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In yesterday's Dilbert , Dogbert has a typically clever/evil idea:

The strip's second row:

But I'm not at all sure that his premise is valid. Different audiences have different moral and intellectual stereotypes for different accents, and so the audience impact is hard to predict, and is not necessarily positive.

Update — as Dan Curtin points out in the comments, this is an old joke:

Update #2, from Kent McKeever — "A psychologist tries to explain why Lindsay Lohan changed her accent", NY Post 11/7/2016:

Last week, when videos of Lindsay Lohan speaking with a bizarre blend of accents notably different from her signature Long Island-bred rasp surfaced, it seemed like the internet collectively voiced its puzzlement. Lohan herself didn’t offer any explanations, but didn’t flinch from the attention either — in a tweet, she proposed that her accent be called “Lilohan,” and has referred to her “new accent” more than once in the days since, even saying that she was going to sell charity benefit T-shirts in its honor.  

She’s said her new vocal inflection is a result of “most of the languages I can understand or am trying to learn,” but hasn’t fessed up as to why she suddenly manifested the new blend.

See also:


Update #3 — Roger Lustig directs us to Dan Nosowitz, "Are 'Semester Abroad Accents' Real or Fake?", Atlas Obscura 11/29/2016.


  1. bks said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 8:18 am

    My high school public speaking teacher claimed that Americans believe anything spoken with a proper British accent.

  2. Tim Williams said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 8:29 am

    And when I was at school in Brookline for a few months in 1967, my mother who has a faint Dutch accent was regarded as Irish and the other kids at school used to ask me to say "I parked my car in Harvard Yard" just to hear my British accent.

  3. Joseph Center said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 9:00 am

    Does this have anything to do with why judges and juries are more likely to trust an attorney with a lulling Southern drawl to, for example, a stringent Yankee accent?

  4. D.O. said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 9:15 am

    Guys, those are all L1 accents. And premise of the strip does not make sense either. If your L1 language is not English then you don't get brownie points for learning English. Anyone knows English (right?) and if you happen to be raised in some other language community that's cool, but you got it for free. The idea was to feign native English speaker's knowledge of a foreign language and this cannot be done by assuming an accent.

  5. Bartleby said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 9:24 am

    I have always said that I don't want to learn French; I want to learn to speak English with a French accent. Probably because when a woman speaks English with a French accent, it makes me swoon.

  6. Bartleby said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 9:27 am

    @DO: The point is that if you speak English with a foreign accent–say, a French accent–people will assume that you are a native speaker of French who also knows English. And they'll be suitably impressed.

  7. Ellen Kozisek said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 10:08 am

    I suspect that the impression people have of someone speaking English with a foreign language accent depends on the accent in question. I suspect RP-ish accents (is there a proper term for this sort of ESL accent?), and people with them, tend to be perceived differently than people with Spanish-speaker accents. I suppose a matter of perceived social class.

  8. Dan Curtin said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 10:15 am

    Old joke, but a good one : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDg7OI9q6LU

  9. MattF said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 11:02 am

    Actually, many years ago, there was a guy at my workplace who was a native English speaker– but who spoke with an unidentified but apparently foreign accent. People were not impressed by that.

  10. Theophylact said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

    I have a friend — born in the US (South Carolina, I believe) who has a Greek surname and speaks with a pronounced Greek accent. As far as I know, she doesn't speak Greek. Her parents certainly did, though.

    A former colleague, born in Germany, raised partly in a DP camp in France post-war, came to the US at age eight or so. He knows hardly a word of German; indeed, he failed his German language exam in the Princeton Chemistry PhD program several times. He speaks with a pronounced German accent, of which he is completely unaware.

  11. Julian said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 2:12 pm

    I'm not falling for Adams' nonsense. His premise is wrong: people do not in general think you're smarter if you speak accented English. It's the opposite. Maybe if you ask them straight-up "do you think X is smart" they might agree, the studies I have seen are inconclusive as to whether that's actually the case or not, but in practice they are less likely to take what you're saying seriously if you speak with an accent.

  12. Terry Hunt said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 4:34 pm

    Julian said,
    "I'm not falling for Adams' nonsense . . . ."
    The nonsense in question is Dogbert's (as Prof Liberman correctly stated at the outset). Adams characteristically depicts Dogbert as the proposer of clever-sounding but fraudulent policies and schemes designed to victimise hapless employees or fleece the unwary. I don't think there's any suggestion that Adams believes the premise himself.

  13. Rubrick said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

    Is brilliant! I am very much to be impressed!

  14. Karl Weber said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 5:48 pm

    Any fan of the work of Andrew Sachs, who sadly passed away this week, can vouch for the fraudulence of Dogbert's premise. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/arts/television/andrew-sachs-hapless-waiter-on-the-bbc-sitcom-fawlty-towers-dies-at-86.html?_r=0

  15. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

    Made me think of this:

    EFL on "Smack the pony"

  16. Jason said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 6:16 pm


    Did you work with Tommy Wiseau, by any chance?

  17. Roger Lustig said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 6:25 pm

    Ripped from today's headlines: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/are-semester-abroad-accents-real-or-fake?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=keywee&kwp_0=283528&kwp_4=1093723&kwp_1=507761

  18. mark dowson said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 9:04 pm

    The British TV comedy series "Allo, Allo" set in occupied France, depended in large part on British actors assuming bad fake French and German accents, and in the case of some escaping British airmen, extremely faulty versions of the fake French accents. Plenty episodes are on Youtube, for example at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OQebCws61E#t=764.152016

  19. richardelguru said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 7:18 am

    @ bks
    Not only that, but Americans tend to think that British speakers are really intelligent—I've lived off my RP here vor 30-odd yesars!

    Indeed I have an old Dilbert pinned to my wall that has the Pointy-Headed Boss complaining that he thought he'd hired a genius, but it turned out to be an ordinary guy faking a British accent.

  20. richardelguru said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 7:19 am

    "vor 30-odd yesars!"???
    And that proves that it's just an illusion.

  21. KeithB said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 11:40 am

    This also confused me on "Hogan's Hero's" (I know, I know). Given all the commando activities they all must have had flawless German with no accent, yet AFAICT, they were all native American, English or French speakers.

  22. Paul Kay said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 1:35 pm

    I am reminded of the late and much missed Robert Austerlitz, Columbia U. linguist and virtuoso polyglot, who used to say when asked how many languages he spoke, "Fisteen lengvitch I spick. Anglitch da bess!"

  23. Rube said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 3:49 pm

    @KeithB: Thanks to "Hogan's Heroes", I'm pretty sure that I was way older than I should have been before I realized that Germans don't speak English with thick German accents among themselves.

  24. Alan Gunn said,

    December 8, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    Quite a while ago (40+ years?), Art Buchwald wrote an amusing column in which he claimed that Henry Kissinger was really a guy named Henry K. Singer from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that the accent was put on to make him seem intellectual. Nonsense, of course, but I have seen a serious claim that an upper-class English accent is worth several thousand dollars a year in salary for a faculty member at a US college. Probably nonsense, too; hard to see how anyone could determine that even if it is true.

  25. Terry Hunt said,

    December 9, 2016 @ 4:35 am

    Re Hogan's Heroes: one could rationalise that the Germans thought that they were all Bavarians or Austrians.

    (Atrtributed to Otto von Bismark: "A Bavarian is a cross between an Austrian and a human being.")

    (My father to an Austrian border guard when entering from Germany: "I'm sorry, I don't speak German."
    Austrian guard: "That's all right, neither do I.")

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