“You should work on your pronunciation.”
“You should work on your accent.”
Which of the above statement stirs up… gut reactions?
I bet it’s the second statement that mentions “accent.”
Why is that, though? Pronunciation is a significant and integral part of an accent. So what is it about the accent that is so different from pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar? Why is “accent” personal?
I’ve always found this association between accent and personal identity fascinating. An accent, be it native or non-native, can be a source of pride for many and embarrassment for others. I have met many people who are often not understood by others because of their accent but couldn’t care less. And I have also met many who have very subtle accents but are self-conscious about it.
The same phenomenon applies to native (regional) accents. I’ve met people wanting to change their regional accent to sound more like the people around them. I’ve met others who identify strongly with the accent of their home state/province/city/neighbourhood and would never wish to change it.
This phenomenon begs the question of “why,” why is accent an integral part of some people’s identity but not others?
I believe that some people identify strongly with their accents because, first of all, accents are very salient. Studies have shown that it takes less than 30sec of speech for the listener to identify an accent different from their own. The second reason – accents are difficult (though far from impossible) to change.
Personally, no, my accent is not part of my identity, and I have no sentimental attachment to it. I grew up in many different countries, and I have changed my accent multiple times. Did I change my identity multiple times? Definitely not. I am who I am, and who I am is very separate from my accent. I proudly identify myself as a Chinese Canadian, a she/her, a mom, a traveller, and a bad cook. This is the true “me,” regardless of which accent I happen to have.
Is your accent part of YOUR self-identity? Let me your thoughts.
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