Accents again

Last time I was in Australia I posted about how disconcerting it was to be taken for American in Australia. I have been quizzing people on this when they do it, since other linguists and I haven’t been able to work out what it is in my accent that causes them to identify me as American.

We are narrowing it down: ‘prosody’, and my ‘æ’ is fronted more (which I should have picked up on since I’ve said elsewhere that it’s the first thing that Australians do when they start to get an American accent, no matter where they live). There have been a few lexical things creeping in, too, like [‘risɜtʃ], not [rɪ’sɜtʃ].

Two other pieces of information: someone thought I was English (they knew I’d been out of Australia, but didn’t know where), and in Texas I’ve been fairly frequently identified as a New Yorker – the syllogism being something like I had a weird accent, New Yorkers have weird accents from the Texan point of view, therefore that was as good a guess as any.

As you can see, this is worrying me. I’m sick of the long and involved explanation that my accent causes, and I don’t get much practice at Standard Australian English here because I spend most of my time when I’m in Australia either talking Yan-nhaŋu or English with Yolŋu or other Aboriginal people.  And it’s not clear at all to me that the minor things I’ve noticed myself doing constitute enough of an accent-shift to make me sound thoroughly ‘American’.

So, I’m doing what any obsessive field linguist would do. I’m taking tracks of me talking on tape in the field from 2001 to map my vowel space, and the same for a sample passage from 2008. The results will be in a future post.

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One response to “Accents again

  1. I find it bizarre that you repeatedly get this given that I don’t get it at all, even when eliciting with pointed questions of either the ‘nonne’ or ‘num’ variety – most recently with Canberra natives two weeks ago. You’ve only been in the US a year longer than I have, so one would guess we had adapted similar amounts. Is the obvious gender/pitch difference perhaps important in perception, perhaps?

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