Accents

Haefeli cartoon in the latest New Yorker (November 21st):

The power of accents. Everybody knows, at some level, that our speech styles vary according to social context — who we’re talking to, about what, for what purposes — but most of us tend to assume that this variation is under conscious control, that people “put on” accents for some purpose, though linguists point out again and again that this degree of control is essentially impossible, that almost all of this style shifting has to be unconscious. But other people are often sensitive to these shifts, though again almost entirely at an unconscious level.

In the cartoon, the “Brooklyn” in her voice is surely not something she’s projecting willingly, but he’s aware of it and interprets it consciously. But not necessarily accurately — though it makes a wry joke.

2 Responses to “Accents”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    I was born in the UK, and came to Canada when I was eleven. my present accent is Canajun/transatlantic; but I know (have been told) that when I’m tired or when I’m cross, my English accent returns noticeably.

  2. Link love: language (37) « Sentence first Says:

    […] “I’ve learned to give up when I hear Brooklyn in your voice.” […]

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