General

Where do accents come from?

A language can be spoken by two different people using the same exact words but sound completely different. We all have accents that make us unique with origins from our parents, schools, and location. It is fun to encounter people who speak differently than we do. Whether they are American, French, Asian, British, Canadian, Caribbean, Russian or Mexican, it adds richness to life.

But sometimes the accents are so unfamiliar that we have trouble understanding a conversation. Furthermore, people from different regions of the same country can find it difficult to understand each other because of regional variations. To get a better understanding of the origins of accents, let us dive into linguistics.

Parents are the main factor

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Accents come from various places, but in actuality, no one is born with an accent. So how do we get them? Like so many other things, accents come from our parents and the people around them. In addition, children develop different languages by exposure to television, caregivers, school, friends, classmates, and teachers. A child’s mind is like a sponge, so they can absorb an accent from their parents and use it for their benefit. The accent takes effect after spending 10+ years with parents and various people in one region or country. This is why we all have some type of accent.

"Foreign" accents are not foreign. The sounds may be unfamiliar to us because we have never heard them before. Our ears are not used to the sounds, pronunciations and inflections. Those around us develop various speech patterns influenced by their homeland and community.

For example, if someone is from China, that person will speak a Chinese-inflected form of English. If a person is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, that person will speak English in their Caribbean accent. An accent, drawl, twang, or brogue identifies us as being from a particular region, heritage, and ethnic background.  

Regional dialects are important

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When it comes to speaking with an accent, the regions and the area in which we are raised makes a difference. For example, take a look at two general regions in the United States, the North and the South. Within these two regions, there are rural and urban communities. Each region has its own distinctive identity and accents that are handed down to future generations.

People from the South speak with accents that are influenced by Scottish-Irish Protestant settlers. People from the North have an exclusive accent that is influenced by the British, Germans, and Irish. Dialects evolved with time and are continually modified and updated as immigrants settle into new communities. As with the British colonization of North America, the impact of accents and speech is still felt today. For example, when someone meets a person for the first time, based on their accent, they might ask, “Where are you from?”

Animals have accents, too

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Humans are not the only ones who have accents. Yes, animals have various accents and use “moo” or “bah” to communicate with their kind. According to National Geographic, wolves have multiple howl pitches when it comes to their accents. Various wolf breeds and coyotes communicate differently than other wolves and coyotes. Even sperm whales used “codas,” which interconnect social groups. Monkeys and birds use a dialect to transmit information with their kind. Birds communicate through singing, whistles, calls, and other sounds. Monkeys communicate through smells, sounds, visual messages, and touching.

Biblical explanations

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Accents have been around since man began to speak, and the Bible addressed the concept of where accents originated. In Genesis 11:1, God explained that the “whole world had one language and a common speech.” To paraphrase, this means that people spoke only one language. Therefore, the people decided to build a tower called Babel, and they wanted this tower to reach to the heavens. Upon looking at the tower, the Lord was not pleased and confused their language so they would not understand each other. As a result, the people spoke different languages of all kinds. The Lord scattered them all over the Earth so there would be many nations.

As more investigation is conducted on language and accents, we will find that it is more complicated than defining regions of the United States and other parts of the world. The brain, neurons, and neuroplasticity can affect the manner and morphology of speaking.

Interactive Google makes it possible to hear other accents worldwide. For fun, you can Google any country and view their map. Then click the map and listen to each accent carefully. With considerable practice, you may learn a new word or two. By understanding various accents, it will be easier to learn and appreciate our differences.