Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Not picking up accent of new language
Question: What are the reasons why some people never pick up the accent when they learn a new language and speak it for many years?

I know well-educated people from non-English-speaking countries who have lived in the US for 4+ decades, and who speak fluent English constantly every day.

They rarely speak their first language, yet they retain an accent so thick they can be difficult to understand.

Is there a kind of tone-deafness to accents?

Reply: I'm sure that a range of different variables are relevant, but I have always been convinced (not so much as a matter of scientific research findings, though there are some, as of general informed observation) that one of the most important, perhaps the most important, variable is psychological: a person's degree of self-identification with a new country and detachment from the old country. Having spent a few years of my own life living in foreign countries, and talking to expatriates, I am well aware that some people may live for decades in a new country and have no intention of leaving it, yet always view its culture and society through outsider's eyes and think of their original homeland as the only place whose ways really "count" or are "real", while others throw themselves into the new environment and think about the one they have left, if they think about it at all, as an obsolete irrelevance. (I am caricaturing opposite ends of a spectrum, of course.) My prediction is that the latter people acquire a much better accent than the former!

Geoffrey Sampson

Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
Date: 31-Aug-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Not picking up accent of new language    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (30-Aug-2012)
  2. Re: Not picking up accent of new language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (02-Sep-2012)
  3. Re: Not picking up accent of new language    Nancy J. Frishberg     (30-Aug-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions