Customer: “I would like a cauffee (kɔfi in IPA) please”
Barista: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you want”
Customer: “Didn’t ya hear me the first time, I would like a coffee (kɔfi)
Barista: “Oh, a coffee (kafi)”
Accents are prominent in many languages. Obviously, as you have seen in the previous example, some accents can be completely unintelligible. For me, cawffee or kɔfi in IPA was a word I couldn’t understand until I learned about accents as a subcategory in Linguistics. The accent I was aiming to imitate in the example was the Boston accent. So how did coffee become cawffee? Or was cawffee the “proper” way to say it originally?
In American English, there are 31 major unique dialects (for most examples going forward, I will use English, as it is the language I am most knowledgeable on). When we talk about accents, it is crucial to note what a dialect is, as an accent is a subcategory of a dialect. In this blog, I aim to share the similarities and differences of an accent and a dialect.
A dialect and an accent both are subcategories of a language. Different dialects change the grammar and spelling of certain words. In other words, you can say that a dialect is a version of a language. Dialects can add a whole new set of vocabulary that may not be used by other speakers of the same language who have a different dialect. In the English Language, the most common dialect is the southern dialect. A common term that is used only by the people who speak this dialect is “ope”. This word represents an expression of surprise, and is used in most conversations between people who speak the southern dialect. However, to Californians like me, this word is not in our lexicon (vocabulary). That being said, the line between a language and a dialect is not clearly defined. Some lines are drawn geographically. For example, the people in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden can all understand each other, however, they speak separate languages — Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish respectively. On the other hand, many Chinese dialects are unintelligible to each other, even though they technically speak the same language.
An accent is the way people say certain words. While they have different phonetic pronunciations, different accents do not vary in grammar and spelling. A person with the Boston accent of English will say the word coffee as “cawffee” or kɔfi, however when written the word will still be spelled “coffee”. The grammar of the Boston accent is also tantamount to the grammar of the Northern Californian accent.
You may have noticed some unique letters in this blog when I wrote out coffee in IPA. You may even be wondering what IPA is. The next blog will be about phonetics and the IPA (international phonetic alphabet)