What does ACCENT mean in American English?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Sep 15 00:45:08 UTC 2001

>True enough, but what I was looking at (out of the full discourse
>context, to be sure) was not just "accent" but "I don't like her
>accent", which I think for most speakers represents quite a different
>environment than "the accent is on participation".

Certainly the quotation as read would seem to refer to "accent" in sense #3
in the AHD4:

<<3. A characteristic pronunciation, especially: a. One determined by the
regional or social background of the speaker. b. One determined by the
phonetic habits of the speaker's native language carried over to his or her
use of another language.>>

It is not so clear (to me) whether it refers to (a) or to (b).

When I was in college, I heard many complaints from classmates about the
instructors' "accents", and I don't remember a case where the reference was
to social or political implications: the complaint generally was simply
that a "strong" Indian/Russian/Filipino/whatever "accent" made the
lecture/discussion partially incomprehensible. In some cases, I think
"accent" subsumes grammatical peculiarities along with "foreign"
pronunciations, in this sort of casual usage.

-- Doug Wilson

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