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Old 10-09-2007, 11:44 AM
counsel wolf is offline
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subconscious accent mimicry

Often when I talk to people with strong accents for even a short length of time (most recently a single business phonecall to a scot) or if I am staying in a place with a noticeable regional accent I find my self very quickly adopting some of that accent (and even vocabulary) myself. I find this quite disconcerting because I worry that those I am talking to might think I was mocking them or otherwise being disrespectful.

Is this something that happens to other people (and is there an official name for it). Also is there an easy way to prevent it from happening?
Old 10-09-2007, 11:47 AM
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John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by counsel wolf
Is this something that happens to other people...
It happens to me in certain instances.

...(and is there an official name for it).
Don't know.

Also is there an easy way to prevent it from happening?
Don't talk to strangers.
Old 10-09-2007, 11:52 AM
Paul in Qatar is offline
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I have observed it most often with Americans. Why? I have no idea. A Scots friend of mine has his son in the local American school. Much accent hilarity has ensued.
Old 10-09-2007, 12:16 PM
WarmNPrickly is offline
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I do it all the time. Since my wife is a kiwi, I always put my groceries in a trolly and I feed my cats jelly meat.
Old 10-09-2007, 12:25 PM
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First, start off reading a bit about mirror neurons. As per the article, note how closely linked they are to language acquisition.

Then, head off to read about theory of mind. (The worse label for any topic in Psych. ever.)

In short, we internally mimic what we observe others doing, incorporate into our own persona and the next thing you know you're talking like Paul Hogan.

G'day mates.
Old 10-09-2007, 01:08 PM
drachillix is offline
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Originally Posted by ftg
First, start off reading a bit about mirror neurons. As per the article, note how closely linked they are to language acquisition.

Then, head off to read about theory of mind. (The worse label for any topic in Psych. ever.)

In short, we internally mimic what we observe others doing, incorporate into our own persona and the next thing you know you're talking like Paul Hogan.

G'day mates.
I worked closely for a couple years with a woman from a "southern" state and found myself picking up bits of southern accent after a while. Funny thing was it only happened with her, talking to others it just shut off, but picked right back up when talking to her.
Old 10-09-2007, 01:21 PM
AskNott is offline
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It happens to me, and I used to worry that people would think I was mocking them. Nobody ever said so, though, so I guess it didn't bother them.

I was a boy when Huckleberry Hound came to television, and my speech began to drift south. It caused steam to come out my Evil Dad's ears. "E-NUN-cee-ate!" he'd bellow.

If I'm reading a novel set in England, I start talking about blokes getting into a dustup, and having to go to the loo. It's bloody mysterious to my friends.

If you want to avoid it, I suppose you could fight it by going into a different accent. If you're talking to a Scot, talk like you're from Atlanta.
Don't drive intexticated.
Old 10-09-2007, 01:43 PM
Gus Gusterson is offline
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This is why my wife usually orders our drinks when we're in Ireland. I've gotten too many dirty looks from barkeeps when I ask for a pint because I can't help but slip into a very bad Irish accent. My wife is Irish, so she doesn't have this problem. Her family has gotten used to it, but the barkeeps don't know me and they just think I'm an eejit.
Old 10-09-2007, 02:12 PM
Slypork is offline
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I do this all the time. When I was in the army my best friend was from Macon, GA. The more I hung out with him, the further below the Mason-Dixon line my accent would travel. Eventually I was talking about goin’ down yonder in the hitch to find the da-how-ig (yes, he turned the word “dog” into three syllables).

The worst was when my wife an I went to Ireland for our honeymoon. We had been in the country for about a week and stopped at an inn in Ballina. While my wife was talking to the manager (he was a family friend) I was in the pub talking to the Irish bartender, the Australian piano player and two gentlemen from England. The Englishmen asked where I was from and I told them Chicago. They looked puzzled and asked if I had moved there recently and I told them that I had “lived there me whole life.” They then asked why I had an accent. I didn’t realize that I had picked up the brogue. The bartender said that I sounded like I had grown up in Mayo.

It is embarrassing sometimes but being a good mimic is helpful when trying to speak a foreign language. When I was learning German I was able to parrot the instructor’s accent perfectly. I sounded like a native when I was ordering beer. Unfortunately, being able to pronounce a language is not the same thing as understanding it. I learned enough to order beer, find the bathroom and get my face slapped by the frauleins.
Old 10-09-2007, 08:30 PM
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I do this all the time, and I don't know why. In my case, I start talking with a Mexican accent when speaking with Mexican friends/coworkers -- but only if they speak with an accent. If I'm talking to a 3rd- or 4th-generation Mexican-American who has no accent, then I don't spontaneously develop a Mexican accent. If any of them have noticed, they haven't said anything. I suspect that they don't notice because we're speaking their second language (English), so it sounds the same to them whether I speak with an American or a Mexican accent. I'm sure that if we were speaking Spanish, they would notice my accent immediately (though I've been complimented several times on my pronunciation when using Spanish words. I don't actually speak enough Spanish to hold a conversation.)
Old 10-09-2007, 08:40 PM
SharkB8 is offline
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My mom was a New Yorker. My dad from Chicago/Alabama/Minnesota. I grew up in NM and was made fun of for pronouncing water like "WAR-ter." I moved to Minnesota and was made fu nof for calling all carbonated beverages "Coke," pronouncing orange like "AHR-inj," expensive like"ex-PIN-sive" and hurry like "HUH-ree." Before too long, I started to develope the long Minnesota O. I went to college in Rhode Island and could really hear my accent. My roommate would make fun of me for it, and once in a while, I'd catch her hanging onto an O a little too long. Now, my accent is pretty much gone, I have heard myself dropping the R at the ends of some words, wicked irritating, but very New England, but the Minnesota accent comes back for a few minutes after talking to a Minnesotan friend on the phone.
Old 10-09-2007, 09:10 PM
Cat Fight is offline
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Oprah does this all the time. And I posted quite a while back about a guy I was seeing who slipped right into full on Londoner as soon as he stepped off the plane. It did not sit well with me and he never did tell me how he explained it to the natives. If you're not doing it too strongly and don't have a shit-eating grin, you should be okay.
Old 10-09-2007, 09:55 PM
Indistinguishable is offline
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Just a minor pedantic point, but since several people have spoken of things like not having an accent, I want to point out that everyone has an accent; everyone who speaks, that is.

Also, word choice issues (like "Coke" vs. "soda" vs. "pop") aren't really part of one's accent, per se, though they're certainly relevant to the thrust of the OP anyway.

Last edited by Indistinguishable; 10-09-2007 at 09:58 PM.
Old 10-10-2007, 09:17 AM
liberty3701 is offline
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This practice can be (at least partially) explained by Accommodation Theory. People change their speech to sound more (or less) like their conversational partners for various reasons, to make the other person like them or think they're smart or whathaveyou. It's been my experience that people on the receiving end of such accommodation don't usually consciously notice it, unless it's particularly humorous.
Old 10-10-2007, 10:28 AM
trupa is offline
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This French Canadian once spent a week taking a course in the Dallas area. In the last couple of days, I thought that the waitresses at the restaurants and bars where I was hanging out had finally gotten used to my accent, as I was getting a lot less "huh?s" and "come again?s". That is, until my wife, who had picked me up at the airport on the way back, suddenly exploded in the car and darn near screamed at me to "STOP THAT!" I had no clue what she was referring to, until she told me to stop talking with a southern accent.

After that, all it took was a phone call with a Nashville colleague to set it off again for half a day.
Old 10-10-2007, 10:35 AM
outlierrn is offline
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All it takes for me is a couple of youtube clips of Monty Python or Eddy Izzard and it's game on.

Last edited by outlierrn; 10-10-2007 at 10:36 AM.
Old 10-10-2007, 10:37 AM
emmaliminal is offline
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I am terribly guilty of this. My husband got really upset with me about it recently, thinking I was certain to offend the new neighbor we were talking to. I've always blamed my dialect classes in acting college, where the instructor repeatedly entreated us to chat with each other using the dialect du jour out of class; it got to be a strong social habit.
Old 10-11-2007, 04:17 PM
An Gadaí is offline
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I sometimes do this, bad when you start sounding like Apu from the Simpsons after you've served a South Asian customer in your store. In America, I find it useful to lightly mimic the accent or at the very least attempt to neutralise my own. My experience there has been that some people haven't been exposed to too many different accents and can find what I say hard to understand unless I tone down my Dublin accent.
The accents I mimic most, unintentionally would be Australian or Kiwi accents.
Old 10-11-2007, 05:04 PM
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Absolutely everyone does this. How do you think people end up with accents in the first place? They talk like the people around them.
Old 10-11-2007, 05:11 PM
Indistinguishable is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos
Absolutely everyone does this. How do you think people end up with accents in the first place? They talk like the people around them.
I agree that everyone in the world does this during their formative years, but there may well be some variation in the extent to which people do this after their formative years, no? I can certainly imagine an Englishman coming to America permanently in his thirties, but continuing to talk in a thoroughly English/non-Americanized accent to the day of his death, say.
Old 10-11-2007, 05:52 PM
rhythmonly is offline
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I've been dealing with the public for 7 years now, and while I do not mimic accents, I apparently repeat a caller's mannerism's when listening to a phone message.

Recently, a long winded guy left a message for me. "This Joe Blow, and uhhh, I had a question, and uhhh, I tried to install a widget, and uhhh, it's not working, and uhhh, etc., and uhhh........".

I'd been listening for about 5 minutes when I started repeating every "and uhhh" out loud, drawing out the "uhhh".

The receptionist thought that I was a Zombie.

The Accountant thought that I was having sex with my chair.
Old 10-12-2007, 03:32 AM
jellyblue is offline
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I don't so much do this with accents (although I love hearing them), but with peoples' word choices, mannerisms, etc. It's really subtle and I think it's what makes my psychotherapy patients achieve rapport quickly. They can't figure out why they feel so comfortable with me and why they trust me right away...
Old 10-12-2007, 03:39 AM
lee is offline
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I have done this and it has been mistaken for mockery, but not often. It is terribly embarrassing. I am tone deaf, and may be worse than average at imitation, so that may be the reason it was taken for mockery. It is bad enough if you do it all all, but to do it badly could make it worse.
Old 10-12-2007, 09:53 AM
BadBadger is offline
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Glad its not just me. I most often find myself slipping into Scots accents when speaking to a couple of friends of mine. One fellow came over to me in a pub and asked if I was from Aberdeen. He had a bit of a shock when I explained where I was from as I smoothly slipped into my "real"* accent.
My friends have never mentioned it, in fact I think I pointed it out to them causing some raised eyebrows but not a lot else.

* I was born in London, moved to Essex, then down to Brighton, so my accent should be shocking! Fortunatley (I believe subconciously but maybe I'm deluding myself) I have refined the accent such that I actually pronounce words properly rather than dropping t's, etc. e.g. "down the road" instead of "dan the road".

The more I think about it, the more interesting I find it. Good question.
Old 10-12-2007, 11:04 AM
naita is offline
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A non-english example (Norwegian): I'm sometimes influenced by whomever I'm speaking with and pick up elements from their dialects.


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