“Everyone has an accent except me”? by John H Esling

What is the central contention of the essay?

People may think that they have no accent because they believe they sound no different to the people around them but everyone has an accent. We think we are the best example of the ‘norm’.

Our accents can tell the listener everything about us, they reflect our experiences.

What examples does the author use?

He gives the example that we believe we have no distinguishing characteristics that set our speech apart from those around us. And this is only realised, when we leave where we came from and find ourselves among people who share a different background from our own and therefore stand out as having a distinctly different accent.

He says how in some countries there are ‘standard’ pronunciations that carry higher prestige. This is RP in the UK, and because of the prestige related to it and its use in broadcasting, we may think it is accent less and that non-standard speakers have an accent. But this is not true, RP is still an accent.

He states that we gradually lose the sense that other people around us have an accent and we begin to fit in to the ‘norm’ of speech around us.

What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?

He could refer to:

Labov (1972) – There is no such thing as a single style speaker although it is obviously also the case that the repertoire of styles available to individual speakers will be a reflection of their social experiences, and in many cases, also their education.

Howard Giles – 1970s –we adjust our speech to “accommodate” the person we are addressing –  Convergence, & Divergence occurs when people’s speech styles move further apart which acts to emphasise the difference between people.

List six important quotations from the essay & explain why they are important

‘So when we say, ‘I don’t have an accent’, we really mean, ‘you wouldn’t think I had an accent if you knew who I was and knew where I’d been.’’

Esling is suggesting that we don’t really think we have no accent, we just think others should accept that we are not all the same and should consider our accent as similar to their own.

‘Accent defines and communicates who we are. Accent is the map which listeners perceive through their ears rather than through their eyes to ‘read’ where the speaker was born and raised, what gender they are, how old they are…’

He is saying how we can learn a lot about a person from their accent and in some ways we can base our judgement of a person on it.

‘This is the essence of recognition – we can learn to pick a friend’s voice out of the crowd even though we consider everyone in our local crowd to have the same ‘accent’ compared to outsiders.’

Esling picks up on an interesting point as surely if we discount our friends as having different accents to us, then we would not be able to recognise them in a crowd and for that reason we must all have different accents to some extent.

‘Some remain intensely proud of their original accent and dialect words, phrases and gestures, while others accommodate rapidly to a new environment by changing, among other things, their speech habits, so that they no longer ‘stand out in the crowd’.’

He is saying how accents can be somewhat of an issue when a person moves from the environment they were raised in. Some people are proud of where they come from, so much so that they want to maintain their ‘accent’ whereas other people would feel more comfortable just fitting in and overtime, their accent changes to sound the same as their new peers.

‘But like most processes that have to do with language, the change probably happens before we are aware of it and probably couldn’t happen if we were’

In addition to the point above, Esling says that the change of accent is not always a conscious decision and instead it is more than likely that over time our accents would just change and pick up the linguistic patterns of those around us.

‘Consonants and vowels are the building blocks of linguistic meaning, and slight changes in their quality inherently carry large differences in meaning, which we detect immediately.’

Esling believes that even the smallest change of pronunciation of consonants and vowels is detected and we automatically can distinguish that a person is different from us, be that that they are from a different area, they are older or they spent the first years of their llives in a different region etc.

Do you agree with each of the author’s contentions?

Yes, I do agree with Esling. I think he is right when he says everybody has an accent as it’s impossible for someone not to have an accent. No two people sound exactly the same, there will always be even the smallest of differences in pronunciation between us and intonation also plays a part. I also agree that our accents can tell the listener who we are, but only to some extent. Sometimes our accents can hide certain aspects from our past and it is simply impossible to be able to judge a people by their accent. But if you were to just hear someone’s accent and not see them, it would be easy to make a guess of their gender, their age, where about they may be from or were raised and also how they are feeling at the time of speech.



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