How our brain controls our accent

Thanks to Tom Robb

Coogan vs. Brydon in Epic Michael Caine-off

Why do some people hold on to their accents all their lives while others drop them overnight? Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist from University College London, has spent 16 years researching speech: how we formulate words, how we come by our accents and how we decode what is being said to us.

To help her understand how our brain negotiates the complex task of talking, Professor Scott has enlisted the help of the television impressionist Duncan Wisbey, a regular on Alistair McGowan’sBig Impression and the voice of Migo on the Fimbles spin-off, theRoly Mo Show. By scanning Wisbey’s brain she discovered that much more of the brain is involved in talking and learning speech than researchers previously thought. The results will be presented at a public event in London next week as part of Brain Awareness week.

Professor Scott speaks in a soft southern accent, despite growing up in Lancashire. “There are so many things that can influence why we have an accent; for example, how your parents spoke and how much you identify with your parents,” she says. She hopes that by working out how impressionists use their brains to learn to mimic people, new techniques could be developed and used by speech therapists to help patients with communication problems. “We’re going to look at the brain anatomy of people who have voice artist skills to see if parts of their brains are slightly larger than people who haven’t got these skills,” she says. “I want to find out why some people are better at doing accents than others.” You meet some people who never seem to have lost their accent, while other people seem to change theirs at the drop of a hat.”

But does Professor Scott think that different accents affect our brains in different ways? Possibly. Although the same brain areas would be activated whether we were speaking in a Yorkshire or Welsh accent, the areas may be activated to different degrees. “Some accents stress different properties of speech production. Some make you use a different range, intonation or rhythm. Others make you move your mouth in a different way,” she says.

Read the whole of this interesting article by Jacqui Thornton here timesonline

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