This relates to my last post. In an email exchange, someone mentioned that their friend switched to broken English when speaking to their foreign friends. When asked why, she replied that otherwise they would think she was elitist.

I find that my English language accent is SO affected by who I'm talking to that it's embarrassing and I'm self-conscious about it. I sometimes try to resist it, but it happens. I see other people doing this too, but I find mine particularly bad. It is obviously happening in my sub-conscious, but it might have something to do with the "girls playing dumb" thing.

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Me too! I posted a response in more detail on my site, but trackbacks are not appearing here, so you can find the permalink attached to my name.

Hold on.. there may be somthing else at play here...

I do this too... When I converse with someone with an accent or dialect, I start to, yes chamelon, good word, the dialect/accent. In english, when speaking to anglophones from Britain, or Scots or Irish or Australian, I immediatly subconsciously alter my speech pattern. In these case I try not to and override the urge...
However, living in Quebec, I also do this with french... with Quebecois I can do full-on Quebecois "Joual", or with French from France I put on the parisian.
(Story is when I was 5, my mother took me to Europe to visit the families... in Vienna I was talking Viennese, in Stuttgart I picked up Swaebish and in Switzerland I did the Schwitzer deutch...)

Point is, I think I do it to minimise misunderstanding. I figure, if I can talk in my interlocutor's "language" and dialect, so much the better! Language is not only vocabulary and syntax and grammar; it is also proper intonation, inflection etc...

I had to apologise and explain myself to a scottish guy once... he looked like he was about punch me... ;)

People speaking English with a "good" accent pass somewhat, in France, for freaks and/or people showing off. Also, it was/is very bad form for students in English departments to use American (?) English. In my class, we were told that we "would have the liberty to choose our dialect once we leave the University. But for graduation purposes, only British English would be accepted." I hope it improved since the late 80s, early 90s, but who knows..?

I think part of the answer could be in a person's subconcious desire about socialization and acceptance, e.g. by adopting similar posture, body language, tone of voice, etc. with others?

The kind of effect you mention
seems to run more strongly in
some people than in others.

I've lived in Finland for many
years. I've often wondered why
I've lost my former unmistakable NYC accent, but some of my colleagues from other English countries have or haven't. I've also wondered if this is related to effects like you've mentioned.

I grew up in Montana in the US and had the accent of the place. Going to school in the Eastern US and living there for 20 years has nearly removed the accent, but it comes back (strongly) when I hear another native speaker.

The effect doesn't happen when I'm around my sister or parents, but almost any native speaking Montanan works. The effect lasts for about an hour after they are gone. My wife thinks this is terribly funny.

I can't consciously invoke my old accent.

what Bo said - kind of...

I am completely aware of simplifying my spoken english when talking to someone who doesn't use english as their first language. I find it just makes things a little less complex. An interesting by-product of this however, is the realization that probably half of the words you speak daily are completely unnecessary for simple communication!

I'm also very aware of 'picking up' other people's accents and speach patterns - which I do rather too easily. I become very worried that the person in question will feel that I'm mocking them in some way... Which in turn probably makes me very self-conscious and stilted - which probably makes the person I'm talking to think that I'd rather be somewhere else... :!

Recently though, I have made a very conscious effort to stick to the straight and narrow of the 'queens english' and eradicate the use of redundant phrases that seem to find their way into daily speech patterns. Words like, well, 'like', for instance - valley-speak has infiltrated the english speaking world!!!

A bit more on accents and speech patterns in the US.

It is important to note that these are the work of immigrants. Although there is a homogenation from network TV, globalization and the Internet are widening the scope.

About 15 years ago a series on the History of English (the language) appeared on public television here. It followed languages as tools of trade and business (mostly) and concluded that English will become even more dominant in the next 50 to 100 years, but it will not be the English practiced in the US or UK ... it will become a working blend.

I think most of us experience this to some degree.

Growing up in Michigan, I generally spoke "TV English" - the Great Northern indistinguishable. The tell-tale sign is pronouncing wheel"barrow" as wheel"barrel."

Every time I'd visit the relatives in Canada, it took roughly 30 minutes until I'd be talking like a native. Once home, all instances of "eh?" would be gone.

Living in Santa Fe now, I switch off between talking to tourists in Texan, and trying to resist unintentionally mimicking the local Spanish accents, which would more likely provoke a negative response if the other person didn’t know me very well.

I do this all the time. My ethnic background is Filipino, but I haven't lived there since I was four. But through my time growing up in Japan and then living in the U.S., I've seen my accent switch according to my surroundings.

When I started college in central IL, high school friends studying in the east coast, noticed after a semester that my accent had changed. And I hadn't realized this.

It's sort of a necessity whenever I visit the Philippines to adapt since most people there think I speak too quickly if I talk anything close to "American" English. It takes me a day or so to get used to speaking more slowly and with a local accent. But after that, I can switch effortlessly back and forth whenever I talk to my parents and sister who live there and when I speak to the locals.

My sister, who'se lived there for nearly a decade has adopted the accent, too. And on occassion she forgets to turn it off when she talks to me. ...which, frankly, I find annoying.

ah, this would possibly explain, though not excuse, my (native english-speaking) father's habit of talking to non-native speakers, or indeed anyone vaguely "foreign", in some bizarre, deeper, ridiculous-sounding voice and embarrasing the hell out of us, his interlocutor and anyone listening

Yes, I also pickup accents from people I talk to. British and Texan accents seem to be the most infectious to me and takes a day or more to shed the accent.

When I first moved to Silicon valley from Canada I used to say "eh?" a lot (this really is a habit of canadians to insert "eh?" at the end of any sentence.)

...and people laughed at me. So I think I made a conscious effort not to do that.

I think at this point I have gained the self-confidence to talk however I want but I have still noticed three things:

1) I do change my accent to match people I'm speaking with, subconsciously. oh well.
2) I'm better at accents than most people. People notice my "good" french accent and I can speak french with both a Parisian and a Quebecois accent (they are very different)
3) I have noticed that people slip into their native accent when they get more excited or upset.

There are two different behaviors occurring here:
first is conciously changing ones accent to impress others or 'fit in'.
The second is subconciously changing one's accent based on to whom one is speaking. The subconcious motivations may, of course, have to do with trying to impress or fit in. They also occur when trying to 'join with' another person and make a more direct and personal connection. By sounding more like the person that you are speaking with, you both increase your level of comfort because of the familiarity. A type of kinship develops between the speakers which promotes connection.

I pick up accents subconsciously, and very quickly. In some cases, 5 minutes into a phone conversation with a Canadian, anybody listening to my end of the line can tell where the other party's from.

I've tried to control it consciously and it's very difficult - I just hope nobody thinks I'm making fun of them!

Ironically, the only accent I can't pick up is my local one (Filipino). My 'natural' accent is Sesame Street English.

BTW, just wanted you to know the link for "this relates to my last post" is broken - it points to http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/11/30/URL.

I have had a similar experience, but in two languages. I have lived in Boston, Los Angeles, DC, Madrid and Mexico, and have always found my dialect changing rapidly in order to communicate.

There might be a simple explanation. Non-native speakers find it much easier to understand another non-native speaker than a native. So the speaker is just being polite.

My Father was Mexican, and I am living in Spain now. The accents are very, very different. An analogy would be Boston vs. Mississippi in the US. Anyway, it takes me about 45 minutes to start speaking like a Mexican again. It is just an unconscious effort to be sympathetic.

i'm naoual morocan student,i have my third year in unniversity,i like english ,i'm realy interesting in .i want to contacte new ppeoples in this domaine;who is interesting try to contacte me .naoual bye all the world.

It's really funny the way we inconscinetly addapt our behaviour according to the others. Have you watched Zelig, the film by Woody Allen?
It's funny, but deals with this problem inn a very serious way. It discusses the extent to which you can go to feel accepted.

I never thought I'd find others going through the same thing. Until a couple of years ago I was switching my accent and not even realizing it. My kids would tell me that when I spoke Spanish to my Peruvian or Mexican friends I would speak just like them! I said ridiculous. I can't do that. I honestly did not "hear" myself. It was my sister who said one time that I was talking on the phone with my friend from mexico, that she said. You're speaking to "Nick" aren't you? She said she could tell because I was speaking "Mexican". Now, I can actually "hear" myself, but I have NO CONTROL OVER IT. When I speak in English to them I am myself. However, if I switch in Spanish, I adapt according to whom I'm speaking to. It's so weird. I can turn around, talk to my kids in my "Puertorican accent" and as easily turn around and continue my "mexican/peruvian" accent according to whom I'm speaking to. They even tell me you don't sound like other "puertoricans" and that's because they may never hear my real speech. I have a movie taken on my vacation to Peru, that I refuse to let my family see. They started watching it and immediately started laughing at me. "Why are you speaking peruvian?" I don't know what I can do to help it. and worst of all, I don't want anyone to think, I'm doing it to make fun of them. Shoot, I try to pretend and it doesn't even come close. A friend shows up and POOF! I'm talking like them again.
Well, it was nice to know I'm not alone.

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