Tag Archives: Skills

The Vanishing of Accents

Have you ever stopped to think about accents? I’m not talking about accents we use to create emphasis on syllables or words, but in terms of the way a specific nation pronounces a language. It’s important to note that accents aren’t the same as dialects. An accent is all about how people sound. A dialect encompasses the idea of accents, but it extends farther by touching on the particular grammar a person uses when talking. A great example is the word “y’all”, which tends to be used by Southerners in the United States. The use of the word “y’all” would be a Southern dialect, while the word “southern” is the accent.



Simple enough, right? The world has many languages so it’s only reasonable that we have many accents. But did you ever stop to wonder why a German girl singing “I Will Always Love You” doesn’t sound any different (accent wise) from an american singing “I Will Always Love You”?  In the video from the link above, Laura, a little girl from Germany, appears to have an American accent while she sings. However, this is not the case. If you had talented singers from around the world singing the same American song, and you were unable to visually see them, it would probably be quite hard, to nearly impossible to figure out which voice was from where. This is all because of phonetics, and how singing causes two main things to occur: a change in our vocal cord’s air pressure, and the pace of our delivery.

A person’s accent is lost by the slower paced delivery of the song, which causes one’s accent to turn neutral. Accents, for the most part, disappear when singing. David Crystal, a linguist from Northern Ireland, explains that our intonations and rhythm of speech are removed while singing. A song’s melody causes the rises and falls of our voice to disappear (intonations) while the beat of the music causes the systematic arrangement of speech to disappear (rhythm). Furthermore, songs have accented syllables (no pun intended) that require the singer to elongate vowel sounds. This same neutralizing effect happens with air pressure as well. A singer’s whole quality of sound is altered by the expanding of enlarged air passages.


Despite recognizing that accents don’t usually come through in songs, some people still argue that singers are getting rid of their accent on purpose. Discourse & Communication researcher Andy Gibson, from Auckaland University of Technology in New Zealand, disagreed. He explained that neutralizing the accent simply comes more natural than anything else. In a study he conducted, singers with accents when speaking weren’t even aware that any change was occurring in their voice, but there were very few cases where vowels they sung matched the vowels they spoke.

So why is it, then, that little Laura appears to have points in the song that sound less like an American accent? We can assume this is similar to Gibson’s study. While his participants had very few moments that their vowel sounds while singing matched up with their vowel sounds while speaking, they still had instances where their accent snuck through. In fact, it’s actually harder for a singer to attempt to retain their accent while singing, though some still do this anyways.


Thinking about all of this makes me wonder about how kids differ from adults once again. We established in class that kids make all of the sounds in speech, regardless of their native language, which enables them to learn languages more easily than adults. Does that make it easier for kids like Laura to have their accents disappear when singing, even if they can’t actually speak the other language? In my mind, kids would be better at imitating the musical notes; therefore, able to neutralize their voices more effectively. Perhaps, though, this would only occur for those kids who were musically inclined.

How do you know if a child has good language skills before they even understand language?

Language is arguably one of the most important cognitive abilities humans have. It is what allows us to communicate with one and other, convey emotions, and express emotions. That is why for cognitive psychology finding out what can impair a child’s ability to perform language skills is very important. The University of Chicago did a study to see if there are any indicators of future problems with learning language skills. First they looked at children from different economic statuses. In general, they found that economic status did not have an impact on future language capabilities. Although, they did find that how children learned language was different depending on their economic status. Then, they looked to see if they could predict language learning skills in infants based on the gestures they make. They videotaped children with their primary caregivers and were able to see that early gestures can be used to identify children with brain injuries that could lead to delay in language. The researchers also used what they saw to develop four hypotheses on language and learning development: early gestures can be a diagnostic for language delay, encouraging gestures can lead to children having a larger vocabulary when they start school, Diversified vocabulary use by caregivers can help children gain vocabulary and syntax, Specific word use can increase children’s understanding of numerical and special thinking. I think this article is interesting because it shows the importance of cognitive psychological study in the real world. It would make a huge difference in a child’s life if they can be identified as at risk of slow language learning before they can talk, this would allow them to get the help need immediately and not fall behind. Also, it would benefit any child if their parents understand the way to help them gain additional, more complex, language skills

Ice and Snow, Take it Slow

We may have all at some point had to drive in dangerous weather conditions. Of course your parents, colleagues, and friends tell you “Be careful! The roads aren’t safe today,” so you can be extra aware of your surroundings when driving then you are on a normal day. But do we really change our driving when it’s snowing, raining, sleeting, or icy outside? Do we even have the skills to drive in such conditions?

According to the  Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Zlatan Krizan of Iowa State University, people have a tendency to overestimate their skills. They wrote an article in the Perspectives on Psychological Science about this phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we’re more likely to overestimate how good we are at a task when we’re not very skilled at it. Of course this doesn’t just have to be related to driving, but it’s more problematic that we are unaware of our ability to drive in winter conditions. Our overconfidence in our driving abilities can lead to damaging or fatal car crashes where on a normal day could have just been a fender bender.

Another link to why we cognitively think we are better drivers in the snow and rain than we actually are because of misleading memories. Zell and Krizan said “people are far more accurate about assessing their skills when they receive accurate feedback, but drivers rarely receive any formal or official feedback about their driving.” Therefore, they rely on their memories of past experiences when driving which may be biased by memory decay and the desire to remember one’s performances positively.misleading memory againmisleading memory

This Dunning-Kruger effect can also be linked to statistical car accidents. Forbes did can article on the “Most Dangerous Times to Drive” and one of the in depth topics was about driving in dangerous weather conditions. Researchers at Berkeley  found that fatal crashes were 14% more likely to happen on the first snowy day of the season compared with later ones. Makes sense right? We think we are skilled drivers so we drive on the first snow day thinking “I can do this no problem.” Then we get in an accident because we are overconfident and overestimated our driving skills.

So next time you think you’re an excellent driving and you can just drive normally in the snow, ice, and rain, rethink that because you probably aren’t as skilled as you think you are. If you really have to drive in such conditions, take it slow, be aware of your surroundings, and remember your driving skills are most likely not good enough to drive in dangerous weather conditions.