The Power of Accents

February 27, 2014  //  By:   //  DISCUSS, Featured  //  No Comment
I bet you have thought about it. If you are a student at CBS or at any other university with international students, you are surrounded by the sound of it everyday. It’s the sound of your new French lecturer. It’s the way the Indian guy you talked to at Nexus pronounces your name. It’s even your Danish friend sounding insecure while doing an oral English presentation. Accents and dialects  are fascinating. How we speak can easily reveal a lot about who we are as people. Obviously, an accent or a dialect reflects where you are from. It can be a fast way of guessing where people grew up when meeting them the first time. Having an accent can be a way of remembering your roots even though you might have left the place you grew up. But everything is not always that obvious and simple. I bet I’m not the only one who has been surprised by a Danish student speaking English with a flawless American, or maybe even British accent.
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Sometimes accents do not only reflect where you are from, they also reflect where you have been. Many people adopt new accents or dialects after having lived abroad or simply by moving to a different part of the country they are born in. But why do some people choose to adopt this new way of speaking? Why ditch your original accent, one which may have been more natural for you? A plausible solution could be that accents do not only reflect where are from and where you have been - they may even reflect where you might want to be, or who you might want to be.

Just as described by Dr McGettigan from the Department of Psychology at the University of London:
The voice is a powerful channel for the expression of our identity – it conveys information such as gender, age and place of birth, but crucially, it also expresses who we want to be.
An accent can be a way of changing how you want people to perceive you. If you change your accent, it’s often connected to the fact that you’re going through a special phase in your life. But which accent should you choose?

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I am of the impression that most people have very solid ideas regarding what different accents reflect.  But why are we so concerned about how we sound? Shouldn’t we be more focused on what we are saying? Apparently just focusing on the spoken word is not always enough anymore. We live in a world where self-presentation is key and people constantly change their own self in order to be perceived in the best possible way. Isn’t the way people are choosing how to speak similar to the way we purchase and throw away other things in life? Are accents used and then thrown away just like material things such as fashion?  And just like wearing the “wrong” clothes, does there exist such a thing as  an embarrassing or an “unfashionable” accent? Apparently there does, because it is obvious that some accents easily gain more respect than others. As an example (without trying to offend anyone) it is quite well known that American or British accents here at CBS often give a better and more professional first impression than, for instance, a Danish accent. This is not just a statement, this is somewhat fact. Research conducted at the University of Chicago in 2010 actually showed the following:

A foreign accent undermines a person’s credibility in ways that the speaker and the listener don’t consciously realize. Because an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful. The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent. 
So maybe it is not that silly to change your accent? But isn’t there a way of retaining your own personal “sound” and still sounding professional and credible? Do you really have to completely replace your own accent with another more “popular” one? It’s natural that you can be self-conscious about your accent if you aren’t a native speaker of English. However, even in English-speaking countries, accents and dialects matter.  In the UK, research conducted by the law firm Peninsula showed that 8 in 10 employers admit to making discriminating decisions based on regional accents. Are you surprised that even the Brits sometimes have a reason to worry about their British accent?
The concept of accents is a inevitable global “thing” which is here to stay.
But keep in mind the disadvantages and advantages of changing your accent. You decide yourself how much your own accent should influence your life. 

About the Author :

Sofie is a second-year student studying B.Sc. in International Business at CBS. When she first moved to Copenhagen she felt very lost. However, she quickly made contact with the intriguing locals and they introduced her to the exciting opportunities which the city has to offer.Bonus-fact: Sofie is from Funen and proud! “Fyn er fin!

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