Why Do People Have Accents? Fascinating Facts From Around The World

Nidhi Sahai
Sep 08, 2022 By Nidhi Sahai
Originally Published on Oct 23, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Vikhaash Sundararaj
Why do people have accents?
Age: 3-18
Read time: 9.0 Min

The way people speak the different sounds of a language is called an accent.

There can be times when a small group of friends or close people develop the same accent as each other. When there is a geographically restricted group, the people of that region also have a high chance of developing the same type of accent and vocabulary.

The subgroups or groups, which have similar accents, tend to have something in common. It might be their culture, state, economic status, social status or another factor altogether.

To speak with an accent, it is important to know the pronunciation of every consonant, vowel and the words made up from them. This is called ‘prosody of speech’.

The musicality and tone of a person's speech is called prosody. In different countries, there can be various differences in types of pronunciation.

Some may say a word as a single syllable, while others may say the same word as a double or triple syllable.

Sometimes, there can be words that do not have any syllables in their pronunciation. There are so many languages and it possible that every language gives a different meaning and prosody to any particular word.

English is the most common language which people speak today and for many it is also their primary language. The prosody can make such a big difference to the way a word sounds, just as you can see in this example of Mandarin language from China.

In this language, ‘ma may' (a syllable) means mother but only if it is pronounced in a high tone. It can change its meaning to ‘hemp’ when you speak it in a low tone and again change its meaning to ‘scold’ when you speak it in a high tone.

Very often, you might be able to see that people can efficiently adopt the same accent. There can be many reasons behind this immediate adaptation of accents.

One interpersonal theory on this accent adoption suggests that human beings want to have similar characteristics to those of their group mates or people around and this makes them learn the actions, expressions, and even accents really fast. Sometimes, very unconsciously we adopt these habits.

Accents are very contagious in nature, and hence people tend to develop them very easily.

What causes different accents?

The development of a foreign accent other than the native dialect language is just because of the ability of your brain to pick up things it often hears and analyzes frequently over time and adapts it as the second language.

If we talk about this century, we will see a huge shift from one language accent to another.

Because of the liberalization, globalization, and technology, people of different regions and countries (no matter how much of a geographical distance they have) started to learn a foreign language and pronunciation in their life, maybe from the native speakers of different languages.

The way we used to speak changed drastically. The regional or native accents we once had about 40 years ago are not much prevalent now.

Over time, our accent and dialect leveled out. Because our brain started to learn new foreign things.

The people of a social class or working-class did not have that region's accent which it once had. The London Jamaican English is an example of this.

Apart from this, many invasions, migrations, and settlements are also the reasons behind this. They also have an equally strong role.

Whenever a country has new migrants, it welcomes their language and culture as well. It's their new home now.

If the population of these migrants will be very large, you will be able to notice the vast difference in the linguistics of that particular area as compared to that of the whole world. In different countries, there can be various differences in the type of pronunciation and sounds of the language of every speaker.

How did accents originate?

In a very laymen language, accents develop when many speakers of one language come together and get isolated and with the course of time through evolution develop on a particular set of accents. The non-native (foreign) language often becomes a second language.

This process develops a particular local code which the outside people cannot understand very easily. The new code in this case that gets formed is what we called a ‘dialect’ or a ‘new language’ sometimes.

If we take an example of English, Dutch, and Swedish; all these three languages were the same one language called Photo-Germanic.

But due to isolation from each other for a very long period of time with a vast geographical difference, these photo-germanic speakers developed their own codes (as we discussed above), which at its later stage developed into new languages called Swedish, English, and Dutch. Even a speaker who has spoken English all their life may develop a different accent.

You often have noticed the similarities between a Spanish and Portuguese speaker, and between an English and Dutch speaker, their linguistic features are common because of this reason.

The speakers of a non-native language have it as their second language. The difference in the way the new settlers pronounce it is the influence they had on the accents of their mother tongue.

Are you born with an accent?

To be born with an accent or to learn it while growing is still a confusing debate. While some scientists are of the opinion that a child develops the accent of its native language which a person speaks around it from the beginning and that process starts before birth.

But later also, if it is bought up with at a foreign land with a second language, it might also have that accent as its primary.

It is the environment that gives an accent. Every child grows up with his/her own native language just like that of their parents.

Children learn what their brain hear as pronounced sounds and analyze them.

This process actually starts even way before they start talking or even mumbling. Children start babbling before they learn how to form a word and this babbling comes in two stages of early babbling and late babbling.

During early babbling, they make every possible sound a human vocal box can help them to make of even frequency without facing any difficulty. But as soon as they start to learn, they have this transition period from early babbling to late babbling.

The brain starts to understand the mother tongue in the early stage itself but that they use it in the later stage when they pronounce a word. They use these dialects, features, and speech which they have heard very often.

If you are speaking with an English accent around them, they will develop that, if you are speaking a german accent, they will develop that also.

It’s just that how much they hear a particular speech in their early days. If you will stop talking in that accent, the kid will also forget how to speak that because it is hard to learn the unfamiliar speech of different new languages.

All of our life, our brains try to analyze any new spoken language

How do accents develop?

There are many reasons why new accent origins at a non-native place. Two of the most important factors are isolation and human nature.

It may sound very vague but this is human nature that pushes people to develop some linguistics as that of other people because of influence. This is one of the prime reasons for having different types of accents.

Having accents are like the identity of a regional group.

If we talk in terms of isolation, whenever two same linguistic groups live apart from each other geographically, though they share one particular dialect, because of living at different places, their dialects evolve over time. Sometimes the native speakers will develop such a way of speaking which may sound like an altogether new language.

Whenever someone interacts with the members of some different groups, either by our own wish or unconsciously, we develop their accent. Suppose a group of people left their native place to settle somewhere quite far from that.

When they will have just a limited number of people to interact with, they will somehow get used to their habits and adapt them.

Now, we can look into it with a much broader aspect.

After 200 years the successors of that group return to their own native land after having no contact with them for straight 200 years, the vast difference in their speech will be there because of this huge time frame of adaptations. Because they were not in contact with their place of origin, their pronunciation will change.

Now there is a lack of a modern representative of the large group in the small group, the small group will be unable to get corrections by the larger group. This is one of the factors that develop accents.

When no one will be there to correct your language, you will develop an accent.

Why do people have difficulty speaking certain words?

You can notice very clearly that people face a lot of problems while speaking certain words or sounds. People who are not born with that particular language will face many problems dealing with the words of that language.

People are fluent with words that they learned as their child language of their mother tongue. We were born to understand everything and speak the words of every language, but as we grow, we develop this sense of ignoring the words of other foreign languages and focus on just one unconsciously.

That's why it becomes even harder to understand the words of different languages rather than your own when you grow up.

If you are having a problem speaking just a certain set of words, then there might be a chance that you have developed a condition called Anomic aphasia, in which the person becomes unable to retrieve the words and fails to express certain words. Hence, lack in being expressive.

One other reason present here might be the different sound patterns present in different languages.

We know that sound patterns differ from one language to another. The words and sounds of one's native language might contain different syllables than the native language of some other region.

The genetic limitation also very easily expresses why we can’t speak certain words. The inability of pronouncing some words or letters the way they are supposed to be spoken is called genetic limitation.

This can be because of named and unnamed DNA consistencies.

For example, some humans just can’t say Ls and Rs words, while some have problems pronouncing Hs and Ks words. So, this way it becomes kind of hereditary when the children and their children develop this same condition of mispronounced words.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do people have accents, then why not take a look at why do boats float or why do people dance?

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Written by Nidhi Sahai

Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication

Nidhi Sahai picture

Nidhi SahaiBachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication

Dedicated and experienced, Nidhi is a professional content writer with a strong reputation for delivering high-quality work. She has contributed her expertise to esteemed organizations, including Network 18 Media and Investment Ltd. Driven by her insatiable curiosity and love for journalism and mass communication, Nidhi pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, graduating with distinction in 2021. During her college years, she discovered her passion for Video Journalism, showcasing her skills as a videographer for her institution. Nidhi's commitment to making a positive impact extends beyond her professional pursuits. Actively engaging in volunteer work, she has contributed to various events and initiatives throughout her academic career.

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Fact-checked by Vikhaash Sundararaj

Bachelor of Fine Arts specializing in International Business

Vikhaash Sundararaj picture

Vikhaash SundararajBachelor of Fine Arts specializing in International Business

With a background in International Business Management, having completed his degree at the University of Hull. Vikhaash has volunteered with 'Teach For India' to help students create a monthly newsletter. In his free time, he enjoys sports and was the assistant captain of his school's hockey team. He has also gained marketing experience through an internship at Decathlon Sports India.

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