1. ILoveWords
    Offline

    ILoveWords Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2013
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3

    A question about accents.

    Discussion in 'Research' started by ILoveWords, Jan 10, 2014.

    I'd like one of my characters to have lived in one country and moved to another afterwards, but still speak with the accent of his country of origin.

    I'd like to have him move at as young an age as possible, but I'm worried about it not looking realistic if he has an accent although he moved really soon. Like, I suppose a 6 year old is able to have learned and perfect a new language by the age of 20 and speak it without accent if he moved at that age, but a thirteen year old would probably have lost the natural talent for languages little kids have and therefore have more trouble speaking accentlessly (if that's a word), wouldn't he?

    I also wonder about the vocabulary. The character's country of origin is Britain and he moved to the USA. I wondered if it was okay for him to use more British expressions and vocabulary or if he should have adopted a more American way of speech after living in America for all these years now that he's 20.

    I'd like him to use British vocabulary because I think it would be the best way to remind the readers that he has a British accent (the other ways being writing his lines phonetically or repeating that he said what he said "with a British accent", but both would just be obnoxious). I'm not the type of writer who let's readers picture their characters the way they want to. They're My characters and I'd like the readers to see what I see when they're reading about them, so reminding them is important to me.

    Thank you for reading!
     
  2. Hazel B-S
    Offline

    Hazel B-S Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2013
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    14
    I'm from London, England, and have been told I have a very typical 'British Accent'

    A couple years ago I made this video for the accent challenge:


    It was a while ago but I have the same accent. I talk in my accent for the whole video and towards the end I say some british mannerisms (I.e it asks me what I call the thing that I carry groceries in, and I say 'Shopping Trolley' as that's a british term for 'Shopping cart')

    I hope this can help :)
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    @Hazel B-S - I'm from the UK too (Wales, so they have great accents there :rolleyes:), but I still laughed when you said 'water'! Couldn't help myself. :p

    Anyway, to answer the OP's question, people's accents change according to the person. What I mean by that is everyone is different - it may take a year for one person to lose most of their accent, but another person may never lose their accent. So in the case of moving early, I think your character would lose some of his accent, sure, but I think it's possible for him to say some words in his original accent, especially if he moved with his family and/or friends.

    Again, the vocabulary depends; if he's living with parents, certain words would be British, but overall I would say that American expressions would be the norm for him. If you want some more help, type in 'giving a character and accent' on Google and click on the first link i.e. 'top 10...' This should give you some good advice. :)

    Be careful there. Of course they're your characters, but it is a fact of life that readers will read things depending on their background, social status, hobbies, reading habits, and yes, even accents. By all means remind them of what you want them to remember, but don't force it down their throats. In fact, some writers would just say maybe twice throughout the book that the character is British and leave it at that. Now, you said that you wanted him to repeat sentences and whatnot, so of course you'll be reminding your readers more than usual, and that's fine, but don't force-feed them. But of course, as with the majority of writing advice, you can ignore this if you want to. ;)

    You're welcome, ma'am/sir.
     
  4. Auxuris
    Offline

    Auxuris Member

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2014
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Alagaƫsia
    Well, it depends on whether the character wants to learn/get influenced by the accent or not. If he wants to keep his old accent, he's not going learn the new one because he won't practice and his 'mind' voice will speak in whatever accent he wants. Accents don't just get 'picked up' that easily. It really depends on the person - some people can listen to new accents and learn it faster, some don't.

    If your character visits his homeland like annually or biannually then no matter what age he moved it might frequently refresh his accent too.

    I know a cousin who moved to Aussie years ago and only recently picked up the Australian accent while another (lives in HK currently) speaks english in both the Cantonese and American accent even after being away from America for several years.

    Also, I agree that British slang is a good way of subtly reminding readers of your character's accent/origin. Words/phrases such as 'flat', 'shag', "sod off", and incorporating 'us' instead of 'me' in casual speech sentences stand out because they aren't generally used in American slang.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2014
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    kids spend more awake time speaking with and listening to other kids and adults who speak the local language in the local accent, so even if the child's parents still have a thick accent, it's not at all realistic to have someone who moved to the new place at an early age still speaking with his first-learned accent at the age of 20, rather than the one he would normally have acquired...

    why do you need to have him still speaking with the old accent?... if you have no good reason for it, i'd strongly suggest dropping it and have him be 'normal'...

    if you do have some good reason for needing him to have kept his old accent, then you have to give a good, believable reason for how that could be... such as perhaps he puts it on to feel superior to his friends and classmates... or he wants to be an actor and thinks he'd have a better chance to succeed, with a british accent... or it's easier to 'score' with girls that way...
     
  6. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    As other's have said it's entirely subjective and will differ from person to person. If you want the character to retain his/her British accent then if you present it in that way, the reader will believe it. The same is true of him/her losing the British accent. Both outcomes are plausible. It probably would be more interesting if they reverted back to their original accent under certain circumstances, like for example when they were angry.
    I could tell he was upset as he shouted 'Frank, you really are a bloody arsehole of the highest magnitude.'


    Re. 'accentless': They wouldn't be accentless though, would they? They'd simply have another accent from the one they started off with.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2014
  7. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    My cousin was born and raised on Long Island, but she attended college in Virginia. When she came home for the Christmas holidays she sounded like a southern belle. She moved back to New York after college (and dyed her hair blonde) but even now retains the accent (and the hair). It's always been obvious to me that she willingly adopted the accent as a form of expressing her independence (she had an extremely difficult childhood and has continued to show the emotional scars in adulthood).

    OTOH, I had a childhood friend who emigrated from Ireland when he was five. We became friends a few years later, and even then, he didn't have much of a brogue.
     
  8. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    Some people tend to hold to an old language pattern more so than others. For instance, if you have a child of Asian extraction whose entire family speaks only his native language at home, the child would most likely hold onto that accent for a much longer time than one whose family made aggressive efforts to assimilate the local speech and social environment. OTOH, many adults who move to a new country or region quickly adopt the regional/national accent. It will forever crack me up when I think of Steve Cauthen, an American jockey from the hills of North Central Kentucky. He was the youngest jockey to ever ride in the Kentucky Derby, just days after his sixteenth birthday. (He came in dead last, btw, but went on to become the winningest jockey in the nation - dollar-wise - in another year or two, the first jockey to break $6m in one year. A record he promptly broke the following year.) Anyway, when he got older, he went to England to race, logging an historic win record there as well. When he returned to America, he had a British accent thick enough to cut with a knife. It took many years to revert to a semblance of his Northern Kentucky accent but, to this day, he still has a hint of a lilt reminiscent of the English countryside.

    I tell that story just to illustrate that a lot of times, it's just a matter of how willingly one adapts to their local environment, like EdfromNY's cousin. You can have a toddler who, throughout his life is continually exposed to dual languages and dual accents and will grow up with something of an amalgam of the two, whereas you can have an adult growing up in one language and with a quite distinct accent or dialect and, when transplanted to a new environment will quite readily adopt that new language and accent, etc.

    Probably the most difficult thing about trying to understand human beings is that we have yet to be able to figure out just how the human mind truly works. Just when we think we've got a lock on how to unravel that mystery, something comes along to make us doubt everything we think we know.

    Did You Know? ...The United States has about five or six distinct regional accents (not counting localized sub-variants). This is about equal to the regional accents found in all of the United Kingdom - an area roughly the size of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia combined.

    Another "Did You Know?" about human nature is that most people do not recognize an accent in themselves or those whose speech echoes the same accent. "Other" people have accents. So, as outsider already suggested, there is a regional awareness of sound patterns that comes into play as well. We all have accents. We just don't necessarily hear our own.

    As you have already noted, children have a much more pliable speech center in the brain and can more readily adapt to new sounds and languages. But this in no way precludes adults from having the same or directly opposing mental disposition.
     
  9. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    When I was ten, I went on a trip to the UK and Ireland with my parents. In Dublin, we stayed for a week at the home of a childhood friend of my grandmother's. She had a nine-year-old granddaughter, and our first conversation was an argument about which one had the accent.
     
  10. Robert_S
    Offline

    Robert_S Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    163
    I noticed it too, but I didn't laugh. I thought, "yep, that's a good solid English accent."

    I've noticed that the British don't enunciate Rs that come at the end of a word, so "water" and "later" sound more like "wot-ah" (Wha-ah in Hazel's case) and "late-ah." Is it proper? Who's the say. If everyone sounded the same and dressed the same, thought the same, it would be a very boring world. But it is a phone that helps me to denote accents.

    As an aside, I love the British accent. Australian accent too.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
    Thomas Kitchen likes this.
  11. Storysmith
    Offline

    Storysmith Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2014
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    23
    One way to keep reminding the reader that your character has a British accent is to have others remark on it, e.g. "Oh, I love your limey accent." If that gets repetitive, you can add humor to it, e.g. "I love your accent. Do you miss Australia?"
     
    ILoveWords and Auxuris like this.
  12. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    Hah! I love that. Who won?????
     
  13. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    She did. I was too smitten to make a coherent argument.
     
  14. ILoveWords
    Offline

    ILoveWords Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2013
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    Thank you all for your help!

    What I get from your answers is that both keeping and losing his accent are possible, but how believable it is depends on how I'll present it in the story, so I'll provide a more detailed scenario to give you a better idea of the presentation. I wasn't sure when I made the thread, but now I think he'll have moved from the UK at the age of 11-12. He moved because his family had a job opportunity in the US and he was too young to stay behind, but he's never wanted to move and misses his original country because he had to leave his friends and his whole life behind there. He's been hostile to his new country since the beginning, so is that a good explanation for his maintaining an English way of speech? I wanted his brothers, who were fine with moving and appreciate their new country, to speak in a more American way in contrast, to reflect their different attitudes also.

    Thanks for the advice. :) It's a very valid point. I would myself find it really disturbing if I felt like the writer was shoving a certain image in my face while reading, so I try to cram a lot of info in short, sparse descriptions. As a beginning writer, it's a little difficult to find that balance. < =)
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2014
  15. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    in that scenario, his keeping the accent would be a conscious decision and he'd most likely be considered 'odd' or 'pretentious' [or worse], by any who notice that his siblings don't have the same accent... might well result in readers not warming to him, so you'd best give this careful consideration before you make him such an oddball...
     
  16. ILoveWords
    Offline

    ILoveWords Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2013
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    Is it odd just because he kept his accent or is it odd because he kept it while his brothers didn't? Because I can have them all speak British, too. It doesn't really matter what accent the brothers have, it just kind of does for him in particular. It's because I have written scenes already where his accent plays a relatively important role (people comment on it or recognize him because of it, etc.) and I really like these scenes so I just can't bring myself to cut them out. Maybe it's lazy or cowardly, but I'm only human, I guess. :(
     
  17. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Personally, I think it's inconsequential. As long as you reference the reasons behind your character's decision to keep his accent, for example, he is staunchly and resolutely determined not to conform and affiliate himself with his new surroundings that have been forced on him.
    It is entirely reasonable and believable that a character of his age would do such a thing.
    Go with your instinct on it. ;)
     
  18. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    it would be seen as odd by any who deal with all of them, because his brothers don't speak with an accent...
     

Share This Page