Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Sorcerer, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. Sorcerer Put a Spell on you Registered Senior Member

    You find that people speak a second language with some kind of accent, heavy or light, that relects their native language. Many Indians, for example, speak English with a similar lilt. But some people are almost perfect, and actors can fake a different accent quite convincingly, presumably with considerable practice.

    So are accents just a result of the habits instilled in childhood, or are there physiological differences as well? Just curious.
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  3. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Yes, the human brain is most capable of learning language at early childhood, when it has all these extra neurons and unpruned neural pathways to do it, after childhood though few people will every be able to master a second language as well as the first.
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  5. andy1033 Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    There must be physical things going on to.

    Its not all about monkey see monkey do, as how did accents start in first place?

    So there must be some physical aspect to why accents exist, i.e why someone in one region speaks like this and different from someone 100 miles away.

    In a small country like england, you see this alot, and it can be quite wide the differences. So there must be little differences in areas, or locations that play a part in this to, not only repeating what they have heard.

    Like london, is the most well known english accent, with cockney. But go 50-60 miles away and you can have quite a different accent from that area. Just 50 miles away from london, and some of the people become very hard for londoners to understand sometimes.

    Although it must have to do with repeating what you heard, there probably are subtle differences(in terms of energies) in areas that effect it to.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    There are certainly physiological differences between individuals. Musculature, shape of the tongue and other speech organs, as well as programming in the speech center of the brain. Nonetheless, except in extreme cases, these are not sufficient to prevent a young child from exactly mimicking the sounds he hears his parents and other people producing.

    Of course this flexibility attenuates with age. Sometime in adolescence the speech center begins to lose its facility to mimic unfamiliar sounds, or even realize that they're different from the familiar ones. At the same time, the muscles and other tissue in the speech organs lose their flexibility, making it difficult to produce new kinds of sounds.

    Interestingly, it appears that when a person has learned two languages by this age, both his brain and his muscles have learned that there's more than one way to talk, so they hang onto that flexibility. A person who has been speaking both English and Spanish since childhood, even late childhood, will have a much easier time learning to speak near-perfect French, Czech or Mandarin (to pick three languages that are quite difficult for speakers of English and Spanish) than someone who speaks only one of those two languages. Even if he doesn't begin learning the third language until adulthood!

    As I noted, it's not terribly difficult to learn a second language perfectly until age ten, and for many people even a few years later. But by twenty it's tough. If you're really good you might manage to become "the charming foreigner who speaks our language so well," but you'll never pass for one of them. Every succeeding decade makes it even more difficult. And don't forget that the grammar and vocabulary are just as hard to absorb as the sounds.

    There are a few physical influences. People in warm southern regions use breathing as a way to regulate body temperature, so their speech has more vowels, and either longer words or a grammar that requires more words or complex inflections. People in cold northern regions try to conserve their breath, so their languages have more consonants and their sentences are more compact. Compare languid Bengali to terse Norwegian; they are both descended from the same ancestral language: Proto-Indo-European.

    Hawaiian is an unusual case. The first migrants to Hawaii spent a lot of their time navigating the ocean in small boats. There was a lot of ambient noise, and in addition the boats were not very close together. They had to shout over the noise of the sea. For this reason, the phonetics of their language became very simplified so no two words sounded very similar. Hawaiian has only 8 consonants: H K L M N P W and the glottal stop. Tongan tabu became Hawaiian kapu, and Samoan salofa became Hawaiian aloha.

    People absorb the sounds and even the words of their neighboring languages. But even without that, there is simply drift, as languages change subtly over the decades and centuries. Electronic media have had a profound stabilizing effect on the world's languages, but before radio, movies and TV, there was very little to keep people 200 miles apart from slowly changing their language--both phonetics and vocabulary. Remember that until the invention of industrial transportation technology (starting with railroads) most people never traveled more than 20 miles from the place of their birth. Sound changes happened spuriously, almost at random, because there was no force to stop them.

    And of course the same is true of vocabulary changes. Something happens in one region that inspires people to invent a new word (or more likely a combination of two words), and the people in the next region don't understand it.

    Even written language helps stabilize spoken language. But until the mid-19th century, most people were illiterate. And before the invention of the printing press there simply wasn't very much to read, so learning to read was very difficult and kinda pointless except for the priests and the nobility.

    So now we have an unusual phenomenon in English: the written language corrupting the spoken language. People are pronouncing the C in "arctic," which has been silent ever since we borrowed the word from the Norman French a thousand years ago. And they're pronouncing the T in "often," which has been silent for more than 100 years.

    What's next, the S in "island"? That was a typographer's error! He thought "island" was related to French "isle." It's not. "Ig" and "land" are the Old Norse words for "something on the water" and "land."
  8. Sorcerer Put a Spell on you Registered Senior Member

    Very interesting post. Thank you.

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    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 30, 2014

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