• Question: how do our speech patterns change with different people?

    Asked by izziedempster to Ioannis, Carolyn on 10 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Carolyn McGettigan

      Carolyn McGettigan answered on 10 Jan 2018:

      Speech can have different patterns, from the way speech is pronounced (even within the same accent: do you say *either* as “eether” or “ayther”?), to the words we choose (sofa, couch or settee?), and the way we order those words into sentences (“What age are you?” vs “How old are you?”).

      The patterns we use are influenced by many factors. There are strong influences of the context in which we first learn to speak. For example, someone who learns French in early childhood will have a different set of speech sounds, words and grammatical rules than someone who learned English. In our early years, we have the capacity to learn multiple languages and sound native in them all, but the older we get (from our teens on!), the more “fixed” the sound of our speech will be by the languages we learned first. Within English, different people might have different accents and choices of words depending on where they grew up, and who was around them when they were learning to speak.

      The sounds and patterns of someone’s speech can change throughout their lifetime. Starting school can have a big impact, because our peers are so influential on lots of our behaviours. Moving to another place can affect your accent, at any time of life. Some people will even choose to deliberately change the way they speak to fit with trends.

      But our voices and speech also vary from moment to moment – think about how you might speak differently with your friends, to a pet, to a little baby, or to a teacher. We have really flexible control over what we say, and how, depending on the setting we’re in: I’ve been studying this in my lab, using the MRI scanner to investigate which brain regions help.