Long Term Project: The Great Accent Shift 2013-2014

From an outtake
From an outtake–I’m a pirate, ARRRRR

This marks the start of a new project, on my own accent. Tomorrow morning I officially begin my Master’s in Linguistics at UCL, and I thought it prudent to begin a small pet project in addition to my work for classes/dissertation (Why, yes! I am delusional!). As I am living in an English-speaking country that is not my own for the first time since my globe-trotting began, I can’t necessarily work on my French, Italian, or Spanish as easily as on previous jaunts. Immersion is just not possible with my native language everywhere. I am, however, immersed in accents rather different from my own.

In the past, I’ve had a tendency to pick up on and mimick the ways that those around me speak. Often unconsciously. Occasionally to my own detriment (“Stop speaking in an Irish Accent!” “I can’t! I swear!”). This led me to want to track my accent and see how (or if) it changes and modulates throughout the next year, as I am awash in British English. I plan to make a new video with the same format every 22nd of the month, and upload it here. I’ve never posted a video of myself speaking before, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous.

I created a method for the video to attempt to standardise it in some way.

Read the following words in a list in a video. Try not to modify my accent, and read quickly to prevent thinking about it too much. 
Words to Read: Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theatre, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pyjamas, Caught, Pillow, Toothpick, aluminium, Eggs, February, Often, Almond, Roof, Candidate, Jewellry, Library, Clothes, Drown, Espresso, Pasta, Miniature, Melbourne, Triathlon, Roll, comfortable, orange, both, tour, sure, Nevada, chocolate, drawer, Ramen Noodles, Caribbean, envelope, coffee, Reese’s Pieces, data, About, Morning, Stocking, Stalking, Cot, Caught, Grocery, our, 
 Read a section of Mr. Tickle to track inflection and intonation changes, found from a study at the British Library on Regional Accents here: http://www.bl.uk/pdf/tickle.pdf
 Make comments, about 30 seconds long, while speaking normally and talking about any changes/patterns I notice in my speech at the time. 


I noticed when recording today that I am not particularly good at reading lists of words quickly. You can occasionally see the consternation on my face as I try to remember the correct pronunciation, and when I get to Nevada I distinctly heard in my head the English version and tried to say the American one that I grew up with. This produced an effect similar to momentary illiteracy while my brain and mouth tried to communicate. The same thing happened with a couple other words.

I noticed that a few of my pronunciations have changed already, in a little over a week in England. “Library” and “Miniature” both seemed to lean toward Received Pronunciation (RP- also known as “BBC English”), but I might be exaggerating. I definitely notice that my word choice and accent are quite different in average conversation, and although this video seems to have brought out my teacher voice, I bet that I can catch myself in different accents as I become more comfortable with the idea of being on camera.

Tired after a few moments' speaking.
Mr. Tickle first run, fail.

As with all experiments, I need a hypothesis and controls. One possibility is that nothing will happen, and my accent will remain in it’s pristine North American newsreader state. Living in England will have no effect. Another possibility would be that my accent will drift toward RP and I will start subsisting on tea, corned beef, and lager exclusively. Still more likely in my mind is that my accent will become polluted, some will mistake me for an Australian, and I will be able to move my accent consciously toward RP or North American depending on my mood. At the moment, I am often too embarrassed to attempt any British accent because it comes out in a mangle of Northern, South London, and WTF. I may find myself slipping more or more able to have an authentic accent after some time spent here. I will control the environment in which I record as much as possible, by filming in the same place and doing it alone. At some point I may add a “natural conversation” piece, which will be harder to control.

Check out the video and tell me how you think I did below! Follow along and we’ll see if next month’s entry shows any discernible changes.

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