More than once, since moving to Georgia, has my loving husband pointed out the more pronounced twang in my voice. He jests without offense, but it certainly isn’t the first time someone has pointed out my wandering accent. Sometimes I wonder if my voice is a lost hitchhiker without any true roots. Even my childhood has a few scattered cringe-worthy moments where my voice would slip into foreign inflection. What once brought me flush-faced embarrassment in my childhood continues to follow me into adulthood. Lovely.
After we moved to this beautiful southern state, we started making friends. It came to no surprise that their heart-melting southern draw would affect my own vocal intonation. The rest of my family doesn’t seem influenced by the local speech at all. In fact, I still can’t figure out my husband’s accent to this day. The only time his New York accent comes out is when he’s upset or talking to family up in the Big Apple. I already knew I had a wandering accent, but I wanted to know why. Thankfully, Google did not fail me. A wandering accent or the chameleon effect is a nonconscious adaption to social or geographical settings. It goes deeper than just mimicking accents though it’s not to be confused with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a serious disorder that is typically caused by very serious health problems or traumatic brain injury.
Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS)
There are numerous accounts of FAS throughout the world. One unfortunate case happened during World War II when a Norwegian woman was hit by shrapnel from an air raid. She woke with a German accent and eschewed by neighbors because they thought she was a spy. Another FAS case occurred in 1999 when an American woman suffered a stroke that left her with a British accent. Each incident has varied recovery, but almost all of them are caused by accidents or severe health complications. Although foreign accent syndrome and a wandering accent are both nonconscious, their causes are extremely different.
May I borrow your accent?
A study by Chartrand and Bargh suggests that, “… the chameleon effect is the mechanism behind mimicry and behavioral coordination and thereby is the source of the observed smoother social interactions …” To simplify, mimicking other’s behaviors, including accents, to appeal to them. When in Rome, right? Although part of me has always felt like a phony for accidentally adopting accents, this new shift in perspective makes sense. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told, “You’re so easy to talk to” or, “I feel like I can tell you anything.” As much as I joke about being an introvert, I’m truly a people person. I can talk to almost anyone about anything. The bottom line is I like you and, subconsciously, I want you to like me too. Who doesn’t want people to like them?
We aren’t entirely weird
Those of us with vagabond vocals can breathe a sigh of relief. We may be weird, and we may have many more embarrassing moments to look forward to, but at least we know we aren’t phonies. More than that, we might consider careers in music, or acting, or even voiceovers! The ability to bounce our voices around as we do is actually a coveted talent. But if you’re like me, and can’t sing nor act, we can just stick to our day jobs and entertain family and friends with humorous impersonations.