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Language of any culture has over the year’s undergone changes in varying degrees. This is due to the change in lifestyles that has seen new vocabularies introduced into the existing language. Such alterations have contributed to the rise of dialects in the respective languages used across the world. While most people believe that an accent is something that other people have, the reality is that everyone has an accent.
Accents allow us to make a distinction between people from different regions. A dialect and an accent can be differentiated by listening to the changes in vocabulary and the changes in the sound of a speaker. This paper will look at the role of regional accents and dialects in the modern society, highlighting their contribution in our lives.
Dialects and accents
An accent is socially distinct. It affects the way we interact with other people. According to Wells, people rely on a speaker’s speech to try and identify where the person grew up and the region you come from1. This is because a persons accent is a powerful indicator of his/her geographical identity.
An accent according to most people is a pronunciation that is different from their own. The accent may be considered as inferior or superior by other people, but it may be socially distinct.
An accent is also geographically distinct; this could be endorsed by the use of words such as “a Scottish accent” or a “British accent” while referring to other peoples accents. These tags have various meanings and vary depending on where we live.
Most linguists share the point of view that every speaker of a language speaks it with an accent. The accent acquired is highly influenced by the persons geographical location. After studying the geographical patterns of different countries in Europe, Wells, notes that it is possible to plot a map showing the geographical patters of people, using their geographical distribution.2
Over the years though, it has become increasingly difficult to link the various accents used with certain geographical locations. This is due to the geographical mobility of the population.
The result is that we can no longer use the geographical distribution model to pin point the language distribution across the different regions. Wells notes that people are moving from place to place diluting the geographical distribution that existed. We are more likely to make generalization about which regions an accent belongs.3 The model tends to fail due to the lack of local geographical variation within each country.
Countries around the world have quite a high degree of social variation in accent attributed among other factors, the increased mobility. Among the countries with such social variation include: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It is important to note that the characteristics thought to be ethnic are in fact geographical.
Factors that influence the emergence of new dialects
Community practice has contributed to the emergence of new dialects. Denham & Lobeck note that no single factor including race, class, gender and ethnicity can be attributed to language change.4
He notes that, language change which involves the emergence of new dialects and accents is as a result of the need to continuously interact as human beings. When people get together due to shared perceptions, interests or shared beliefs, communicating methods are likely to change.
Denham & Lobeck note that, the size of the group, using the new dialect or the social class, are not the factors that determine whether a person joins the group. People join groups and affiliations driven by the need for a sense of belonging. Denham & Lobeck, points out that, a group of African American women spoke a dialect that had more features than the Standard American English language.
This is because the socialization revolved around conversation and participation tied to African American culture. The shared values were a determinant in shaping the language used. This shows that the death of accents and dialects is less likely to affect the society.
According to Denham & Lobeck, people stop using a language if they have a negative perception towards that language.5 The low opinion about a certain language may lead to its death. In a society where social classes are a reality, certain dialects may be abandoned in favor of the dialects considered superior. In such a situation a the people are likely to use a dialect in their interaction.
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Importance of dialects and accents in society
Human beings are social beings who like to experience a sense of belonging in their day to day lives. According to Wolfram, Schilling-Estes, dialects helps one to distinguish people who belong to their group from outsiders.6
A dialect also allows people to have a social identity in a way that is similar to other kinds of behaviors associated with social cultural groups. Members of a particular group use dialects to construct a sense of physical space.
The term dialect shows the held attitudes about language differences that have developed over the years around the world. The term brings about the preconceptions and prejudices about how different groups of people are expected to speak come into play.
Since social structures affect the way in which people interact across the world. It is therefore important that we understood the different attitudes held about accents and dialects to help us in our day to day lives.
Denham K & Lobeck A., Language Arts & Disciplines, Cengage Learning, 2009.
Wells J.C., Language Arts & Disciplines. Cambridge, University Press, 1982
Wolfram, W., & Schilling-Estes, N. American English: Dialects and Variation, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2006.
1 J.C. Wells, Language Arts & Disciplines Cambridge University Press, 1982
2 J.C. Wells, 1982.
3 J.C. Wells, 1982.
4 K, Denham & A Lobeck, Language Arts & Disciplines, Cengage Learning, 2009
5 K, Denham & A Lobeck, 2009
6 Wolfram. W, &Schilling-Estes, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.