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How politics can shape a person’s accent

Linguists will tell you that how you speak—your accent, in particular—is influenced by where you’re from, how old you are, and even the TV shows you watch. However, a new report finds that (for politicians, at least) political affiliations can also play a subtle role. A team of researchers in Edinburgh analyzed more than 10 hours of speech from Scottish members of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, measuring the acoustic qualities of their vowels and examining what factors could explain broad differences. The strongest correlations were found, not from social class or where the speakers grew up, but from political party, the researchers reported recently in Language Variation and Change. Members of the Scottish National Party (SNP), for example, pronounced the vowel found in words such as “cat” and “that” lower in their mouths compared with Scottish members from the Labour Party. (You can see what it sounds like in this video.) This lowered “cat” vowel has been associated in past studies with anti-institutional attitudes in Scotland, which could help explain its adoption among members of the pro-independence SNP. The findings support previous research on how even small linguistic differences can indicate political affiliation—and help form identities.