Drop that accent

accent1We have the ‘fake accent’ people all around us and they are annoying. Some of them you can’t live without, but, they are intolerable. They come in all shapes and sizes and they come with most hilarious accents. At times they are an embarrassment, because suddenly their real accent slips out. Why some people get fascinated by the fake accent?

‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’ which is a put on fake accent has actually been listed among the 10 most bizarre mental disorders. It is a laughable disorder, the habit of faking accents has been quite the issue among some groups. I suppose after watching a good movie, often when we come out of the movie hall, some people’s accent changes suddenly. I honestly think people who do this have a very low self-esteem. They feel the need to be somebody else. The dictionary describes the FAS syndrome when people speak their native language with a foreign accent. Trust me, they do the mimicking unconsciously. It is interesting to note that very few cases have been recorded of this syndrome. Psychologically, this syndrome might sound natural. But we just can’t stop giggling when we hear a fake accent! It is very annoying especially when a person goes for a job interview or a higher education interview. A fake accent gets caught easily.

Accent is deep-rooted in us in our formative years and becomes an intimate part of our identity. But sometimes like we are never satisfied with our looks, our qualifications, our status, our language skills we are never happy with our accent too. From trying to sound more chic to woo a date, wanting to impress a group of people, or to get a job, the motives are many and varied. Many of us tend to adopt a regional dialect when we move to a different area. According to a survey, some people have been forced to change their regional accents to help people understand them in new regions.

A decade back when singer Madonna started talking with British accent, it became a big controversy. She had moved to a new country and was hanging around a British husband. When people move to new places their accents change naturally as they unconsciously mimic the speech they hear around them. A research also shows that musicians are more likely to be affected from FAS: the theory, as yet not quite understood, is that a brain’s innate “musicality” may affect how easily they can slip into the rhythms of another dialect or accent. You see, accents are hugely musical. There are stresses, pauses and lilts on words that are the real way in which one language-speaker distinguishes himself from another. It’s known that musicians tend to get fluency over a language when they sing in other than their own language. This may have a further impact on how easily the brain can slip into accents, deliberately or not. It is normal to see musicians subconsciously mimicking accents when they sing in other languages.

An experiment with lip-reading has found that the brain subconsciously tries to copy the speech patterns of total strangers. Researchers who made the discovery believe accent mimicry is part of the brain’s in-built urge to ’empathize and affiliate’ with other people. And we don’t even need to hear them saying the words out loud.

accent2On a thoughtful scientific note, for your kind information, the first case of rigorously described Foreign Accent Syndrome was in 1941, when a Norwegian woman was struck in the head by shrapnel during an air raid. Luckily, she survived. Unluckily, she suddenly found herself mispronouncing vowels and juggling stresses in such a way that she seemed to have a German accent. The social isolation she endured because of the accent eventually caused her to seek treatment, and her case was described in 1947. Although the shrapnel and the air raid are rare, the brain damage she suffered is typical of foreign accent syndrome. Migraines, strokes, problems with brain surgery, problems with anesthesia that might have led to minor brain damage. Any of these are the most common causes in FAS.

The next time you come across someone with that fake accent, you know you’ve just met someone suffering from Foreign Accent Syndrome. People purposely imitate subtle aspects of each other’s mannerisms, postures and facial expressions. People also imitate each other’s speech patterns, including inflections, talking speed and speaking time. But a person’s original accent has its charm because it portrays his culture, lifestyle, language and heritage.

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