’t consciously choose to speak in one or the other. What is a little strange is that when I meet strangers (say on holiday) I normally speak in English, even if that stranger is Scottish.
My younger brother used to do this until around the age of eight or nine, when he dropped the Scottish accent and now only speaks in English – he can’t even do a good “pretend” Scottish accent anymore. We are quite close and when we’re talking I’ll always speak to him in Scottish and he’ll answer in English.
For others that accent switch I would be interested to know what accent you think in (if that makes sense!) – is it always the same or does that switch to ? I think I pretty much always think in Scottish but now I’m consciously trying to think about it I’m not sure !
Oh and other than Barrowman, despite having been born in England the Edge from U2 speaks in Welsh (his family) and Irish (where he grew up) accents.
Fascinating research and I’m glad to know that I’m not a freak !
Wow, your switching sounds very much like mine. I talk scottish to my family and english (now with a east london accent) to my friends. But can I ask, what accent do you use when in company of Scottish and english people? I have been picked on for this at school and now tried to hide the accent by trying not to be in the same company as Scottish and english people… 🙁
I don’t think I quite fall under this category, because I’ve never been out of the states. But I alternate between an arry of accents – (1) Scottish, (2) British, (3) Irish, and (4) Southern, that I can name at the moment – especially when I’m (1 &2) forget myself, (3) angry, and (4) tired.
I’ve met, recently, one other person that has the same phenomenon of acquiring accents in a mindset without ever leaving their birthplace. Both of no idea as to why this has happened, whether it be a similar event in our early years or being exposed to a similar concept/aspect/etc., in order to have such “impressionable voices”, as they say.
Any idea as to why this is?
Hi, this post is really old but if you read this, A LOT of people who grew up in the armed forces have mixed accents that slide from one to another. Especially if you lived abroad on a base as you’d be with people from all over the UK.
I did as a kid and me and my siblings who have Yorkshire parents, kind of slide into other accents all the time. I just find if we’re miserable or annoyed it it broad Yorkshire. If we’re excitable we have no control of our accents. It’s just a jumbled mess.
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I am bi-accented. My first language is English. I was born and raised in Malaysia, went to Australia to live and study when I was 17. I stayed here for almost 6 years now. Not too long ago I returned to Malaysia for holiday. While I was back home, I got an opportunity to speak to an Australian couple. They could immediately identify my accent as being ‘Australian’, and even asked me if I’m Aussie before I told them that I’m living in Down Under. I teach for a living, so naturally I use standard Australian English (and accent) while I’m at that, but when I meet up with my Malaysian family and friends, I’ll revert back to the Malaysian accent. It just happens naturally.
I meant to say *I’ve stayed.
I’m so relieved to find this post. I lived in India till I was 22. I moved to the US at 22 and in 3-4 years I realized that I was speaking with an American accent. I don’t even know when it happened. But it just did. I find that when I’m around Americans I speak with an American accent and I could turn around and talk to an Indian with an Indian accent. The accent doesn’t change who I am. But people are surprised that I can speak with an American accent even though I’ve lived in the US for 7 years now. Somehow it seems acceptable to have an American if you went to undergrad in the US. When I try to consciously speak with an Indian accent to my American friends I feel like that doesn’t sound like me either. Has anybody been able to consciously pick an accent and stick with it? Please help.
William Hurt comes to mind.
I do this. Moved from the USA to Australia at age 12, moved back to the States at age 26. When I’m talking to Australians I sound Australian. When I’m talking to Americans I sound American. It’s confusing to people, including me! But it feels natural.
I’ve sort of got this;
I moved around the world for a year (Japan, Korea, Australia, New York, finally in Holland)
and went to an international school in Rotterdam after learning Dutch;
I hung around a very flat noted pronouncing American English speaking Russian and that sort of sunk in which now occassionally pops up.
Just to clarify I am British and half S.Korean (from my mother) I just happened to have a very messy voice…constantly fluctuating between accents!
not really worried just curious as to how I can single out one accent that is mine…but who knows when I’ll find that hehe.
See ya round, peeps
Born and raised in Northeastern America, but grown up with West African parents, and I’ve grown up around many Hispanics (namely Puerto Rican and Dominican), and Irish Americans. Not to mention I’m Bostonian. So I speak a mixture of all of those accents subconsciously. Rolling my R’ s and puting emphasis on my A’s while speaking quickly. Many people point out that I have a soft accent, and they can never put their finger on what kind of accent I have.
Well I’m half-English half-Dutch, born and raised in Luxembourg so I have all sorts of external influences playing on my pronunciation. For example, I tend to have more of a posh English accent when I’m speaking with my dad or other UK family-members, and I switch to a more Americanized tone (not British at all) when I speak with anyone who isn’t a native English speaker. I even tend to go a bit French or Spanish when speaking to people from those countries, completely not on purpose. I think it has to do with an inherent desire to be understood when I’m speaking, because having been raised in a francophone country many of my peers didn’t speak English as well as I did from an early age. Same goes for my ‘American’ accent; I think it’s much easier on the hear for foreigners and it is actually also quite smooth for me. As much as I’ll try, I just can’t keep hold of my English accent when speaking to foreigners, but then again speaking with locals, I often get comments on my ‘weird’ accent haha
I’ve also found that I dumb down my grammatical logic when speaking with non-fluent English speakers, to make my pattern of speech simpler and even grammatically incorrect so they’ll understand what I’m saying. E.g: ‘I’m in the train’, ‘Not know’ etc.
I’ve never really looked into this stuff but it’s always interested me as my speech has obviously been affected by it – oddly (though perhaps also logically) my Dutch hasn’t been affected similarly at all and I tend to have just the one accent, unless I’m joking around or something.
I change my accent on purpose. I can virtually mimic most accents and dialects, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. The easiest ones for me are relative ones like British, Spanish, the brogues Irish and Scots including the mixed Jamaican and Caribbean English, Russian and others. I sometimes do it as a joke. Often at parties my friends and family will ask me to tell everyone a joke I made up for a specific accent. Some people are blown away at how authentic I sound.
It was so great to find this blog. While I’m not a typical third culture kid, I definitely feel like one especially because I get questioned/grilled about my accent a fair bit. I was born in Nigeria, and English is my first and only language. At 16, I moved to the UK, and attended an international school before moving to wales for university. I have now lived in Australia for 6 years and most of my friends are Canadians. I know when I’m excited or tired or when I’m talking to friends and family my accent unconsciously changes a bit to match theirs but Whilst no one points out when I switch accents here , I can guess from the puzzled and somewhat accusing looks on their faces. Can’t help feeling it happens a lot ore in Australia though and Not so much to my ‘International school friends’ whose accents aren’t ‘English’ affected.
Anyways, to great to see to there people go through this, it helps to not so alone!
Sadly, my instance is not as warranted as all of yours. I very often switch between an educated and formal sounding General American accent and a polar-opposite NYC Bronx Italian American accent which sounds somewhat uneducated as I would substitute “th-” for “d-” or add an “-s” to singular words. What is very ironic is that I grew up in California and went through Public school with several semesters of Home Schooling. My reasoning behind this is that I grew up a very introverted child. Instead of socializing with my friends I would walk around the schoolyard and float between groups. My only real best friend was my Father who was an Italian American from the Bronx. I think it’s safe to say that at least 50% of the conversations I’ve ever had were with my Father and the periods of home schooling contributed to that. My Educated accent is one that I formed on my own to avoid the horrible stereotype of Californians as Careless Valley Surfers/Skaters. I notice that I switch my accent to NY in the comfort of my own home, when I’m agitated, when I’m excited, when I’m angry, when I’m tense, or when I’m playful. My Educated accent comes out when I’m speaking to strangers (but to some closer friends I switch), women in particular as I’ve heard it’s a rather admirable feature of mine (as like I said, most other guys around me sound like Surfers), when I’m being kind, or when I’m having an intellectual conversation. Yet, the only reason I don’t say that the NY accent is my natural one is because I would be considered a phony as I’m not actually from there which also is a bit unfortunate as I would have to seriously control it. But in all actuality, It takes conscious effort for me to speak General American than it does for me to speak NY and when I get careless or relaxed in public I forget to speak General American and would have to correct myself.
P.S. Accents could be considered a Nature VS Nurture argument which in my particular case, Nurture prevailed.