Watching TV could change your accent

Issued: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 16:22:00 GMT

Researchers at Glasgow interested in how television viewing affects language found that engaged watching of the television soap EastEnders is altering certain features of the Scottish accent.

The linguists have found two particular features of pronunciation typically associated with London English that are becoming increasingly apparent in the Glaswegian dialect among people who regularly watched the television soap.

‘Our study shows that the programmes that we watch on television can help to accelerate changes in aspects of language which are also well below the level of conscious awareness,’ says Jane Stuart-Smith, Professor of Phonetics at Glasgow and lead researcher on the project.

‘In particular, this study was investigating why certain linguistic factors that are normally found within the Cockney dialect in London were gradually entering into Glaswegian. Although this trend was apparent in people who had contact with friends or family living in London, there was a stronger effect for people who had strong psychological engagement with characters in EastEnders.’

However, the study also found that simply being exposed to television is not enough to cause accent change; for someone’s speech to alter, they need to watch the show regularly and become emotionally engaged with the characters.

Television and other forms of popular media constitute only one of many factors that help accelerate language change. Other more powerful factors, such as social interaction between peers, have a much stronger effect on language change, according to this study. 

‘We don’t properly understand the mechanisms behind these changes, but we do see that the impact of the media is weaker than that of actual social interaction,’ says Professor Stuart-Smith. ‘We need many more studies of this kind in order to appreciate properly the influence of television and other popular media on language change.’

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