Our Various Accents


Irish landscape

Once again it’s time for us to connect through this means. This month I am looking at accents, and you may wonder what that is all about.  Accents are a part of linguistics, something  I’m keenly interested in. I once taught a course in linguistics; I find the topic fascinating.

Some people like to identify types of trees, others stars, and still others rocks. I like to identify accents. I listen for them and tune in when I hear a different one. Not long ago,  I heard the conductor of an outstanding university choir  make his opening remarks to the audience at a concert, and right away I said to myself, “Barbados, or Trinidad.” Then after a few more sentences,  he apologized for his “Trinidad habit of saying ‘the other day.’ ” I felt good, having spotted another accent.” While grocery shopping, I heard a distinctive accent near me in the aisle. I turned to one of the two women close by and said, “Bahamas!” She said,  “Yes,” and we had an enjoyable time talking about the islands.

I am not alone in this penchant for spotting accents. In one of my courses when I studied at the university, my professor brought in a linguist whose specialty was detecting accents, matching them to an individual’s place of origin. We all had to leave the classroom and one by one return to speak into a tape recorder. The visitor then played back our voices  and told (“guessed” would be a better word) where each of us was from. It is true that a particular accent can be the basis for some people to show bigotry,  discrimination,  and disdain for others, but that’s not where I’m going with this post. Accents have a more pleasant side.

“I love your accent,” people are prone to say when  they hear someone speaking in tones that are different from their own. We can run into these different sounds anywhere.  We tend to pay attention  when we encounter them outside of the  setting where everyone is used to sounding alike.  However, individuals may speak the same language but with a different sound, and so have a different accent.

You may hear someone say, “I don’t have an accent.” You, too, may think that you don’t have one, but everyone has an accent. Our accent is just as much a part of us as our arms and legs. Accents differ according to people groups, but a different language is not a different accent in and of itself. Speakers of French, Spanish, or German all have accents within their own language. The accent is the flavor of the individual’s or the group’s  way of speaking. It involves such things as the inflection of the voice, the pitch level, the placement of the emphasis or stress on particular syllables. Vocabulary furnishes the special words of a group of speakers, and the accent results from the way they say those words. The sound is what we hear and take away as part of that person. It is what others may find attractive or even “different” about us.  It can be a sweet cadence or a charming  lilt, or it can be harsh, grating,  and even off-putting.

Linguists can tell where a person is from by the individual’s accent, but it didn’t take a linguist to detect the disciple  Peter’s accent as he spoke and warmed himself by a fire the night  of Jesus’ trial. Right away a servant girl picked up on Peter’s  Galilean  accent and said so. He was trying to hide his identification with the Christ, but his accent gave him away. One of the persons in the group by the fire told Peter outright, “Your speech betrays you” (Matthew 25:73).

We might not be aware of this, but our lives have an accent all their own and radiate tones that others can detect.  Like Peter, we reveal our accent in our conversation,  but we also display it in our actions and in the attitude we project. It is that which comes across when we interact with others. This kind of accent doesn’t  tell where we’re from; it reveals the kind of person we are. We may not be able to control our accent when we speak, but the accent of our lives is  completely within our control. We should strive to make our life’s  accent minister grace to those among whom we live and work each day.





“I think we are wise, we English speakers, to savor accents.
They teach us things about our own tongue.
Anne Rice Merrick


  • Nanette Schell

    Dear Judith,
    You never cease to amaze me with your writings. You have known me for my accent for almost fifty years.
    Everything you say is true about my accent, no matter how hard I have tried to hide it I am unable to do so.
    Some times people have mistaken me for Australian as I become lazy in the way I pronounce words but I still manage to speak with that English accent especially over the phone. It is hard to disguise an accent and to others over seas I sound American.
    Of course, you have a beautiful accent and it gives you away as being Jamaican.
    Love, Nanette.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hi Nan,

      Your accent is distinctive and beautiful, and you have kept it intact over the years.
      Your life’s accent is also admirable, something to be proud of. Great hearing from you. JN

  • Ouida E. Westney

    I enjoyed reading this blog regarding accents. I particularly appreciated your having extended the concept beyond verbal accents to the comprehensive area of attitudinal and behavioral accents.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hello Ouida,

      I listen for all kinds of accents without being judgmental. The ones that matter most, as I noted in the blog,
      are the accents of our lives. I didn’t mention this in the post, but our life’s accents have much to do with
      our joy. Do you agree? What wee feel inside is accentuated on the outside. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • Jean Kingry

    Thinking I still have my Southern accent, though it is not as pronounced as it once was. Kinda like it, really, as it seems more warm to me than hooky!

    • Judith Nembhard

      Jean, your accent is just fine! Perfectly formed vowels and clear enunciation.
      At church last week, a young man visited and sat next to me in our study group.
      I nailed his accent right off. He was surprised.
      Can’t blame me for having a little fun, can you?
      Thanks for your comment. JN