Sorry, this is nonsense

A child\’s accent is decided by those around them at playgroup and nursery, not at school or home, a study suggests.

I don\’t doubt at all that an accent is determined by such things. My complaint is the idea that a child only has one accent.

Simply not true (OK, not true in my experience). As with young children finding it easy to learn two languages, so having more than one accent is entirely possible. And I would argue entirely likely, when there are one or more accents in a child\’s life. A home one and a school one for example.

Certainly was true of me. When at primary in Bath, good strong Bathonian. And the standard Eng middle class at home, like what I speak now. Of we move to Italy to the Forces school when I\’m 8. My mother still remarks on the near cockney (probably closer to what we would call estuarine now) that my brother and I both picked up in weeks. And started speaking as we walked through the doors of the school and dropped the moment we left them.

We know very well that children are incredibly adaptable linguistically. Why anyone at all would think this wasn\’t true of accents I don\’t know.

19 thoughts on “Sorry, this is nonsense”

  1. It’s not just children. At uni we used to joke that the international students had a “parental” accent when they were on the phone.

  2. Not just international students. I spoke in a much more indistinct accent at University than the broad Durham-pit-village that’s spoken at home, and continue to do so now I work in the Sarf.

  3. When I came back to England from British Guiana at 11, to attend an almost all-white boarding school, I had a strong Guianese accent – for about 10 minutes.

  4. Friend at university said he could hear his accent change, in 2 or 3 stages, over the train journey home at the end of term.

  5. Interesting though; the study might explain my children’s accents.

    Boy speaks fairly standard southern English, girl speaks broad Dorset. Both go to the same school, but playgroups in different villages; boy’s had more incomers.

  6. Being a Bristolian you can imagine that I have a ‘professional’ accent which would not indicate my linguistic origins.

  7. I’m amazed that they felt that they needed a study to show this.

    I heartily recommend The Nurture Assumption, where Judith Martin argues that children are socialised much more generally by their peers, not just in language, but in attitudes too, and that the details of parenting behaviour has comparatively little effect on adult outcomes within the normal range of parenting (so leaving aside severe abuse, malnutrition, or the choice of school).

    She talks too about kids like Tim, who code-switch when their home and their outside-home (in this case school) environments are very different. She argues that on the whole such kids, when they leave home, will use their outside-home code much more than their home code, eg the accent they speak to their own kids with will normally be their outside-home one, not their parents’ one. Though she notes that this may not apply to things that are not normally learnt outside the home, eg cooking skills.

  8. Surely everyone does this. Witness any middle-class RP-speaker the second they get in the back of a London taxi.

    Mind you the international students one is very true. I had a Malaysian friend who sounded like she came from the home counties (as she did) most of the time, but bordering on racist when she spoke to her grandparents.

  9. Yes, it is nonsense. I speak with a very neutral, impossible-to-place English accent courtesy of my English parents, but I grew up in west Wales where they spoke gibberish in a thick accent.

  10. I lost my Somerset accent at University, pretty quickly, and a good thing too. I now speak mostly to those whose English is a second language, who probably would understand 1 in 3 words that the young Serf spoke.

    My first accent was Canadian, thanks to my mother.

  11. I wonder if this syndrome might be at the root of George Galloway’s occasional lapses into broken English….

  12. Geoff Boulton had quite a plummy Oxbridge accent when he was at UEA, which nicely matched the cravat and tweed jacket he used to sport. I’d grown up in the Midlands, however, and from time to time a little bit of the black country lad used to pop out. You needed a nicely tuned ear to pick it, though.

  13. quite a plummy Oxbridge accent

    I heard a multitude of accents at t’Bridge ranging from broad Boltonian to full-on public-school drawl.

    It’s drunkenness as does it. If you want to know how someone sounds when they’re not applying conscious – or even subconscious – verbal brakes for social reasons, get ’em pissed.

  14. Tim Newman stole my comment! Though for me it was North-East Wales, where the accent is Scouse with all the nice bits removed. Northerners near-universally think I’m posh, which is a larf.

    But I’m almost certain (without bothering to pick through the journo to the science) that the original article was a darn sight more nuanced than the Telegraph’s ham-fisted summary.

  15. I had a similar experience to Peter Briffa’s. In Wellington (here in NZ) two US tourists asked me for directions to the sports stadium and I said, “It’s in back of the railway station.” No New Zealander would normally say “in back of”, but it was entirely instinctive. Manners, really – one speaks so as to be understood. Is this is a shift in register as much as accent? Certainly when I am in the UK or US I use a different accent and vocabulary from my normal one.

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Sorry, this is nonsense

A child\’s accent is decided by those around them at playgroup and nursery, not at school or home, a study suggests.

I don\’t doubt at all that an accent is determined by such things. My complaint is the idea that a child only has one accent.

Simply not true (OK, not true in my experience). As with young children finding it easy to learn two languages, so having more than one accent is entirely possible. And I would argue entirely likely, when there are one or more accents in a child\’s life. A home one and a school one for example.

Certainly was true of me. When at primary in Bath, good strong Bathonian. And the standard Eng middle class at home, like what I speak now. Of we move to Italy to the Forces school when I\’m 8. My mother still remarks on the near cockney (probably closer to what we would call estuarine now) that my brother and I both picked up in weeks. And started speaking as we walked through the doors of the school and dropped the moment we left them.

We know very well that children are incredibly adaptable linguistically. Why anyone at all would think this wasn\’t true of accents I don\’t know.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *