General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

How much is accent influenced by the successful individuals within a language group?

Asked by Ltryptophan (10799points) June 12th, 2010

This is going to sound conceited, so brace yourself, it is not meant to be so. I am effective. Let’s just put it that way.

As an effective person, I know that others around me have changed their voices to sound more like mine.

I am flattered. But, I think that this might not only work in my microcosm, but in a dialect at large.

As a testament to the opposite of what I am saying: If one’s voice makes one sound weak, I believe that others would not emulate you.

What do you think?

When we speak are we hearing the voice of the successful individual?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

38 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

Removed by self. Thought better of it. Never mind. Bad call.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Let me add, I think I am certainly emulating others voices who I thought were effective. Just as I believe others have emulated myself.

lilikoi's avatar

I think that people tend to prefer what is familiar and that a person may intuitively mimic your voice to make a connection and ultimately get ahead. I have actually heard this promoted as a networking technique somewhere. When I speak to someone from the mainland, I speak perfect English; when I speak to a local that speaks our local “creole”, I speak the same back to them. I do think that this makes a stronger connection than speaking creole to the perfect English speaker or vice versa.

I think that subtle changes in accent are probably not very permanent – that people go home and don’t continue to talk that way anymore. In some cases, big changes in accent are not permanent – some people can turn a local dialect / creole “on” and “off” as needed, for example. I also think – based on experience – that neither are passed on genetically.

Jeruba's avatar

In a long working career I have never observed this phenomenon.

I do hear people pick up expressions from influential individuals, but I have worked amid a welter of different accents ranging in origin from Maine to Los Angeles and from Glasgow to Delhi, and I have never heard anyone’s accent change, no matter how “effective” someone was.

zenele's avatar

Sorry. What?

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Supposedly British RP (received pronunciation) incorporated idiosyncrasies blamed on courtiers copying the mistakes of Hannoverian monarchs (that bunch of Germans that came to reign in Britain). Lately, Queen Elizabeth’s own speech on official occasions has drifted closer to common usage in southern England than mid-20C RP, which is increasingly seen as stuffy instead of tony and no longer considered de rigueur by establishment types.

MissA's avatar

No. My mind won’t wrap around that one.

LostInParadise's avatar

For some odd reason, on a global level, the process seems to be moving in the opposite direction, as @hiphiphopflipflapflop indicated. You have kids in gated communities talking like gangsta rappers. Those who fashion themselves as intellectuals used to refrain from foul language. Now it is common. Eloquent language is thought of as pretentious. Speaking of someone as having style and grace is considered elitist.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LostInParadise one could argue that “gansta rappers” are perceived/portrayed as successful individuals in our culture. I think in this case perception is more important than actually being successful. So if someone perceives that you are successful (even if it is an incorrect perception) then they will imitate your speech.

I’m not sure I completely buy this, as @lilikoi has pointed out, there are alternative explanations. It’s certainly possible that @Ltryptophan has falsely attributed other’s imitation of speech to be causally related to success or effectiveness, when infact it’s simply the case that they are trying to relate/connect better.

Certainly when one speaks to a child in baby-talk they aren’t aspiring to be like the child, they are simply trying to improve the child’s ability to communicate. It’s possible that this is what’s going on here. Perhaps the OP is so pompous and self-centered that others feel compelled to communicate in a similar manner when interacting with the OP.

It’s also quite possible the original hypothesis is correct. It’s testable, and might have already been studied.

dpworkin's avatar

Sociolinguistics tells us that there is a drive to associate with the “prestige” pronunciation, but also that there is such a thing as “covert prestige”. In Labov’s early work on Martha’s Vineyard he discovered that one group tended to cling to the non-standard variants, because they identified the user as a local, rather than as a “Summer Person”.

ninjacolin's avatar

yea when someone authoritatively pronounces a word correctly, the listeners will often correct their pronunciation of the word.. sometimes even when the pronunciation is incorrect, as long as the person who got upset sounded authoritative enough about how to say it correctly.

lifeflame's avatar

I’m trying to think of the times when it has actually happened to me that I am aware of.
The most obvious example I can think of is when I was talked to my friend from New Zealand.
I don’t think though, in this case, it’s because I find her particularly a strong or I want to imitate her (she is highly intelligent but when I knew her, was severely depressed); and I imagine my malleability to her accent was a desire to establish rapport. Just like two individuals might synch body language when they are in tune with each other; so might two individuals.

It’s true I think that people might choose to emulate someone’s accent; or someone’s body language because they want to be like them; but on a micro level, I wouldn’t say that “if people imitate my accent I am more successful.” Indeed, the ability of one to adapt to different communities and accents might make you more adaptive—and therefore a more effective communicator.

ninjacolin's avatar

how about “if one imitates my accent my meme is more successful”

the100thmonkey's avatar

The Martha’s Vineyard studies are powerful illustrations of the influence of identity on dialect and accent.

@Ltryptophan might just be confusing people matching their dialect/accent with the dominant members/conventions of the current group – which is self-evident – with people wanting to “be like” them.

LostInParadise's avatar

@gorillapaws , The hood seems to have more influence on middle and upper class culture than the other way around. As an example, do you remember the phrase “it’s the pits.” That referred to the need for intravenous drug users to use the armpits after exhausting all the other veins in their arms. I sure hope that does not represent anybody’s idea of success.

dpworkin's avatar

African American Vernacular English has long been the creative engine that powers White American Vernacular English.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LostInParadise It’s based on any given micro-culture. The “hood” plays a prominent role in movies, music and television, especially in youth-culture. I don’t think you’d see the same attitudes to the “hood” as success in a different micro-culture such as the one that exists at your local country club, or the one that exists among chopper riders, etc.

YARNLADY's avatar

When the perceived leader has a specific language speech, others will emulate it, but for the most part, the accent is spread among most of the inhabitants.

dpworkin's avatar

@YARNLADY So Labov, one of the principle sociolinguists of the last 100 years is wrong and you’re right? Would you please defend that statement in an academic fashion with proper citations?

YARNLADY's avatar

@dpworkin My statement is my own personal opinion, based on various observations throughout my life. So, to answer your nasty comment – NO.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t get what makes that comment nasty, but we’ve been through this before. You feel free to make unsubstantiated remarks, and when I ask you for backup, you provide none, which seems to me to demonstrate that I was correct – your opinion is wrong.

YARNLADY's avatar

@dpworkin Personal opinions are one of the main reasons that Fluther exists. Google is available for annotated professional resources. If a person asks a question here, they most likely want what our own perceptions are, not what Google could tell them. The only way I can be “wrong” is if my observations do not coincide with actual experience

dpworkin's avatar

OK, have it your way. I’m too tired to explain to you what it is that makes that point of view dangerous. But let me try a brief example. Of what value is it if you are of the opinion that 2+2=5? Answer: none. What value has your opinion that you know more than Labov? Answer: none.

YARNLADY's avatar

@dpworkin—You apparently missed the part about my observations in the past as being the basis of my opinion. Please read my answers more carefully before you choose to label them as “wrong”. Who died and made Labov King anyway. Any professional opinions are also based on observation, and their conclusions are often shown to be biased or mistaken.

I’d sooner argue that Marijuana is proven to be dangerous and people must not use it, based on many professional, authoritative studies.

dpworkin's avatar

It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.

gorillapaws's avatar

@YARNLADY personal observations are notoriously incorrect. Professionals studying a subject account for this through carefully controlled experiments, and statistical analysis. I’ll take the conclusion of a well designed/executed study over personal opinion any day.

According to my personal experience, the theory of relativity is wrong. Of course the truth is, I’m wrong and Einstein’s right, it’s just counter-intuitive.

YARNLADY's avatar

@gorillapaws That begs the question – why, then, do Fluther and other personal opinion sites even exits? If people only want the experts answers (and fluther are supposedly all experts, are we not) why not google?

gorillapaws's avatar

@YARNLADY Opinions should be informed by facts. Also people don’t always know who to reference when looking for a study, which is why having people who are familiar with other people’s research directing the OP to the best studies is helpful. Also, people may come up with different interpretations that haven’t been thought of and studied yet, and so those suggestions can also be helpful.

YARNLADY's avatar

@gorillapaws Ok, you seem to be asking for “facts” which are something other than personal observations. In the Choctaw Nation, there is a big controversy about the “true” pronunciation and definition of various words. One way to “solve” this is to agree with the remaining people who actually use the language in their every day life. However, are they really the “final word”? What about the linguistic differences between the Mississippi Choctaw, the Louisana Choctaw, and the Oklahoma Choctaw, not to mention the California Choctaw? Many of the accent differences appear to be influenced by the most prolific speaker of the group, but some may be due to the “loudest” or most assertive.

This is my experience. I am no expert, but I do have many factual observations to back it up. I often expect my opinions to be accepted as an “experienced” jellie, but there are some other users who are more interested in controversy than in answers.

gorillapaws's avatar

@YARNLADY your example is a different type of issue than the one the OP is asking. The original question is a question about the nature of human psychology and whether humans imitate others based on their level of success. This problem can be studied empirically, and a relatively concrete answer can be determined given enough research.

The issue you’re describing is a value judgment: what is the “true” pronunciation. There is fundamentally no factual answer here, because the term ‘true pronunciation” is a loaded phrase that can mean many different things. What the question is really asking is which standard is the best one to use for determining the authenticity of a pronunciation. And the answer to a question like this will be a value judgment, not a factual one.

YARNLADY's avatar

@gorillapaws If I misinterpreted the question, then why would Fluther be the best resource to consult if only empirical, professionally researched answers are wanted? I do not see anything in the question that agrees with what you have offered as your interpretation here.
@Ltryptophan What kind of answer are you looking for?

gorillapaws's avatar

@YARNLADY The OP may not know if a subject has been studied, and if so they probably don’t have the expertise/resources to survey/evaluate which studies have the best data. When you ask fluther, there are people like @dpworkin and @the100thmonkey who can direct the OP to relevant research.

Also, not all questions are factual in nature. Many questions are ones of value which should be informed by facts, but ultimately come down to people making arguments using reason. For example if I were to argue that the reason the Choctaw Nation speaks with a deeper tone is because a former chief Darth Vader heavily influenced the speech patterns of the group in 5000BC, I would hope people would call my opinion absurd because it’s based on nonsense.

YARNLADY's avatar

@gorillapaws Ha, ha, you really know how to put an amusing spin on your insults.

Not offended, just being silly.

gorillapaws's avatar

@YARNLADY I mean no offense to anyone. Certainly not to any Native Americans.

LostInParadise's avatar

As a partial self-refutation, the book Freakonomics showed that, although there is no pattern to the more popular names given to children, there is a noticeable tendency for a given set of names to be used by lower social classes after they have been in use for a while among upper social classes.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Expressing your opinion is lagniappe. Expressing it with the support of scholarly authority is what is called convincing. That is so for reasons I will not condescend to enumerate.

Ltryptophan's avatar

With this question, and every question I ask I am hoping to withdraw kernels of truth. The inclusion of Labov in the discussion by @dpworkin was the most valuable nugget mined so far.

But dare I say if you ever go digging for gold, and you find oodles, do not discard all but the most valuable nugget.

MissA's avatar

I just read through these comments, posted to the original query 3 months ago…the one prior to mine, being added 2 months ago.

In response, I would like to shout (I’m not one who raises my voice) from the rooftop about how heavy my heart feels, knowing that @dpworkin has left. I learned how to excite a different perspective from him.

I can understand how @YARNLADY has her knickers in a twist…yet, I agree with @dpworkin and others attempting to make their point.

It is my understanding that at Fluther, it is not a requirement that we agree. Respectfully duking it out, is sometimes how we arrive at that revered ‘nugget’. For me, that is the purpose of a forum such as this.

Again, I miss @dpworkin terribly…wish he would consider coming back. We can’t all walk away after a Fluther session with the same feelings. We all have our favorite contributors and perhaps should find some solace and comradery in that.

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