Why You Have an Accent When You Converse a International Language


One sometimes hears it insisted that, outdoors sure culturally distinct areas of the nation, Individuals “don’t have an accent.” This notion is uncovered as nonsense the second a type of Individuals begins talking a overseas language, generally on the very first phrase. “Maintain the palm of your hand up in entrance of your mouth and say ‘Paris’ in English,” advises the host of the Economist video above. “You’ll really feel somewhat puff of air in your hand. Now, attempt the identical factor once more, however attempt to take away that puff of air, and also you’ll get one thing nearer to the French sound.” Whereas this take a look at works greatest for Individuals, native audio system of many languages apart from French ought to really feel a distinction.

Irrespective of the place they’re from, “folks discover themselves subconsciously adapting phrases of a overseas language to suit the principles of their very own,” combining, emphasizing, and dropping sounds within the method to which they’ve been accustomed since early childhood: the native Arabic speaker pronounces kids as childiren, the Spaniard says he comes from espain, a Frenchman calls Texas’ greatest metropolis yoo-STON.

It’s one factor to grasp a overseas language’s library of sounds, however fairly one other to nail its “stress patterns” that dictate which syllables are emphasised. That no syllables are emphasised in Japanese reveals the native stress patterns of its overseas audio system: hearken to how clearly the distinctive American English rhythm comes by way of in, say, the title of the well-known novelist ha-RU-ki mu-ra-KA-mi.

Some languages, like Italian and Cantonese, are “syllable timed,” which implies that “each syllable has roughly the identical length.” That is fairly not like English, whose “careworn syllables come at roughly common intervals, and the rest are much less distinctly pronounced.” Non-native English audio system who ignore that facet of the language will at all times sound overseas, regardless of their stage of fluency. After all, having an accent isn’t essentially a foul factor, and certainly, everyone knows people who’ve performed it as much as nice benefit of their private {and professional} lives. However as an American dwelling overseas, I do really feel a sure accountability to contradict our fame for blithe ineptitude outdoors English. Such an effort should start with taking any language, no matter its explicit set of technical or cultural traits, one sound at a time.

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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack publication Books on Cities, the ebook The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by way of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.


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