The Great Accent Shift 2013 – November

It’s a two-post type day. Here’s the latest video from my long-term, accent-tracking project. Warning: I forget how to speak at one point and out pops a swear that I lack the skill to edit out. The NSFW language is just after 4 minutes in. And if you watch this, Nana, I didn’t mean at all that your way of saying “Salmon” is bad! It was just cute it came out that way.

I’m not going to analyse this just yet, because I’m a little too tired from this week to do additional work. Will analyse tomorrow or Sunday. Enjoy the video!

Totally confused? Get the details on what this is about and why I’m talking for ten minutes on Youtube. And then watch October’s video.

Disclaimer: This is The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). It is essentially the Jersey Shore, but perhaps even more scripted, and NOT representative of Essex in reality. Take it with a massive grain of salt, and listen to the accent. 

The Great Accent Shift – October 2013

My throat is really sore!

My throat is really sore!

39 days ago, I moved to England. One month ago, I started a long-term accent tracking project. This is the second instalment of the Great Accent Shift 2013.

There were some pretty hefty online criticisms of the first video, for selection biases and experimental design. While I recognise that there would be those issues if this were, say, my dissertation project (which would never happen)…this is mostly for fun. And for practice. I am hoping to go into the field of Phonetics in some form or another over the course of the next few years, and this project gives me the means to practice using some of the software I will need to be familiar with to succeed.

Today my voice is considerably lower than last month, and squeaky. I had to take class off today because I’m feeling really horrible. This may even make my accent more ‘authentic’ to how I speak when relaxed, because I’m less able to modulate my voice and frankly, I care less.

Here is the second installation:

Even as I spoke, I noticed a slight difference on some words and in the ways that I was speaking. The words in the list that I read are ones that are likely to show accent shift, because they are ones that vary across English accents. My accent in the US is known as Western General American, and a characteristic of that accent is that one says the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ with almost exactly the same sound. I ran the two recordings of the word ‘caught’ through Praat, a free software program that phoneticians use to analyse speech.





The lines on the blue parts are called ‘waveforms,’ and they give information about the pitch, loudness, duration, and quality of the sound recorded. This is a double recording, from the video onto Praat. Thus, not really acceptable for true scientific enquiry. Whatever. They look different to my (mostly untrained) eye. See those red dots? They track some aspects of the vowel in a sound, the formants. They look different to me! Maybe a small shift from the ‘caught’ of my Western General American accent? Next up, “Alabama.”





To my ear, the two readings sounded different. In the analysis in Praat, they look pretty similar. Like I said in the video, even if there is no change over a year at all, that is a result in itself. It’s likely that certain words will drift more than others, as is already happening. Another visible change was the rhotic (r) pronunciation in “February.”





Those waveforms look quite different! The reason is that in the October recording, I pronounced the ‘r’ in Feb-bru-ary, whereas in September I said my original Feb-bu-ary and skipped the r. I hadn’t really thought of this being a regional accent thing until my boyfriend came home and said the former without any prompting from me. A closer look at the r portion of the speech shows a visible difference in quality, even though my very limited phonetic training prevents me from putting it into technical terms.





Those blue lines are pitch, by the way. I’m still learning Praat.

So it appears that something may or may not be happening with the way I speak, 39 days into living in London. Next month I will add a natural conversation to the mix and try for better analysis! In the meantime, remember that this is just for fun, and that it’s not a real experiment.

"Real Experiment"

“Real Experiment”

Edit: I’m not using IPA symbols here because I’m still learning them, but by the end of the year I will. Also, I forgot to include that I dropped a ‘t’ in today’s recording when I said “It’s not a real experiment” at the beginning. It came out more like “It’s no(glottal stop) a” almost “notta” in an East London-ish accent. Behold. 

Dropping a t

Dropping a t

What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know About London

The clouds move so fast in London. They fly and swoop and change with every passing second in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world, a characteristic mutability. I am sitting in the atrium of Chandler House, my new academic home at UCL and already since I’ve written this sentence two more have already eased by overheard. Today they are white and puffy, but diffuse. Lit up by the early autumn afternoon sun, driven on by the breeze which is barely perceptible here at the level of mortals.

I haven’t done it in a long time, but today’s post has a song attached to it. I know, Bastille for God’s sake. What a predictable cop out, being that they’re from London and all. It’s a good song, I promise. Take a listen.

This first week of classes was frenetic, hard work, and more than a tad overwhelming. I feel rather confused as to how I am able to guess so precisely what in the hell is going on in my wide variety of modules that cover all the major areas of Linguistics. Thus far, Pragmatics and Phonetics are the favourites…though I am apparently best at guessing in Syntax. Some underlying rationale in my brain appears to intuitively know the proper button to push on the clicker, even if I have no conscious idea of what role SAI/SVI play in Dutch. I assure you, I barely know more about those acronyms than you do.

I’ll admit, I never saw myself living here. I had a blatant bias after studying abroad the very first time in Perugia over six years ago…why would one ever want to live abroad in an English-speaking country? And London is so expensive! It’s such a massive city and it’s dangerous and it’s got terrible food. And it rains constantly. More than I’d like to admit, I probably steered students away from studying in London when I was a study abroad advisor, pushing them toward cheaper, “more foreign” options that would “challenge” them more.

I didn’t know that I didn’t know the real London.

I didn’t know that I would someday call a two-hour commute “normal,” or that I would worry more about how much I needed to pay TfL than how much groceries cost. I didn’t know that signal failures are a daily disruption on the Tube that can cause situations to put claustophobics in hysterics, with pushing thousands jammed into the seven feet between the wall and the MOVING FUCKING TRAIN. I didn’t know that my toes would often fall asleep on the morning commute while I train-surf and refuse to lose a hand on my newspaper to stability.

I didn’t know that my morning smash in the Tube could become an exercise in compassion. This morning, smashed into a train without an inch of breathing space at Bank after another goddamn signal failure, I had to remind myself that humanity is a single family in order to stave off a panic attack. Being pressed up against strangers head to hand to foot to arse is a lot less annoying if I tell myself we are related.

I didn’t know that I’d be getting heat rashes on a daily basis. How could I have expected that, in this supposedly foggy city? It’s been unseasonably, ludicrously, obnoxiously hot practically since I arrived. As I commute two hours, I don’t have the luxury of popping by my room to pick up or drop of a jacket when the weather turns on a dime. I end up carrying and cursing a coat all day, only to freeze my arse off the next when I refuse to bring it along.

I didn’t know that London has unbelievable food. Expensive, I suppose. But amazing. Name a food. You can get it in London. From all corners of the Earth, and with remarkable ease. A little work, and you can even eat cheaply and healthily. I bought two huge butternut squashes from the African grocery in our neighbourhood this week and paid a pound for each. I can get kimchi, espresso, camembert, and Chipotle all in one day and wash it down with Chilean wine.

I didn’t know that London has more top universities than any city in the world. And I am at one of them!

I didn’t know that gambling was as prevalent as it is. Perhaps the word is pervasive. It’s everywhere, and as someone raised in Puritan-Cultural-Continuance-Land I am both uncomfortable and shit with it. Last time I managed not to lose all ten pounds of my dog-racing money, but only just.

I didn’t know that I’d be eating my lunches with the dead in between classes. That sounds morbid and sufficiently Dickensian, but it’s literally true. My building borders on St. George’s Gardens, which is a former cemetery converted into a public park and dog wee collection centre. I eat lunch there at least three times a week, sitting on a bench in front of the relocated headstones, the names worn off with age.

I didn’t know that “Pub” is short for “Public House.” Felt like a right idiot for that one.

I didn’t know that use of space would be so efficient. I’m in the atrium of a university building right now, but I”m looking into the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Our local post office is also a convenience store (and it sells liquor for while you wait!). I get the sense that taxis are also half ambulances or that the UCL Main Library doubles as a massive nightclub in the evenings, but have yet to see any concrete evidence.

I didn’t know I would hear so many wonderful languages every day.

I didn’t know I already dressed a bit Londonish.

I didn’t know that the DLR is my favourite line of the London Underground.

I didn’t know I would love it so much.

The clouds are still slipping by overhead, silently as far as I can tell. Do clouds have language? That might be a metaphysical question to save for the second term, but for now the adjustment to life in London rolls by in imitation of the white weather above. They certainly aren’t sleeping furiously, not yet.

Welcome, new home!

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:
 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.

The Iron Language Curtain Lifts….Slightly

“Mi-ku-reom-ju-uoi”–This floor is snippery

It might be possible that the Iron Language Curtain is lifting ever so slightly and allowing me to glimpse communicating in Korean. I’ve been able to read Hangeul (the phonetic script in which most things are written in Korea) since I began to study it last fall in preparation for my move here, but the language itself has remained mostly impenetrable throughout these months. But there’s hope.

Last night I was apparently dreaming in Korean, and speaking it out loud!

Or rather, speaking and dreaming what my brain deemed to be Korean…which may or may not have simply been a jumble of random Korean phonemes. Last fall I wrote about the feeling of a language getting up and moving within my brain, a weighty feeling that something has shifted. Polyglots often mention the memorable first dream in a new language that precedes actually being fluent, and while I don’t believe that I will ever speak Korean fluently it certainly was a cheerful sign. I had somewhat worried that my language skills had abandoned me.

Italy took two months. Chile took one. France took for days. Korea is taking its sweet, slow time letting me access the language. Or my motivation has not been high enough. Or it’s just the first steps in a language for which I have almost no point of reference, making the process that much more difficult than the previous three (Romance) languages that I’ve learn in the last six years.

If I can order in Korean in the galbi restaurant back home when I get back, I’ll consider my time here a linguistic success. Now I just have to start dreaming more about Galbi.