Adult speech changing over time

Charles Wells charles at FREUDE.COM
Sat Mar 10 14:06:06 UTC 2001

"Linguists have usually assumed that pronuciation is fixed by early
adulthood, and I have not previously seen studies of changes over time in
the speech of adults."

I am not a linguist (I am a retired mathematics professor) but have paid
attention to language since I was a child.  I have anecdotal evidence that
adult speech does indeed change over time.

(1) In the early '70's I went to a math meeting and met a mathematician
from Louisiana who spoke with a remarkably thick southern accent that
sounded to me like Alabama or Mississippi.  (I am a native of Atlanta.)  I
changed specialties in mathematics and did not meet him again until two
years ago, giving me a kind of fast forward on his speech patterns.  His
speech had moved a long way toward a sort of generalized Southern.

(2) In the 70's I met a native American woman who had married a Swiss
farmer in her twenties.  When I met her she had lived on the Swiss farm
(outside Zurich) for about ten years and had had little opportunity to
speak English.  She had a noticeable Zurideutsch accent.  (Zurichers speak
English with an accent all their own, not like other German speakers.)

(3) I grew up in Atlanta and Savannah, but went into the service at age 18
and then went to Oberlin College.  Since then, except for three years, I
have lived in Ohio.  My southern relatives claim I have a Yankee accent.
(Ohioans claim I have a southern accent.)

I suspect that some adults' speech patterns are far more malleable than
others.  I know a lady from Alabama in her eighties who has lived in
Michigan most of her adult life who still speaks with a strong Alabama
(Birmingham area) accent.  In my younger years, I knew many mathematicians
who had left Germany because of Hitler (now many are dead), and some spoke
English with far more of an accent than others.  A couple of them told me
in their later years that it had become quite hard for them to give a
mathematics lecture in German.

Charles Wells
Linguist wannabe

Charles Wells, 105 South Cedar St., Oberlin, Ohio 44074, USA.
email: charles at
home phone: 440 774 1926.
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