12 Facts We Just Learned About Accents And Dialects

List Rules
Vote up the facts about accents and dialects that are new to you.

As of 2020, it was believed more than 7,000 different languages were spoken by people around the world. Many of those languages have multiple dialects and/or accents associated with them. Some of these accents and dialects are used by many thousands of people, while others, like the Ocracoke brogue or the Tangier Island dialect, are in danger of dying off.

And although research has shown it is very hard for a person to get rid of the accent  they developed from a very young age, it is possible to learn a different accent such as the Mid-Atlantic accent used by many actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood or the pirate accent popularized by the actor Robert Newton.

Below are more unique facts about how accents and dialects come into existence and how they can shape our beliefs and culture.


  • 1
    218 VOTES

    Linguists Discovered The Beginnings Of An Antarctica Accent

    Research has shown when groups of people are isolated together for a period of time, they began to make slight changes in the way they pronounce words. 

    This is how Jonathan Harrington, a linguist at the University of Munich, believes he discovered the beginnings of an Antarctica accent. He studied members of the British Antarctic Survey, who spoke with a variety of English accents. Before the group left for Antarctica, he had each person recite a list of words. Then during their time on the remote continent, each person recorded the same list of words four different times.

    Harrington and his team focused on studying the resonances - features that distinguish one vowel from another - heard in the recordings. What the linguists discovered was that, over the course of their stay, the way the group members pronounced certain vowels began to converge. For example, before the trip, some group members pronounced the "oo" in food at the front of their mouth, while others in the back of the mouth. But over the course of time, these pronunciations became increasingly similar. 

    The group members also invented slightly new ways of pronouncing vowels. Harrington and his team believed these findings suggested the beginnings of a new common accent.

    218 votes
  • 2
    152 VOTES

    Studies Suggest Babies Begin Developing An Accent Before They're Even Able To Talk

    While most children aren't able to actually talk until around the age of 1, that doesn't mean they aren't listening to and processing the way people speak. 

    According to Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (formerly the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning) at the University of Washington, children as young as 6 months old can differentiate between different verbal bits of information - things like accents and pronunciations. The baby files the information away until one day they utter their first word. Complete with their mommy, daddy, and/or primary caregiver's accent.

    As Kuhl explained to Smithsonian Magazine in 2001:

    Our research shows that a kernel of that pattern of speaking begins to form in the brain well before actual production of speech. And by the time the baby's first words do come, those distinctive characteristics are solidly in place.

    Kuhl discovered that while 6- to 8-month-old babies could hear and respond to the vowel and consonant sounds in both their own and other languages, those same children will have lost this ability by the time they turn a year old. Instead, they focus on the familiar sounds and block out the unfamiliar ones. The result is the accent one develops as a child will likely stick with that person for their entire life, no matter how many other languages they learn how to speak or how hard they attempt to rid themselves of the accent.

     

    152 votes
  • Most Latin American Spanish Features The Seseo Because Of The Regional Accent Of The Majority Of Conquistadors Who Colonized The Region
    Photo: Augusto ferrer dalmau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    3
    121 VOTES

    Most Latin American Spanish Features The Seseo Because Of The Regional Accent Of The Majority Of Conquistadors Who Colonized The Region

    In Latin America, the majority of the native Spanish speakers will pronounce a "z" or "c" (when the "c" comes before an "e" or "i") as an "s." For example, they would pronounce the words "casa" and "caza" exactly the same. This is called a "seseo" accent.

    The reason why this type of accent is common in Latin America is thought to be because the majority of the conquistadors who helped to colonize the region in the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the waves of Spanish-speaking people who migrated to Latin America during the colonial period, came from parts of Spain where the seseo accent was prevalent - primarily from Andalusia and the Canary Islands. 

    Aside from the seseo accent, several differences exist between Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish. The most important of these differences may be that in Latin American Spanish, "ustedes" is the only plural form of "you" that is used, while in Castilian Spanish, either "ustedes" or "vosotros" can be used.

     

    121 votes
  • In The Natchez Language, A Distinctive Style Of Speech Is Used For Cannibal Characters In Their Oral Storytelling
    Photo: Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    4
    94 VOTES

    In The Natchez Language, A Distinctive Style Of Speech Is Used For Cannibal Characters In Their Oral Storytelling

    The Natchez are Native Americans who historically resided in Mississippi and Louisiana, but now are more likely to be found living among the Creek and Cherokee people in Oklahoma. 

    In the 1930s Mary R. Haas, a linguist who specialized in Native American languages, spent about two years researching the Natchez language working with the only two remaining people believed to be fluent in the language - Watt Sam and Nancy Raven.

    Among the things Haas learned was the Natchez oral language included a special style of speech for the cannibal characters in their storytelling. Cannibals appear frequently in the Natchez storytelling tradition, especially in what are known as the "Winter Stories." Sometimes another character may be able to get away by tricking a cannibal. Other times, the character may end up being eaten.

    While most of "cannibal speech" is the same as the standard Natchez language, parts of it are unique. In his research paper "Natchez Cannibal Speech," author Geoffrey Kimball states the morphological forms of cannibal speech are more archaic than in the standard Natchez language. He also suggested three possible origins for this unique storytelling language:

    1. It was created, developed and passed down by Natchez storytellers as part of their art;

    2. It was made up from words and phrases found in an earlier version of the standard Natchez language;

    OR

    3. It reflected former dialect differences.

     

    94 votes
  • American Accents Are Different From Australian Accents Due In Part To The Era In Which They Were Colonized
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    5
    114 VOTES

    American Accents Are Different From Australian Accents Due In Part To The Era In Which They Were Colonized

    English is the primary language spoken in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. But while an American and a Canadian may have similar-sounding accents, and an Australian and New Zealander likewise may have similar-sounding ones, an American or Canadian accent is quite different from an Australian or New Zealand one.

    The type of accent a person develops is heavily influenced by the accents they are exposed to as a young child. However, we also know language evolves over time - no matter if they are both natives of the United States or New Zealand, a person living in the 21st century is still not going to speak the same exact form of English as someone who lived 300 years ago.

    These two ideas provide at least a partial explanation for why American and Canadian accents differ from Australian and New Zealand ones.

    Great Britain first began acquiring land in what is now Canada in the 1600s. In 1610 a man named John Guy organized the first English settlement in the territory; called Cupers Cove, it was located in Newfoundland. This was the second English settlement in North America; the one in Jamestown, VA, had been organized in 1607.

    Meanwhile, the first British settlers did not arrive in Australia until 1788 - more than 170 years after settlers first arrived in America and Canada. As they came from different parts of England, they spoke in a variety of local or regional dialects. According to Kel Richards, author of The Story of Australian English:

    [These first settlers] all spoke differently and they used different words and what they had to do, in order to communicate with each other, was to level their dialect variations down.

    And England did not establish its first settlement in New Zealand until even later - in 1840 - or more than 225 years after it began colonizing North America.

    In the early 1600s, the standard form of English was what is now known as Early Modern English. This is what the English settlers who came to North America likely would have spoken, albeit with a variety of dialects depending on what part of the country they were from.

    By 1800, however, Early Modern English had transitioned to Late Modern English (the exact time period for the beginning of this transition varies by source from the early 1700s to circa 1800). So, regardless of what part of the country they came from, the English settlers who came to New Zealand in 1840 would likely have grown up speaking a different type of English than the 17th century settlers who landed in North America did.

     

    114 votes
  • Shakespearean English Would Not Have Sounded Like The Modern-Day Standard British Accent
    Photo: National Trust / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    6
    132 VOTES

    Shakespearean English Would Not Have Sounded Like The Modern-Day Standard British Accent

    If one went to an English-language current-day production of one of Shakespeare's plays, the actors would have likely used what is known as Received Pronunciation. Also known as RP, this is the accent traditionally recognized as the standard for British English. Perhaps oddly, it's estimated only about 3% of the UK population actually speak RP.

    Now while "Standard English" was established in the City of London by the end of the 15th century, it didn't start to resemble the modern-day RP accent until the late 19th century. Which, of course, was hundreds of years after Shakespeare's passing. So it is likely British people in Shakespeare's era spoke Early Modern English, which was used from the late 15th to the mid-to-late 17th century.

     A big difference in Early Modern English and modern RP is in the pronunciation of certain vowels. In the Shakespearean era, "love" would rhyme with "prove." In general, vowels had a kind of Scottish flavor to how they were pronounced.

    As to the question of what sort of accent did Shakespeare himself speak with, no one knows for sure. But experts believes his accent would have sounded like a combination of the Irish, Yorkshire, and West Country (England) accents. It's also thought he would have spoken much faster than his words in modern productions of his works tend to be.

     

    132 votes