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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)

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