"Prolonged Isolation Can Lead to the Creation of New Accents" Discussion Thread

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Very interesting article , I never knew that this was a social phenomenon.

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Yes, of course, isolation can lead to new languages. Examples are Afrikaans (from 17th century Dutch), Canadian French (from 17th c. French), American English (and all three other ‘Englishes’) vs British English. Another interesting feature that is worth studying is the difference between the language of the old and the language of the young. Very noticeable today is that youngsters tend to end affirmative sentences as if they were questions (with a rising tone). I suspect this is a result of imitating the language of young Americans. In this sense age difference may also be a form of isolation.

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I thought my 9 year-old was starting to sound a little Scottish.

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Now she’s sewn a wee tartan and has harpooned a seal. She’s building bagpipes…Look Out!

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I went to an international boarding school in my youth and we totally noticed this phenomenon. After a year among kids from 75 countries around the world, students would come back from Summer break with stories of how their families couldn’t understand them. The kids who spoke tonal languages would even flip their tones, speaking with the wrong melody.

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From age 5-18 my family moved a great deal within the US. Iowa to Louisiana to Mississippi, to Texas to California to South Carolina. It seems that even as a child knew an Iowa accent and speech pattern wouldn’t fly in Cajun Country [Opelousas] and that Mississippi would set me apart in California. Apparently my ear became attuned to the local accent and I subconsciously adopted what ever accent the locals had. Still happens.

Here is the interesting thing. In my 50’s I spent time in Central America and in Spain studying Spanish. Multiple instructors commented that I spoke with very little “accent”. I guess old habits die slowly.

Personal experience tells me that individuals who mingle closely in a group for a period of time will unconsciously mimic the sounds and speech patterns they hear. For some reason, I am particularly susceptible to mimicry, to the extent that I have been called out for making fun of those I’m with who speak differently than I do. I never realized I was doing this until it was pointed out to me, and I had to explain that I didn’t realize I was doing it, and certainly meant no harm. It was after this happened several times that I began to pay attention to how I was speaking, which needless to say, made a stressful situation (trying to fit into a new group) even more so.

Worse yet, when I would return home after a prolonged time spent in the company of the new group, I would be accused by my old group of pretentiously mimicking the accent of the new group.

I can only guess that this is some sort of an adaptive mechanism. It would therefore make sense that in an isolated group of people who all speak different to each other, there would be an unconscious tendency over time to smooth out differences in speech patterns in order to create harmony within the group, thus creating a new common sound. An extended period of isolation could result in a new accent, or over generations, a new dialect.

Lately, I have been watching a lot of streaming video content from different parts of the US, and darned if the same thing didn’t start to happen. In particular, I seem to have picked up the East Coast habit of swallowing certain consonants… di-'ent instead of didn’t, for example.

On the positive side, it seems to have helped me in the same way it has helped Beaufort, above, with speaking languages other than my native English. Of course, this too can get me into trouble, because even if my vocabulary is limited, my apparently innate ability to imitate the sound of the language makes people think I’m much more fluent than I am, and therefore must be a bit dim when I easily lose the thread of quickly spoken dialog!