Having an “accent” is based on the creation of a norm that is in the center of a spectrum.
Saying that someone “has an accent” is based on perspective as viewed from the center of that norm. So I wondered if everybody has an accent? The answer is of course everyone has an accent, and here’s why.
A norm is pretty much the mid-point of almost anything (from behavior, personality, lifestyle, clothing, to a dinner party, a city building, or a Broadway show) and determined simply by tradition and default. It’s neither good nor bad.
An accent is just the acoustic performance of words outside of a determined “norm”.
Accent assignment depends on perspective and the point of measurement.
So if you lived your whole life in South Boston – home of “Pahk the kah in Hahvahd yahd”, and someone from Cincinnati, Ohio moves in next door, you will think the person from Ohio has an accent. Both the person from Boston and the one from Cincinnati have what’s called an “idiolect”: the speech patterns that are specific to you, as an individual; those things that determine your individuality influenced in part by your place of birth, your family and your culture.
That said, if you are from France and you learn English later in life – basically after age 12 – you will have a French accent when you speak English. You will have “Frenchisms” that will quickly identify your language of origin, relative to English.
Then there is the other issue of class as determined by accent.
It is absolutely true in every culture that there is a class identity associated with certain accents.
Some people with good ears can code-switch: they can change their accent based on the culture of those they are with. Most everyone does this with varying degrees of success. The book “Pygmalion” and musical “My Fair Lady” are based entirely on this idea; that one can change their perceived status by changing their accent to reflect what has been determined to be the higher class accent.
Our clients at AccentsOff each have their own reasons for learning the American accent.
Sometimes it is in order to “fit in”. More often it’s to be able to be better understood in a professional setting.
We do have clients who are worried about being pigeonholed into a certain class designation, and those who simply don’t like the way they sound. Some are perfectionists, linguistic athletes one might say, who strive to have the best American accent they can have.
So, of course everyone has an accent!
And just like their accents (and the accents of we, their instructors), every single client is unique and special and an addition to the richness of this city, offering us a certain excitement and delight each time we hear them speak.
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