Accents can mean big business. Photo by Unlisted Sightings (Flickr (CC)).
When examining linguistic variety within a single language, the inevitable distinction between accents comes up. In English, there are a multitude of different accents, stretching across all parts of the globe. These accents do not have to be from nations that have citizens whose first language is English. On the contrary, those with English as a second language are often identified by nationality via their accent. Here’s a quick mental example: Think about how someone from France would sound if they spoke in English. If you’ve ever heard someone with French as their first language and English as a second language, then a very distinct idea of what they would sound like comes to mind. It’s a subtle identifying mark in that you can’t see, but as soon as someone opens their mouth to speak, perceptions begin to form.
There is a booming industry built upon accent modification, particularly for English language learners wishing to sound more “American.” A quick Google search brings up over 18 million hits, with an abundance of companies offering services at the top of the search. Clearly, there is something to be said about how we view ourselves and others when we speak with an accent.
In the media, and all popular forms of media, there tend to be areas with a glut of cultural exports: Dramas from South Korea, Action films from Hong Kong, Art from Germany and France, Pop music from America, etc. One very fascinating medium for leisure is video games. While many games traditionally came from Japan, more and more are coming from America. Technology has given us more storage space for games, so where the medium once relied heavily on in-game texts to tell a story, more and more the industry uses voice-overs and voice actors to give their characters life. It’s an expectation for many big titles these days. One thing we might not think about immediately is how our character sounds.
Both Kotaku and Pop Matters recently reported on the idea of carefully selected accents for English voice acting in video games. The issue for American made games, and games from abroad that get localized, is that they tend to get voice acting recorded in America. As such, the heroes tend to have American accents. The specifically point out Final Fantasy XIII and its use of Australian accents to distinguish between two very different groups in that world, as well as the use of stereotypical “foreign” voices in Dragon Age. The article says this all points to American ethnocentrism, with the acting in these games purposely designed to elevate the American accent.
This goes to show you the power of identity in language use, and this particular examination is a fascinating one. I myself have played through Final Fantasy XIII and noticed the accents, but did not look at them beyond face value. I think the articles bring up many interesting points that could serve as a topic of study for sociolinguists in the future.