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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 from 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 an accent-free, universal language.
In case you were wondering a giraffe can last longer without water than a camel can.
Just trust me.
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The Psychology of Accents

24205 Folder Collection
稲葉白兎 published on September 28, 2015    林曉玉 translated    Joyce Lee reviewed
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