I've bee thinking a lot about accents this last week. There's an old film on television at the moment with a striking array of bizarre affected accents and this week in some of my classes we discussed the origin of language but how difficult it is to pinpoint how accents came about.
I tend to think I don't really have an accent of my own-my voice is neutral with a slightly American lilt to it (which I am less than fond of). However I have a strong propensity for picking up or imitating accents. If I spend any time with someone who has a strong accent-or a mild one at that-I'll start to speak in a similar tone without really meaning to. Apparently this is a psychological instinct ingrained in me (imitating accents or behaviours-deliberately or not-is a way to convince people of your similarity to them).
It really baffled my mind to try to work out why accents exist though.. especially in countries where the language is the same- living in Dublin there's a marked difference in accents from one side of the city to the other! Yet by logic there is no real reason for these differences in accent. My brothers and I live in the same house and we have different accents.
As a language student accents are of particular importance to me-throughout school I spent a lot of time being driven mad by French and Spanish spoken with a pronounced Dalkey accent-incomprehensible to anyone who actually spoke the language!
While in Spain I was asked if I was from a different area of Spain as my Spanish wasn't spoken with the southern accent prominent in Cadiz (at least I was convincing enough to sound Spanish!).
Sound is supposed to be one of the strongest memory triggers-even stringer than visual stimulants-meaning that a person's tone, accent and rhythm of talking are an essential part of how we form an attachment to them and remember them. Most people have certain accents that they can't stand and others that appeal to them most delectably! I find particularly harsh British accents awful to listen to but love the sound of the northern Irish accent. It's similar to how people find some languages lovely to listen to and others harsh. I love the sound of German (though I find it a little on the funny side!) but found the forcefulness of Korean wearing when I was studying it.
To my mind I just have to presume that accents are just another manifestation of the supreme variation of the human race in its many-splendoured uniqueness!