1. A way of speaking that indicates a person's place of origin and/or social class: a working-class accent, a London accent, a working-class London accent; a regional accent; an American accent; an American regional accent. In phonetic terms, an accent is a set of habits that make up someone's PRONUNCIATION of a language or language variety.
2. In poetics and PHONETICS, the prominence of a syllable: in dogmatic, the accent (or stress) is on the second syllable, dogMAtic.
3. A diacritical mark, as over the first e in élite (an ACUTE ACCENT). Acute accents are often used over vowels to mark prominent syllables, as in Thís is the wáy it's dóne. When so used, they are called accent marks. Accent in this sense is also used figuratively for emphasis (The accent is on entertainment) or special detail (a dress with vivid blue accents).
Accent as way of speakingIn everyday USAGE, accent means ‘way of speaking’, a sense that may have developed in the Middle Ages in reference to the distinctive ‘tunes’ of SPEECH. Since the 16c, the term has been used in English for styles of speech that mark people off from each other, principally by region. Most people can identify the main accent types in their language and those of some groups of foreigners speaking that language, and may have feelings and opinions about them. Even so, however, it is not easy to say just what an accent is. Phoneticians and linguists do not know why particular features come together to form accents, although they can list such features and show how they cluster as aspects of particular accents.
Accent and dialectIt is also not easy to separate accent from DIALECT. The terms have long been used together and certain accents are considered to belong ‘naturally’ to certain dialects: in the North of England, the GEORDIE accent of Tyneside is part of Geordie dialect; in New York, a Brooklyn accent is part of Brooklyn dialect. Most individuals, however, have personal ways of speaking (their idiolects), and may conform more or less to particular kinds of accent and dialect. Britons who live for a time in the US may incorporate accentual Americanisms into their speech; Americans may take on local linguistic colour in Britain. For many people, especially if they belong to a privileged group or to a community that has little contact with outsiders, an accent is someone else's way of speaking. In such cases, the group's speech is often thought of as accentless: only outsiders ‘speak with an accent’. Certain words, some dismissive and pejorative, are used to describe speech, including adenoidal, barbarous, BROAD, cute, distinct, EDUCATED, FLAT, foreign, funny, GUTTURAL, harsh, heavy, lilting, NASAL, posh, provincial, quaint, rough, rustic, SINGSONG, strong, uneducated. By means of such words, people can be marked out as having, for example, a distinct New England accent, a strong Scottish accent, a broad Yorkshire accent, a posh public-school accent, and so forth. All such informal accentual labels have social implications, some of which are strong and long-lasting, both in social and personal terms.
Some phoneticians and linguists treat accent as part of dialect; others treat it as separate or separable from dialect, especially with regard to use of the standard variety of a language. Many argue that standard English can be spoken with a range of more or less ‘educated’ accents. Others consider that it can only be spoken with one accent (such as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION in England) or a small group of accents (such as those which have social and educational prestige in the major English-speaking countries). Others again consider that there is a continuum of possibilities, some accents being ‘modified’ more, some less, towards a perceived regional or other standard, with the result that people may be speaking more or less ‘standardly’, or may come closer to a standard in some contexts and move further from it in others. The matter is controversial, especially when applied linguists and others seek to use the theories and findings of phonetics and linguistics to influence policies for the teaching of English either as a mother tongue or as a second or foreign language. However, all phoneticians and linguists agree that the widely held view that many accents are corruptions of a pure pronunciation has no scientific basis whatsoever.
Defining an accentTwo features commonly characterize accents: (1) Their ‘tunes’ (melodies and tones), usually described in evaluative terms, such as flat, used of such urban accents as Scouse (Liverpool), lilting, used of Irish and Scottish accents associated with Gaelic, and of Caribbean accents associated with Creole, and singsong, used of Welsh, Anglo-Indian, and Filipino accents. (2) Kinds of articulation and voice quality, often identified with anatomical features, such as adenoidal, used of Scouse, and nasal, used of many North American accents. More or less precise non-technical names are often given to voice qualities, such as DRAWL, BROGUE, BURR, TWANG. Some names figure frequently in the informal description of particular accents: for example, a distinct Dublin brogue, a soft Highland lilt, a guttural Northumberland burr, a laid-back Southern drawl, a sharp Yankee twang. Although voice quality is often a part of accent, people with the same accents may have different voice qualities, so that not all Highland voices softly lilt, and not all Liverpool voices are flatly adenoidal. Even where accents are thought to be well delineated, features that contribute to them are unevenly distributed, so that there are more or less American, Brooklyn, British, Cockney, and other accents. In addition, the accents of people who have lived for long periods in various places lay down a kind of ‘vocal geology’, with strata from the different times and places in their lives.
See ADVANCED, CLIPPED, DIACRITIC, ELOCUTION, ENGLISH IN ENGLAND, GLOTTAL STOP, INTONATION, L-SOUNDS, ORTHOEPY, PROPER, PUBLIC SCHOOL ENGLISH, RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (RP), RECEIVED STANDARD AND MODIFIED STANDARD, RHOTIC AND NON-RHOTIC, RHYTHM, R-SOUNDS, STRESS, TONE, VOICE.
ac·cent • n. / ˈakˌsent/ 1. a distinctive mode of pronunciation of a language, esp. one associated with a particular nation, locality, or social class: a German accent. ∎ the mode of pronunciation used by native speakers of a language: she mastered the French accent. 2. a distinct emphasis given to a syllable or word in speech by stress or pitch. ∎ a mark on a letter or word to indicate pitch, stress, or vowel quality. ∎ Mus. an emphasis on a particular note or chord. 3. [in sing.] a special or particular emphasis: the accent is on participation. ∎ a feature that gives a distinctive visual emphasis to something: blue woodwork and accents of red. • v. / ˈakˌsent; akˈsent/ [tr.] emphasize (a particular feature): fabrics that accent the background colors in the room. ∎ Mus. play (a note, a beat of the bar, etc.) with an accent. DERIVATIVES: ac·cen·tu·al / akˈsenchoōəl/ adj.
accent, in speech, emphasis given a particular sound, called prosodic systems in linguistics. There are three basic accentual methods: stress, tone, and length. In English each word has at least one primary stressed syllable, as in weath´er; words of several syllables may also have secondary stress as in el´e-va´tor. In English, vowels in unaccented syllables are often pronounced as ə regardless of the orthographic letter. Thus, the vowels of the second syllables in cir´cus, na´tion, ther´mos, eas´ily, saun´a, and sor´rel are all pronounced the same. Sentence stress, known as intonation or contour, includes three basic patterns: the statement, It's a dog, where the pitch pattern is level-high-low; the yes/no question, Is it a dog? where the pattern is level-high pitch; and the command, Catch him! which begins high and ends low. Both word stress and sentence stress occur in English. However, emphasis of certain words within a sentence is optional. Tonal languages, such as Chinese and Swedish, have a system of high:low and/or rising:falling tones. Duration or length of sounds (quantity) is used in some languages to create systematic differences. No language uses all three types of accentual systems. In writing, accent is also used to show syllable stress as in Spanish María (acute accent) and Italian pietà (grave accent). Such written symbols, misleadingly termed accents, are often used only to signal specific pronunciation rather than stress, as in French élève. The word accent in English is also understood to mean the pronunciation and speech patterns that are typical of a speech community; it also denotes the particular manner of uttered expression that lends a special shade of meaning, as when one speaks in harsh or gentle accents. See also ablaut and phonetics.