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Accents

leet4A1
Posts: 1,986
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10/27/2009 8:22:26 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
Has anyone else noticed that there are certain accents which seem to be "clean slates" as far as accents go? For example, Australians, Brits and Americans seem to be able to imitate any accent on the planet quite well, and with little effort. I (an Australian) use American, British, Indian, Canadian, Japanese, French, and many other accents when I prank call people (yeah, I still find prank calls funny).

My point is, an Indian, for example, finds it difficult, if not impossible to imitate an Australian or American accent beyond detection, but not vice-versa. Can anyone suggest a reason for this?
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TheSkeptic
Posts: 1,362
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10/27/2009 8:33:01 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
Probably something to do with the nature of the accent itself. Some accents, what you refer to as "clean slate accents" probably have a less focus on the usage of the tongue and whatnot, meaning imitating accents that use the tongue in a "heavy" way will be easier than vice versa. For example, an Indian person may have trouble imitating the American/English accent because of how they are already accustomed to the Indian accent, the latter having a heavier tongue usage.

Of course, what I'm saying is VERY uninformed and mere speculation, but you should get a feel for what I mean.
Volkov
Posts: 9,765
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10/27/2009 8:33:45 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
Its mostly because of your exposure to them. An accent isn't necessarily hard to imitate, but you need to have exposure to them in order for you to get it right.

For example, I find it fairly easy to imitate a Quebec accent because I've been exposed to it quite often, as well as Central American accents. It also isn't that hard to copy British accents, and since I tend to watch a lot of BBC (or, at least used to) I find it easy to copy it.

You've been exposed to American, British and Indian accents most of your life through the media and whatever other contact, I'm guessing. So you'll find it fairly easy to imitate those accents.

Plus, because you're still speaking English, and all an accent is is a variation on how you pronounce and emphasize words you already know and are accustomed to, there wouldn't be a lot of difficulty. And especially with British, American and Canadian accents, which are all anglophone-based, it wouldn't be too hard at all to copy them, or at least basic ones.
leet4A1
Posts: 1,986
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10/27/2009 9:36:49 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
At 10/27/2009 8:33:45 PM, Volkov wrote:
Its mostly because of your exposure to them. An accent isn't necessarily hard to imitate, but you need to have exposure to them in order for you to get it right.

For example, I find it fairly easy to imitate a Quebec accent because I've been exposed to it quite often, as well as Central American accents. It also isn't that hard to copy British accents, and since I tend to watch a lot of BBC (or, at least used to) I find it easy to copy it.

You say that British accents are easy to copy, and that watching a lot of BBC has allowed you to convincingly and easily copy the Brit accent. What I'm wondering is why it is so difficult for an asian person to copy this "easy" accent. You may say that it's because the two accents are entirely different, and I agree, but why doesn't it work the other way around? Why can Canadians imitate Brits with ease, Brits imitate Canadians with ease, Canadians and Brits imitate Chinese with ease, but Chinese unable to imitate any of the above?

You've been exposed to American, British and Indian accents most of your life through the media and whatever other contact, I'm guessing. So you'll find it fairly easy to imitate those accents.

True, but there's a bloke at work who is Indian, I would guess about 25 years old. He's been in Australia since primary school apparently (so at least 15 years). So he has heard the Australian accent every minute of every day for 15 years, yet he can't imitate an Australian accent to save his life, at least not convincingly. On the other hand, any 10 year old Australian child can imitate an Indian accent with ease, despite hearing it only from a few Indians they know in real life, and Apu from the Simpsons.
"Let me tell you the truth. The truth is, 'what is'. And 'what should be' is a fantasy, a terrible terrible lie that someone gave to the people long ago. The 'what should be' never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no 'what should be,' there is only what is." - Lenny Bruce

"Satan goes to church, did you know that?" - Godsands

"And Genisis 1 does match modern science... you just have to try really hard." - GR33K FR33K5
leet4A1
Posts: 1,986
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10/27/2009 9:39:53 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
At 10/27/2009 8:33:01 PM, TheSkeptic wrote:
Probably something to do with the nature of the accent itself. Some accents, what you refer to as "clean slate accents" probably have a less focus on the usage of the tongue and whatnot, meaning imitating accents that use the tongue in a "heavy" way will be easier than vice versa. For example, an Indian person may have trouble imitating the American/English accent because of how they are already accustomed to the Indian accent, the latter having a heavier tongue usage.


I think this is a good theory. If not "heavy tongue usage", there is certainly a difference that doesn't allow for the vice-versa.
"Let me tell you the truth. The truth is, 'what is'. And 'what should be' is a fantasy, a terrible terrible lie that someone gave to the people long ago. The 'what should be' never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no 'what should be,' there is only what is." - Lenny Bruce

"Satan goes to church, did you know that?" - Godsands

"And Genisis 1 does match modern science... you just have to try really hard." - GR33K FR33K5
Puck
Posts: 6,457
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10/28/2009 5:13:42 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
At 10/27/2009 9:36:49 PM, leet4A1 wrote:

True, but there's a bloke at work who is Indian, I would guess about 25 years old. He's been in Australia since primary school apparently (so at least 15 years). So he has heard the Australian accent every minute of every day for 15 years, yet he can't imitate an Australian accent to save his life, at least not convincingly. On the other hand, any 10 year old Australian child can imitate an Indian accent with ease, despite hearing it only from a few Indians they know in real life, and Apu from the Simpsons.

Are you sure though? You are judging the correctness based upon your auditory analysis of a set of mouth movements you are not native to. There is a good possibility that say, a native Punjabi, speaker reviewing your attempt would arrive at the same conclusion of a rough attempt you lay upon your work colleague. We may not, as English natives, have either the auditory or verbal skill necessary to attempt either accurately. Certainly is some specific languages there is a developmental cut-off where if a child is not exposed to the language by a certain young age will lose the ability to pick up certain verbal differences in sounds (which of course extends into the entire life time).

Also an Australian doing say, an English accent is probably as easy as a Cantonese speaker attempting Mandarin - or Punjabi attempting Hindi (there is no Indian language as is, just like there is no Chinese language as is. :P).
feverish
Posts: 2,716
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10/28/2009 5:31:34 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
I think the ability to impersonate accents varies wildly between individuals (I'm pretty rubbish at them myself).

We're bound to be more susceptible to hearing differences between other English speakers and therefore being able to recognise and copy them and as Volkov said a lot of it is probably down to exposure.

I can hear the difference between someone from the deep south and a New Yorker but I don't think I'd be able to hear the differences in regional French accents for example and to be honest Canadians don't sound much different to US citizens to me (except on South Park).

People often tend to think they are better at accents than they are. Your 'British' accent (of course there are many completely different regional accents in Britain) may fool your American buddies but would it really pass "undetected" if you tried it over here? Some shockingly bad examples of fake British accents are Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins and Keanu Reeves in Dracula. A lot of Americans sound Australian to me when they're trying to sound British.

I would be interested to know if British actors (such as Hugh Lawrie in House) do a good job when they play American roles.

Similarly we will impose higher standards on non-native speakers, The Indian or Chinese guy may sound as convincingly English/American etc. to the people in his country as you sound authentically Asian to your friends. Would your prank call accent convince staff at your local ethnic restaurant?
Puck
Posts: 6,457
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10/28/2009 5:42:10 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
Plus ya test isn't fair. :P You are doing an accent of a non-English native speaker doing English, vs. a non-English native doing English. Try mimicking Ukrainian and we'll get a Ukrainian to judge. :P
Kleptin
Posts: 5,095
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10/28/2009 5:44:30 AM
Posted: 7 years ago
Wait wait wait, hang on a second.

There's absolutely no mystery here. You're not talking about a Chinese accent, or a British accent, or an Indian accent etc. You're talking about imitation of:

A Chinese person speaking English.
A British person speaking English.
An Indian person speaking English.

To do a good Chinese accent (as defined by you), an English speakers would need to imitate a Chinese sounding version of English. This is easy because they are fluent with English.

To do a good British accent (as defined by you), Chinese people would need to imitate an English sounding version of English. This is difficult because English is a foreign language.

Don't forget also that America, Britain, and Canada are all places that have a lot of immigrants. It depends on who the immigrant is, and who the majority is.

For example, I can do a very good impression of a typical American attempting to speak Cantonese that has my relatives rolling on the floor XD This is because there are many white people in Hong Kong who try to adapt to the language.

Simply put, your definition of an accent is one that involves speaking in English. Other countries excel at imitating other immigrants of their country, who have accents when they try to speak THEIR language.

It has nothing to do with tongues or ease of speaking whatsoever XD
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leet4A1
Posts: 1,986
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10/28/2009 3:43:57 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
With Feverish and Puck in a close second, Kleptin won this thread.

Thanks fellas, this is something I've been wondering about for a while and it turns out there is no mystery... I was just looking at it the wrong way. :D
"Let me tell you the truth. The truth is, 'what is'. And 'what should be' is a fantasy, a terrible terrible lie that someone gave to the people long ago. The 'what should be' never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no 'what should be,' there is only what is." - Lenny Bruce

"Satan goes to church, did you know that?" - Godsands

"And Genisis 1 does match modern science... you just have to try really hard." - GR33K FR33K5