Musing on accent accommodation

All this reading of Diane Duane novels reminded me of something I observed a while ago. Back in the summer of 2012, I heard, in relatively quick succession, recordings of two Americans living in the British Isles: a podcast interview with Duane, and a public lecture given by Lynne Murphy. Both are natives of New York (Duane from the city, Murphy from Upstate). Duane has lived in Ireland with her husband, Northern Irish novelist Peter Morwood, for a few decades now; Murphy got her Ph.D. in 1995 and worked in South Africa and Texas before settling at the University of Sussex; she is married to an Englishman. Yet Duane has by far the more recognizably American accent — her New York accent shines clearly through in the podcast interview, whereas Murphy’s voice sounds like several accents at war with each other, giving a result that sounds very British to this American and probably still sounds American to most British (or at least English) ears.

Not being a phoneticist or a dialectologist, I have no idea how this is normally explained. A few possibilities:

  • Audience: Duane was having a one-on-one interview with an American, but Murphy was lecturing to an audience of people from SE England.
  • Age at emigration: Murphy was younger when she left the U.S. for South Africa.
  • Local context: Irish accents are generally rhotic and have other features that may make them less unlike American accents than urban English accents are, so Americans accommodate less when in Ireland than in England.
  • Strength of original accent: Perhaps New York accents are just stronger, more resistant to change later in life, than Inland North accents as found around the Great Lakes region. (I believe Murphy grew up near Rochester, New York, on the edges of the region where the Northern Cities Shift is taking place.)

The Diane Duane interview was from Wired’s Geekdad blog. Lynne Murphy’s lecture was for TEDxSussexUniversity (YouTube video). Do you agree?

UPDATE: Lynne Murphy tweeted in response a suggestion that being a professional lecturer in England probably has something to do with it as well. No doubt!

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