Recently, the Daily Show‘s fearless Aasif Mandvi made headlines when a satirical interview he conducted with Republican precinct chairman Don Yelton led to the man resigning from his post. I get the sense, from watching the cringe-inducing video of the event, that Mandvi’s Indian name and slightly peculiar accent may have elicited Yelton’s blatant xenophobia and racism.
In fact, Mandvi grew up in Bradford, England (although he was born in Mumbai, he apparently only lived there as a baby*). He moved to the United States at the age of 16, and thus he’s noteable for being a transplant who left his native England in late adolescence, rather than childhood. Here’s a clip of Mandvi speaking (which contains some mildly ribald humor):
Mandvi speaks with a mostly American-sounding accent, but with a slightly unusual quality, subtle enough that it can take several listens to notice it. The most obvious point is that his accent isn’t 100% rhotic; he occasionally drops the /r/ in unstressed syllables, and will sometimes exhibit non- or weakened rhoticity in stressed ones (for instance, “are” at the :15 mark). You’ll also note that the “short a” vowel in words like “back” (at 1:25) is slightly laxer than it would be in General American English.
Intriguingly, though, I don’t hear much of Northern England in his speech, although admittedly the hazy details of Mandvi’s situation while in Bradford makes it hard to deduce how “Northern” his accent would have been in childhood (a Guardian article describes him as having attended both a state-funded “community school” and an independent prep school).
It is clear, however, that Mandvi exemplifies one way transplants can sound when they’ve made a cross-Atlantic move in their secondary school years. His speech is mostly American, yet with subtle and inconsistent holdovers from an earlier model.
As I’ve mentioned in a similar post, however, transplant accents are a sort of case-by-case phenomenon. Notably, the actor John Mahoney (of Frasier fame) moved from Northern England to Illinois at around the same age as Mandvi, yet I detect virtually nothing English in his accent. (Although a strikingly “meta” moment on Frasier revealed that he can still slip back into his original “voice” pretty easily).
The point being, the results of moving from one place to another in one’s teenage years can produce very different results depending on the circumstances. Will one maintain features of their “original” accent at this age? Or will their speech be wiped clean forever by adulthood? I’m not sure what factors predict the answers to those questions.
*Although we’re obviously talking about an enormous region of the world, I generally find it uncommon to encounter Americans and Britons born in the Indian subcontinent who exhibit strong non-English speech influences if they left at such an early age. I’m not sure why this differs from, say, those with Spanish- or Chinese-speaking parents, who sometimes (though not always) retain some of the prosody and phonotactics of those languages even if they were born in America.