Foreign Accent

Joseph   Fri Feb 03, 2006 7:02 pm GMT
Is it possible to have a foreign accent(in my case Polish) even if you've lived in an English speaking country like Canada since you were four?
Some of my friends tell me I have a Polish accent and this seems
weird to me. I always thought that if you learned a language before
puberty you would have a native accent.
With my parents I speak Polish and with everyone else I speak English. My writing is excellent 99% of the time better than a natives.(That's the impression I get from school and university).
Guest   Fri Feb 03, 2006 7:13 pm GMT
If you have a polish accent then it must be possible. Your parents are Polish and speak to them on a daily basis which means you are going to pick up a bit of their accent. What difference does it make? I can't see a problem with it.
a_girl   Fri Feb 03, 2006 9:23 pm GMT

I agree with you that it's odd. Even if you speak Polish with your perents I am assuming that you speak English longer time per day then Polish, taking into account the fact you went to English schools.
I have a friend who told me that a Chinese girl who was born in the US from 2 Chinese imigrant perents has a Chinese accent. This is something that I don't really understand.
Damian in Edinburgh   Fri Feb 03, 2006 9:36 pm GMT
Don't ever, ever try to change your Polish accent when speaking English! That would be a crime in my opinion.....I adore it. I love it when Poles speak English. I met many Polish people when I worked at the Leeds and here. Lots of them over here in the UK doing all sorts of seasonal jobs. It was really great chatting with them if only to ask if they wanted somebody to come and pack their purchases for them.....or if they realised they could have got some items on special offer or get two for the price of one or whatever but of course they always realised that. If I hadn't they would just say "thank you" and be speaking with each Polish, and my knowledge of Polish is a great big round zero.

Off out with mates down town and to the pub now.
Uriel   Sat Feb 04, 2006 5:18 am GMT
Everyone really has their own individual accent, you know -- their idiolect, I think it's called. I don't necessarily speak with the exact same accent as my close family or friends or the people around me, because I have, consciously or unconsciously, picked and chosen certain sounds and pronunciations and word choices that I happen to like.

Also, remember the power of suggestion and take your friends' comments with a grain of salt; tell someone you're Polish and they will start to convince themselves that they "hear" an accent that may not really exist.
Mxsmanic   Sat Feb 04, 2006 10:54 am GMT
There's a huge variation in the durability of foreign accents. Some people will lose a foreign accent after only a few years of speaking a new language; others will have thick accents for a lifetime.

People tend to have less of a foreign accent if they begin speaking the target language in childhood, but this is not a hard and fast rule. There is nothing that changes at puberty or at any other age that fundamentally alters the ability or tendency to lose a foreign accent.

I must agree with Uriel, also: if you tell people that your native language is not English, they may suddenly "hear" an accent (or imaginary errors in grammar, vocabulary, etc.) that they had not noticed before.

I've seen this when I speak French: if they don't know that I'm not a native speaker, they don't seem to notice anything, but once I tell them that French is not my native language, suddenly they hear my "foreign accent." The really bizarre thing is that the aspects of my pronunciation that they consider "foreign" and point out to me often have nothing to do with my native language at all; it's just that I pronounce French in a rigorously standard way that I learned through years of relatively formal study, whereas they pronounce it in a way that includes more local variations. So they hear an "accent" that is really just true, standard French, and at the same time they don't seem to notice the anomalies in my pronunciation that really _do_ come from my native language. It's amusing, but it's frustrating as well since they often have no clue as to what they are talking about.
Travis   Sat Feb 04, 2006 11:41 am GMT
One issue is the existance of substrata in areas which are currently natively English-speaking amongst most younger individuals, such as here in the Upper Midwest. Even though except amongst younger individuals besides in some limited enclaves in, say, North Dakota, most younger individuals and their parents who aren't immigrants themselves here have English alone as a native language, that does not mean that the old languages which are today limited to the elderly and more recent first-generation immigrants have not had an influence on younger individuals' speech. Other examples include Chicano English, which shows strong features of a Spanish substratum despite being very often spoken by people who are English monolinguals, and whose parents very well may be English monolingual or only truly fluent in English. Of course, such influence is very often not apparent to such younger individuals themselves, due to in cases, like here, being so pervasive that it is perceived as "normal", especially in the case of here since there is no real local acrolect which truly *lacks* such features to contrast such substrata-influenced English from.
swotatwerk   Sat Feb 04, 2006 1:20 pm GMT
I think the point here is about 'integration' and being accepted by a peer group. Teenagers and pre-teenagers adapt their pronunciation of the language within 48 hours of being 'in' another social group, in order to be accepted. This can easily be demonstrated by taking a school-aged child from one part of a country and transferring them to another part. Because they want to be part of the new peer group they will actually tune in to the pronunciation and colloquialisms used by this new group and imitate them - in order to be accepted. As we grow older and more confident in our persona we don't need to make these alaterations as we can use language in another way to find acceptance, but younger children and teenagers need to form these social bonds quickly.
Also, there is research to suggest that after a certain time 'fossilization' takes place, both in how we hear the language spoken and how we articulate and use our facial muscles to create 'new' sounds. This goes for native speakers as well as non-natives who are learning the language. That's why it can be difficult to learn a new language when you are older than say, 18 (although this fossilisation depends on the personal attitude of the learner and their own language learning experiences).
I know of many students where, as teenagers, they start to 'sound' and act like teenagers of the native group. They actively search out the vocabulary used so they can sound like this new group - often swearing and using mannerisms the group uses but often in an over-exaggerated manner.
Anyone else observed this phenomenon?
Sho   Sun Feb 05, 2006 8:04 am GMT
Why don't you record your own voice and upload it somewhere like so that we can see what kind of accent you have?
The Man In The Bowler Hat   Mon Feb 06, 2006 4:13 am GMT
Yes, indeedy, swotatwerk. I am a teenager of 17 myself, and I have observed this 'swotatwerk effect' - as it shall from here on be known - very much over the years both in my own behaviour and the behaviour of my fellow nadsats.

Trying to fit in with regional skaters for example, I'd suddenly find that I'd unwittingly begin cutting the tails off all my words, punching down with emphasis in places I usually wouldn't, saying things like; "fuckin' sick, hey?"

I also find that when I'm giving a speech, meeting someone for the first time, or attempting to get under the skin of some fellow working class scum, I'll take my RP up a notch to Queen's English.
Сп&am   Thu Feb 09, 2006 7:21 pm GMT
I've met a Korean who arrived in France at the age of 6 and nowadays has no accent.
I've studied music for about 13 years and I know my french's ok. I speak french as a French, at least that's what they say. They even say I come from the South of France, amazing. When people know that you are not native because YOU told them, they automatically add that there is a small accent. So if you don't tell them your parents are from Poland, they won't mention about it. Try it if you don't believe ;-)
Stefaniel P Spaniel   Fri Feb 10, 2006 4:46 pm GMT
Have you noticed how little kids have got the strongest regional accents, apart from Grandparental types? I remember a woman who moved to Newcastle being perturbed by one of her two young sons going so far as to say "aww, mummy, man."
Leena   Sat Feb 11, 2006 9:18 am GMT
I notice that most members are interested in kinds of accents more than learning language and how we can improve it!!!!!!!!!
Travis   Sat Feb 11, 2006 10:57 am GMT
>>Have you noticed how little kids have got the strongest regional accents, apart from Grandparental types? I remember a woman who moved to Newcastle being perturbed by one of her two young sons going so far as to say "aww, mummy, man."<<

At least here in the Milwaukee area, often younger individuals have far more set local accents than middle-aged individuals, for whom many things which are more fixed in local patterns in younger individuals exist in free variation across registers with more GAE-like forms (which for younger individuals are less consistent, more restricted to higher registers, or in certain cases practically absent across registers). Examples of such include:

a (GAE A) -> V / _ r\ { -son +fort }

which is not consistent in the speech of middle-aged individuals, but which has become fixed across registers in the speech of younger individuals. Another example is alternation between [a] and [O] before /l/ in words with historical /A/ in such positions, which is present in the speech of middle-aged individuals here, but is absent in younger individuals' speech, where [O] is used exclusively in such cases (except if the /l/ preceded /r/ and has been elided, where one will actually hear [o] rather than [O] in some individuals' speech); note that this change is separate from the NCVS, which is actually in the *opposite* direction of this specific individual shift.
Uriel   Sat Feb 11, 2006 10:31 pm GMT
Is it true that children begin to stop being able to readily produce novel sounds after the age of 4, though?