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  • Look at these shapes and consider this question: Which one is a bouba and which one is a kiki?

  • This question was asked to American college students and Tamil speakers in India and more than 95% of people gave the same response. I did too.

  • People thought the bouba was soft and rounded and the kiki was sharp and jagged.

  • Psychologists call it the bouba/kiki effect.

  • It's not baby talk, it shows we can draw meaning from things without… "meaning".

  • And even when we're talking to someone in the same language, our body language, tone, pitch and accent convey information beyond what we intend.

  • I think a lot about accents because it seems, at least to some of YOUR ears, that I have an accent. I've certainly never noticed it.

  • Accents develop because people living in close proximity grow to share a way of speaking and we have an own-accent bias.

  • Studies have shown that even one-year-old babies have a preference for sounds of the language spoken in their home.

  • But, why does the English speaking world have so many accents in the first place?

  • If England colonised South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States, there must have been a point where the British descendants lost their English accent and developed a local way of speaking.

  • Everyone always forgets about New Zealand.

  • The records are kind of sketchy.

  • The first settlement in America was in 1607, but the first voice records we have are from the late 1800s.

  • Somewhere in that time of 200 odd years across the Atlantic, accents changed.

  • In England it became fashionable to pronounce a soft "r", to have a non-rhetoric accent, so hard sounds like hahd.

  • And in America they retained their rhetoric accent so hard has a hard "r".

  • So it makes sense that accents in countries colonised later, like Australia, are non-rhetoric.

  • Like this one.

  • And the way you talk can carry information about your level of education, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

  • It's not always accurate but it can affect people's perceptions.

  • One study at The University of Chicago looked at the effects that accents have on credibility.

  • When a person with an accent made a factual statement say, “A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can.”

  • People were less likely to believe it was true.

  • And the heavier the accent, the less believable they were perceived to be.

  • Another study in the UK found people were more likely to rate a suspect as guilty if they had a regional English accent compared to a London accent.

  • Come to think of it, a lot of bad guys in American movies have foreign accents.

  • "You have 13 hours in which to solve the Labarynth."

  • "This is just how your father looked before he died."

  • "I can't understand a word you said the whole time."

  • "I think what you are hearing is my accent."

  • When we hear our own accents we have a positive-bias towards the prosody, that's the rhythm, stress and intonation of speech.

  • Because you like how someone talks, when you're processing what they say your brain regions involved with emotions are involved.

  • It's called affective processing.

  • When you like one thing and it causes you like another thing even more without you realizing.

  • While we favour those from our own groups, with the internet having it's own social groups and dialect, what is "our own group" these days anyway?

  • With so much ambiguity, it's almost like we need a universal, accent-free language.

  • In case you were wondering a giraffe can last longer without water than a camel can.

  • Just trust me.

Look at these shapes and consider this question: Which one is a bouba and which one is a kiki?

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B1 US accent kiki rhetoric language english accent giraffe

The Psychology of Accents

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    稲葉白兎 posted on 2020/10/24
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