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  • Whether you say tomato or tomato, it’s clear that your accent is a defining feature of

  • who you are. Everyone has an accent (heck, even goats have regional ways of saying BAAH),

  • but what’s the science behind language acquisition and does your accent say something about you?

  • In an American survey, 47% of adults found British accents to be sophisticated, while

  • 51% thought New York accents were rude; Southern accents were considered nice but possibly

  • uneducated, while New England accents were considered intelligent. But it turns out that

  • humans have a bias towards others who sound like them or have the same accent. Of course,

  • it’s important to distinguish between a native language accent and an additional language

  • accent. English native language accents depend on factors such as geographic location and

  • socioeconomic status. For example a cockney accent of the working class London is markedly

  • different than the Queen’s Received Pronunciation.

  • However, when it comes to non-native language accents, things are more complicated. If you

  • decide to move to Spain and learn Spanish as an English speaker, you will always speak

  • with an English accent - even if you remain there for decades. After the age of 12, the

  • length of residence has almost no effect on your accent. Studies pinpoint the ideal age

  • as 6 years old, with diminishing ability from that forward.

  • Interestingly, some stroke patients wake with an accent completely different to their original

  • voice. This condition is known as theForeign Accent Syndromeand results from damage

  • to the insula region of the brain which is responsible for language processing.

  • One integral aspect of language is the phoneme. Phonemes are the different sound units we

  • use to make up words - some of which are unique to different languages. For example, the phonemes

  • with TH (th and th) as in words liketheandthingdo not exist in German, making

  • it difficult for German speakers to pronounce these words properly. Conversely, there are

  • many phonemes in other languages that as English speakers we cannot pronounce or even hear

  • properly.

  • In a groundbreaking study, 32 American and 32 Japanese six month old babies listened

  • to a recorder playla la larepeatedly. When the recording switched tola la ra

  • a toy to the side would light up and play a musical tune. The babies were primed to

  • understand that recognizing the difference betweenlaandralead to an audio-visual

  • reward and both the American and Japanese 6 month old babies were able to tell the difference

  • and anticipate the toy reward when necessary. ButLaandraare phonemes that

  • do not exist in the Japanese language. When this study was replicated with 10-12 month

  • old babies, the Japanese babies could not tell the difference between these uniquely

  • English phonemes, showing that a critical period for recognizing phonemes and brain

  • development is at merely six months old.

  • If you try and learn a language, regardless of your age, synaptic connections are made,

  • which ultimately create a denser grey matter and stronger white matter networks. In fact,

  • those who have grown up in bilingual households are consistently more sensitive to subtle

  • language differences compared to their monolingual counterparts. Brain scans have shown that

  • bilingual babies have stronger brain responses in their orbital and prefrontal cortices,

  • which are areas linked to focus and problem-solving abilities.

  • But have you ever wondered why so many people hate the sound of their own voice? We break

  • down the science and challenge some people to come to terms with their own voice in our

  • AsapTHOUGHT video. Check it out with the link in the description

  • And subscriber for more weekly science videos.

Whether you say tomato or tomato, it’s clear that your accent is a defining feature of

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B1 US accent language la ra native language japanese

What Does Your Accent Say About You?

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    Stephtt. posted on 2016/09/03
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