Isolated Antarctic Workers’ Shared Accent Explains Weird Tongue-Tied Lockdown Voice
Research into how accents change when people are isolated has explained why our voices may alter because of lockdowns.
In 2017, Jonathan Harrington, a linguist at the University of Munich, studied 11 people who had been working in Antarctica. They were required to say words like cooed, food and queued.
These words were designed to highlight what happens to language when groups of people are separated from the rest of society. The results of this study have now been used to give insight into why people are coming out of lockdown with slightly different accents.
In Harrington’s study, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, they found that the 11 people who were isolated in Antarctica for four months had slight changes to the way they use language. While most people wouldn’t notice significant accent changes, signs of a new accent were found by a linguistic specialist. This was done by focusing on how people pronounced vowel sounds.
You can’t hear the differences very well because they are so small, but you can measure them.
The linguist had not anticipated finding anything from the study, but the changes they found highlighted how quickly speech can change. Given this evidence, which showed accents changing in a different way to how they would in populated continents, more insight can now be gathered.
In fact, Harrington has noted that villages left isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic in northern Italy may have already seen their accents change from the rest of the country:
If you had a situation which they had in northern Italy, where you had villages which were isolated from the rest of the country for a long period of time, then they would actually start to show signs of developing their own accent.
This could explain why your voice has changed over the period of lockdowns, and could be a sign that you need to speak to more people.
Looking forward, Harrington also had some thoughts about studying Mars colonies:
If they ever really decided to colonize another planet, like Mars, we’d be right in there wanting to study that. They would develop a Martian accent. Can you imagine that?
It may be some time before Harrington gets to carry out a study on a Martian accent, but it is an interesting thought. The fact that Elon Musk is pushing populating Mars could mean that everyone on the red planet would end up with an accent as weird as the business magnate.
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