an accent is a manner of pronunciation
of a language. Accents can be confused with dialects
which are varieties of language differing in vocabulary
as well as pronunciation.
Dialects are usually spoken by a group united by geography
or social status.
Children are able to take on accents at a fast rate;
children of traveling families, for example, can change
their accents within a short period of time. This generally
remains true until a person's early twenties,
after which, a person's accent seems to become more entrenched.
All the same, accents are not fixed even in adulthood.
An acoustic analysis by Jonathan Harrington of Queen Elizabeth
Christmas Messages revealed that the speech patterns
of even so conservative a figure as a monarch can continue
to change over her lifetime.
As human beings spread out into isolated communities,
stresses and peculiarities develop. Over time these can
develop into identifiable accents. In North America, the
interaction of people from many ethnic backgrounds contributed
to the formation of the different varieties of North American
accents. It is difficult to measure or predict how long
it takes an accent to formulate. Accents in the USA, Canada
and Australia, for example, developed from the combinations
of different accents and languages in various societies,
and the effect of this on the various pronunciations of
the British settlers, yet North American accents remain
more distant, either as a result of time or of external
or "foreign" linguistic interaction, such as the Italian
It has been theorized that the accents of certain groups
in the USA today resemble the English spoken by the settlers
in the 17th and 18th centuries more than it does the English
spoken by most Britons today.
In many cases, the accents of non-English settlers from
Great Britain and Ireland affected the accents of the
different colonies quite differently. Irish, Scottish
and Welsh immigrants had accents which greatly affected
the vowel pronunciation of certain areas of Australia
When a group defines a standard
pronunciation, speakers who deviate from it are often
said to "speak with an accent". People from the United
States would "speak with an accent" from the point
of view of an Australian,
and vice versa. The concept of a person having "no accent"
is meaningless, as even standard speech patterns constitute
an accent. Accents such as BBC
English or General
American may sometimes be informally designated in
their countries of origin as "accentless" to indicate
that they offer no obvious clue to the speaker's regional
Groups sharing an identifiable accent may be defined
by any of a wide variety of common traits. An accent may
be associated with the region in which its speakers reside
accent), the socio-economic
status of its speakers, their ethnicity,
class, their first
language (when the language in which the accent is
heard is not their native language), and so on.
Traditionally certain accents carry more prestige in
a society than other accents. This is often due to their
association with the elite part of society. For example
in the United
Pronunciation of the English language is associated
with the traditional upper class.
Kentucky's highest court in the case of Clifford
vs. Commonwealth held that a white police officer,
who had not seen the black defendant allegedly involved
in a drug transaction, could, nevertheless, identify him
as a participant by saying that a voice on an audiotape
"sounded black." The police officer based this "identification"
on the fact that the defendant was the only African American
man in the room at the time of the transaction and that
an audio-tape — contained the voice of a man the officer
said “sounded black” selling crack cocaine to a white
informant planted by the police.
Acting and accents
Some actors have to imitate foreign accents to play parts.
They usually perfect this through prolonged exposure to
native speakers. Actors known for their ability to imitate
Melvyn (2003). The Adventure of English, 500AD
to 2000: The Biography of a Language. London: Hodder
& Stoughton. ISBN
James; and Lesley Milroy (2005). Authority in Language:
Investigating Standard English, 3nd ed., London:
- Wells, J C. 1982. Accents of English. (3 volumes).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Wells's home
pages also have a lot of information about phonetics