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    Do Goats Have Accents?

    Do Goats Have Accents?

    Accents are a fascinating window into human diversity; they can also be a source of distress, or a substitute for a good pick-up line.  

    Do goats have accents? This is obviously a very important question, and the answer is that they do – depending on the region they are from, goats bleat in a particular way. As for humans, every single person in the world has an accent. If you speak a language, any language, you definitely have an accent. Even sign language speakers have them! An accent is simply a result of the particularity of your region or even socio-economic position. As defined by the Linguistic Society of America, broadly speaking, an accent is essentially how you sound when you speak, and the way you pronounce a language. That said, accents can be divided into two categories: foreign accents (for example, a Spanish person speaking English), and accents in one’s native language (for example, Texans or New Yorkers in English).

    Accents are often crucial in human interaction. In Biblical times, the Israelites used accents to their advantage –they identified enemies by testing whether or not they could correctly pronounce the word ‘shibboleth’, after which they presumably took them as prisoners of war or killed them. A less extreme example is that of a Chinese person speaking English as a second language with a thick accent, and getting made fun of for it. Or on the other end of the spectrum, an Australian man who is perceived as sexy by American co-eds because of his accent.

    How do accents form?

    It all has to do with human nature, and our innate desire to belong. As social beings, we tend to behave in similar ways, whether that is through dressing in socially acceptable ways (or wearing clothes at all), or pronouncing the word “water” a certain way. Furthermore, language to humans is as much a display of status, group identity, and intelligence. For example, a PhD candidate from Alabama may try to reduce her Southern accent when presenting her dissertation so as to avoid unfair judgement from her fellow academics.
    Accents may also develop as a result of isolation, which can be either social or geographical. In addition, an accent could result from how you learned a language, or who you learned it from.

    Why are accents so difficult to get rid of?

    We all know that one person who’s been living in the United States for 20+ years yet still speaks English with a heavy foreign accent that betrays their origins. Apparently, accents are so difficult to get rid of because essentially as soon as you are born, your infant brain is processing all the sounds around you. By the time you are six months old, your brain “shuts down” to a certain extent in that you are no longer capable of recognizing the difference between certain sounds that are unfamiliar to you based on the language that is primarily spoken around you. This applies for bilingual children as well, albeit in a slight twist – their brains also “shut down” after a period in terms of acquiring new sounds, but only after there is a divergence in the linguistic map in their brain to account for both languages.
    That’s not to say that you cannot change your accent as an adult. After all, there are plenty of language schools where the only aim is to reduce one’s foreign or regional accent. However, research has proven that to do so would take a much greater effort than the average adult is willing to put in.