Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
When doing this accent study, I wondered if people hear a certain accent when I speak to them. Being a person who is an observer and pays close attention to details, I have always notice when people speak with a slight or drastic accent different from me. We live in a world of different languages, dialects and accents. So we need to be careful not to pass judgment on whether one accent or dialect is more acceptable than another. Our judgments based simply on someone’s accent can influence how we perceive someone’s intelligence, social class and if want them in our social circles. When we engage in conversation, our accents immediately define us to others. People can gather information about our lives, like ethnicity and possible social status. Some use this information to form a bias, as if, do they want to accept you in their social group or not. Some use this information to decide if they identify with your social group. Either way it goes, some determination is made based on the accent or dialect you speak. As, I began to listen to the recordings of my 4 subjects, as well of myself, I began to analyze the differences in our linguistic production. My subjects are people of different ethnic backgrounds and speak with different accents. As we have learned in class up to this point, there are various aspects that contribute to our dialect and accent patterns, like age, gender, race and social groups and environments, which helps to shape our perceptions and how we think.
Cognitive scientist, Lera Boroditsky, suggest language shapes how we think. “Globally, there are about 7,000 languages spoken, all with different sounds, vocabularies and structures. “It begs the question, does the language we speak shape the way we think?” Our environments have large impacts on shaping our language, accent, dialect and influences the way we think. To support the validity of these claims, I have chosen 4 people, including myself, from different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and ages. I will be listening for speech patterns and behaviors, as well as similarities and difference in accents. When conducting my interviews, with an age group of 25-49, I chose 2 men, 1 is an African American, with Jamaican influence, from upstate NY and the other was born in Venezuela, and moved to the states when he was a teenager. The other interviews were with 2 women, 1 is Mexican who became a US citizen in her early 20’s and the other is African American with Nigerian roots. This allowed me to compare accent styles and patterns, based on different ethnicities, both genders and diverse age groups.
My first subject was a middle aged African American female, S. Merriweather, that has Nigerian roots. She is married and has no children, and travels worldwide for her job as an International Marketer. As, I observed her I could definitely see why she works in an environment, that requires her to talk and interact in conversation with people from all walks of life. She was very comfortable reading in front of a recorder and had very good eye contact when speaking. She very outgoing and friendly, speaks with a slightly louder tone and more direct. She raised her voice the more she became excited about a word or phrase.. She also used a variety of facial expressions show how she felt about what she was reading. She seemed to use a nasal M, N and a pitching pattern. She seemed to have intense glottal pressure in her nasal area during the minimal pairs exercise. During the recording of the word lists, she exhibited less pulmonic pressure. While reading the passages, I observed her phonation at the end of each word. She had several words end with a voiced sound, but a narrow amount of voiceless sounds when ending her words.
My second subject is an African American middle aged male, D. Martindale, that lived in upstate NY, born in the US, but had a mother in the home who was Jamaican, which influenced his language. He wasn’t raised to fully speak 2 languages, and gravitated to English, because that’s what his father spoke. However, you can tell that being around his mother and her native tongue, had an impact on him. Deciphering his pronunciation and accent was not as complicated as I thought it might be. While conducting the interview, he seemed pretty confident, but stiff while reading. When observing his recordings, I noticed that when reading the word pairs, I could hear and see a short initiation in between each word pair sets. There was a distinction when speaking, and glottic pressure with a voiceless phonation when pronouncing words. However, it was hard for me to notice his level of articulation while he was speaking, due to his body motion, but it almost seemed nasalized. In words, like farm (fourm), sword (sord), and caught (kout), there seemed to be a strong distinction from the vowel or consonant sound. Also, he used the word huge in his story and it sounded like yuge. When reading the word lists, he appeared to be using less glottic pressure then when reading the word pairs. When he began reading the story passages, he used a mixture of initiation. When reading plural/singular words, that required inflection, I noticed that I could visually see his use of glottic suction. Even though there was a mix of glottic pressure, along with suction, I could often hear his frictives. Which was less prominent in my first female subject. When comparing subjects 1 and 2, I noticed after the pronunciation of multiple syllable words, more pulmonic pressure. As I begin to look at the similarities and difference in accents, I’m starting to wonder if it’s primarily due to gender differences or locality.
My third subject is a Hispanic female, R.Gomez,4 in her early 30’s, of Mexican descent. She was born and raised in Mexico, until her parents moved to Texas, on work visa, when she was a junior in high school. She became a legal US citizen in her 20’s. She speaks and writes dual languages, both English and Spanish fluently. Her parents spoke primarily in their native tongue while at home. Her father also spoke English and Spanish, were her mom only spoke Spanish. She was nervous and slightly uncomfortable speaking and being recorded. As I listened to her recordings of the minimal pairs, word lists and passages, I notice the difference in fricatives, affricates and some nazalization. Due to the ability to speak English and Spanish, I could hear the influences when speaking. Her affrictives include voiceless alveolar, it was present in her /sh/ and /ch/. She had voiceless fricatives of others in her accents with /f/, /x/ and /s/. I noticed that when pronouncing /m/ and /n/ she was a little nasaled. When pronouncing short and long vowel sounds, there was some glottalic suction. I could tell that her dialect was affected by the fact that most Spanish languages only have five vowels sounds.
My fourth subject is a young man, H. Verea, 5 who is in his mid-20’s, and from Venezuela. His family moved to the US when he was in the 11th grade and he was placed in an ESL/ELL class upon enrollment in public school. His primary language was Spanish, secondary was Portuguese prior to learning English. During his recordings, his used voiceless phonation with glottic pressure. His vowels were nazalled and his consonants were not fully pronounced, for example “ai” sounded like “ay”. When reading his passages and telling his story, he seem to have a pronounced, voiceless alveolar hissing sound. Especially, around letters “c”, “s”, and “z”. Also, seemed to stress phonemes with a voiceless dental fricative. It seemed that he was breathy at times and his glottis formed buzzing and hissing. His accent patten was different than the other male subject and slightly different then the Hispanic female.
As, I listened to my recordings, I found it a bit of a challenge listening to myself. As, I compared myself to the others, I definitely feel as if they had very distinct accents compared to me. Being born and raised in Indiana, I’ve been accused of talking to proper and asked why I enunciate so many of my words. A number of my vowels are pronounced with my tongue slightly closer to the roof of my mouth. Along with my mouth being somewhat widen, almost as if I’m smiling when I talk. The way I position my lips when speaking seemed to produce a great amount of variation. I noticed when speaking certain L sounds, that the tip of my tongue was touching the roof of my mouth, and falling just behind the front of my teeth. My uses of articulation seemed to more be consistent with Bilabial and Labiodental. I seem to stress certain syllables and vowels, which made the words more eminent. In summary, my findings have led me to believe that age and gender have minimal influences on one’s accent pattern. The major contributors are families, locations and environments. This accent study helped widen the scope of my thoughts and knowledge of the various components of a person’s language and accent behaviors.