‘Is there an Asian American accent?’: Viral video sparks discussion

‘Is there an Asian American accent?’: Viral video sparks discussion‘Is there an Asian American accent?’: Viral video sparks discussion
via @etymologynerd
A TikTok user has sparked an online conversation about the “Asian American accent.”
Key points:
  • TikToker @Etymologynerd, who describes himself on X as a “Harvard linguistics grad obsessed with word origins,” posted the video to his page on Sunday. His viral post has garnered more than 584,000 views at the time of this writing.
  • He starts the video by asking viewers, “Is there an Asian American accent?” He then shares how his Asian American friends told him that they can “hear” Asian American accents, noting, “there is substantial evidence that listeners can identify ‘Asian sounding’ voices at a rate higher than chance.”
The details:
  • In his video, Etymologynerd raises the notion that “nobody can quite identify what it is that makes someone sound Asian American.” He adds that “phonetic research also struggles to identify a single explanation.”
  • He then proceeds to highlight some of the past studies on the subject, including those from the University of Pennsylvania, Simon Fraser University and City University of New YorkQueens College.
  • Citing those studies, he mentions in the video some possible explanations for identifying Asian American accents, such as the tendency for Asian Americans to have a “higher pitch contour” or “breathier articulation.”
  • Even with those possible explanations, the TikTok user points out that there are “so many” variations within the Asian American community, listing factors such as where they live, where their family is from, and how long they have been living in the United States.
  • “So maybe we’re asking the wrong question by treating the Asian American community as a linguistic monolith, when in reality, it is composed of a bunch of very diverse, different languages,” he says.
How people reacted:
  • Many Asian Americans under Etymologynerd’s TikTok post found his video relatable, as some of them have also been told that they have an accent. “I’ve been told I have an Asian American accent even tho I can only speak English and my mom’s first language is English,” one comment read.
  • One TikTok user wrote in their comment how they noticed Asians and Latinos from the Bay Area “have an Asian American accent even tho(sic) I can only speak English and my mom’s first language is English.”
  • “I’ve noticed this among my Korean-American friends as well as Korean-American K-pop idols,” another TikTok user wrote. “Even if they’re fluent in English they still have a distinctive cadence to their speech.”
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