Accents – The BBC News reported recently that, according to her cousin, the Queen of England is an excellent mimic with a wicked sense of humour. She also enjoys taking off the regional accents of her neighbours, including the folk from Norfolk and Scotland. This gives a whole meaning to the term “speaking the Queen’s English”. But what exactly IS the Queen’s English?
Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with a specific accent, intonation or regional variation of the spoken language. Instead, it is defined as “grammatically correct and coherent written expression in the English language”. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines an accent as the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words. Do you speak your home language with an accent? Chances are you’ll answer “no” to this question. But, before you do, remember that anyone who, in your opinion, speaks with an accent, will remark on YOUR “accent”!
Have you ever noticed how some people are so easily able to mimic accents, while others find it virtually impossible to speak in any accent other than their own? Modern research suggests that early training in the field of music will make it more likely for a person to be able to mimic other accents later on in life. This is interesting as the word “accent” originates from Latin accentus, which, literally translated, means “song added to speech”. The Greek translation of the same word is “a song sung to music”.
In a similar vein, some people are quicker than others to start to talk in the same way as their foreign counterparts after spending some time in a new country. According to American psychologists, this is a subconscious action and is a result of people’s innate desire to “empathise” with the person with whom they are engaging. Findings from scientists from the University of California show that human brains also imitate the speech patterns of other people, even complete strangers, without meaning to. This includes inflections, talking speed and talking time.
So, next time you find yourself unwittingly adopting a foreign accent, put it down to your empathetic nature!