South Scotland

How has Calvin Harris kept his accent?

Calvin Harris Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Calvin Harris has transferred his Scottish accent to Beverly Hills

The question surfaced - as they often do these days - on social media.

In terms which could not be used on the BBC website, it asked a poser about one of the south of Scotland's most famous sons.

To paraphrase, it said: "How has Calvin Harris retained his Dumfries accent but others move up to university for a couple of months and lose theirs?".

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Media captionCalvin Harris says he wanted to create an album of his "favourite singers and producers"

According to language experts, the question is an interesting one but without an "easy, one layered" answer.

Harris - born Adam Wiles - grew up and went to school in Dumfries and Galloway but his musical career quickly saw him move away and he is now mainly based in the United States.

And yet, when he speaks, it still sounds pretty familiar to most Doonhamers.

It is not uncommon, of course, for Scottish celebrities to see their accent put under the microscope.

Sheena Easton is often held up as an example of someone who quickly lost the sounds of her homeland while Sean Connery could be seen as the flipside of that -keeping his accent despite a multitude of roles demanding he play someone from outside Scotland.

But has Harris retained his accent and, if so, how might he have done so?

A question of pride?

Image copyright Billy McCrorie
Image caption The musician has not lived in the south of Scotland town for many years

Dr Sandra Jansen of the University of Leipzig, who specialises in sociolinguistics, said it could partly be a question of identity.

"Not every person changes their accent completely when they leave the place they grew up in," she told the BBC Scotland news website.

"One factor is how people identify themselves.

"When they identify as a person from a certain area, they might keep most of the accent they grew up with."

Certainly the DJ appears proud of his roots - recently offering to help staff losing their jobs at a fish factory where he once worked.

Another element at play might be how close contact you keep with people with your original accent.

"It's important to see who surrounds the person," said Dr Jansen.

"Is the person in constant contact with speakers with that accent? If so, it's likely that they will not lose the accent so quickly."

Getting ahead

Image caption His accent has certainly not held back Calvin Harris in the music business

There can also be career reasons for trying to alter the way we speak - or not.

"Another reason is when their accent is not stopping them from being successful," Dr Jansen added.

"Often people from the north of England try to sound southern when they move down south because of certain stereotypes that exist.

"Usually, Scottish English is associated with positive things and people in the US won't be able to identify that Calvin Harris is from Dumfries.

"He does not seem to have to tone down his accent to be understood by Americans and other native and non-native English speakers, this might play a role as well."

That is a view echoed by Dr Dominic Watt, senior lecturer in the department of language and linguistic science at the University of York.

"In some cases, people retain their accents because they don't feel any need to change them," he said.

"If the accent isn't stigmatised by anyone, and it doesn't seem to cause any comprehension issues, there's no pressure to modify it.

"People may even find that their accent is a boon because it's thought attractive in the new place."

Age factor

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The age that you leave an area is "extremely important" in terms of accent

But what about people who do pick up an accent when they move away?

"Some people do pick up accents easier than others," Dr Jansen said.

"However, most people will adopt some features from the place they've moved to after a while."

According to Prof Monika Schmid, head of the department of language and linguistics at the University of Essex, there are a number of reasons people pick up a new accent.

"I would argue very strongly that it is definitely not an affectation," she said.

"My hunch would be that it is mainly people who are - or would be - good at learning other languages who tend to pick up new accents.

"But there is probably also a lot there that has to do with issues of identity and, of course, the age at which you leave the area of origin is extremely important.

"If this is before puberty, the language or dialect is still very unstable and can be lost extremely quickly."

Dr Watt agreed age was a significant factor.

"There seems to be a cut-off round about age 10 to 11, after which it's really difficult to acquire the new accent in all its fine detail," he said.

'Dial it back'

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Image caption Experts say it would not be easy to maintain a "put on" accent when speaking casually and informally

However, he said that regardless of a speaker's age if there were "strong pressures to conform" in order to fit in then they might modify their accent - as he himself has done.

"I grew up in Edinburgh and lived in Aberdeenshire for several years before I moved here to York," he said.

"People now tell me there isn't much of a trace of a Scottish accent left in my speech, which isn't really true, but I imagine that I've dialled back on some of the pronunciations I would have used when living up in north east Scotland."

Prof Schmid said she would "very much doubt" many people could "put on" an accent for any length of time without it slipping.

"Putting on an accent requires monitoring yourself at a level that we do not normally do when we speak casually and informally," she explained.

"If the accent persists in such situations then it would be more natural to assume that the person's normal way of speaking has simply changed."

Although, she stressed, that did not mean they would be unable to slip back to their old accent.

Accent shifters

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dr Jansen said the musician sounded more Scottish when talking about Scotland

Dr Jansen said people might switch between accents depending who they are speaking to or the situation they are in.

"I've met lots of people who've had elocution lessons, especially northerners," she said.

"They are often perceived as 'posh' by others.

"However, in situations where people can't monitor themselves so much - for example in an emotional situation or when they are tired - they slip back into a broader accent.

"Mobile speakers might change parts of their accent depending on the situation," she added.

"Calvin Harris seems to sound more Scottish when he talks about Scotland but less Scottish when he talks about his successes."

So, it appears, the original question about accent is a complicated one to answer.

It depends on age, identity, pressures to conform and a range of other factors.

And, even for the Dumfries DJ it seems, it can still be affected by who he is speaking to and what is being discussed.

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