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Opinion: What do our accents say about us?

Dr Máiréad Moriarty, our Assistant Dean International, writes for RTÉ Brainstorm that while it is impossible to speak without an accent, it is something which is ultimately controlled by ourselves:

Despite the fact that many people believe they do not speak with an accent, the reality is that it is impossible to speak without an accent. Our accent is the result of a number of factors, but it is principally dependent on how, where, when and under what circumstances you acquired your first language. Speech patterns develop very early in life, with some research suggesting the acquisition of this element of one’s first language actually begins in the womb.

One of the most interesting aspects of our accent is that it is ultimately controlled by ourselves. There are numerous factors, some which we are consciously aware of and others that we are not, that impact on the way we produce our accent. On a daily basis, we play with our accent depending on where and with whom we are talking.

All accents carry value, a concept referred to academic literature on languages as linguistic capital, that is the idea that some languages/dialects or accents are considered to be more valuable than others. For example, speakers of certain accents can be considered to belong to different social classes. In almost every country, there is a national understanding of accents that imbue characteristics of low or high prestige social classes.

For an island which is geographically very small, Ireland has an incredibly diverse accent culture, which is part due to our very complicated relationship with the English language. While we acknowledge and use the writing system of standard British English, the spoken distinctiveness of Irish-English has always focused on the filtering of its clear diction and pronunciation through the prism of the Irish language.

Read the full article at RTÉ Brainstorm

Follow Dr Mairead Moriarty on Twitter @mawsmoriarty

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