It has been reported in the news that there is growing concern that virtual assistant devices, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, may be causing a decline in regional accents. This claim seems to be backed up by a recent survey by The Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne which reported that 79% of people questioned admitted they altered the way they spoke in order to be understood by voice recognition assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana.
It is true that those with non-standard accents are likely to encounter more difficulty when interacting with their smart speakers, as the devices have been primarily programmed to understand southern Standard British English (Received Pronunciation), with Scottish speakers reporting extreme difficulty with being understood.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that we, as humans, often struggle with understanding different accents, especially when we are unfamiliar with them. It is likely then, that as technology moves on, virtual assistants will be able to understand a greater range of accents and dialects, meaning that users with regional accents will not have to amend their manner of speaking.
Furthermore, even with the current capabilities of virtual assistants today, it seems extremely unlikely that they pose any real threat to regional accents. Although the idea of non-RP accents being lost is an alarming one, it is extremely unlikely that our accents are going to suffer due to the existence of virtual assistants. Given that the vast majority of our day to day interactions are still going to be with other humans, modifying our accents a couple of times a day to ask Siri the weather, or to tell Alexa to turn on the TV, isn’t going to annihilate our regional accents.
In addition, the change in our speech when interacting with our voice recognition assistants really isn’t that great. The majority of us don’t begin to imitate the Queen whenever we are talking to our devices, we are much more likely to simply speak more slowly, loudly, and enunciate our words more clearly. Moreover, these changes in our speech are not exclusive to virtual assistants, we are likely to modify our speech when making phone calls, sitting in a job interview, or speaking to people who aren’t from our area.
It therefore seems very unlikely that a couple of seconds of interaction with a virtual assistant with a slightly altered speech pattern is going to do a great amount of damage to the accent we speak with constantly throughout the day.
We want to know your thoughts on this issue! Do you find yourself amending your accent when speaking to a voice recognition device? Do you think devices like Siri, Alexa or Google Home pose a credible threat to regional accents? Let us know on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin profiles!