Department or Program

Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Angela C. Carpenter


When individuals immigrate to another country, they are frequently exposed to a new linguistic environment. As a result of this exposure, individuals often modify their personal accent to reflect the linguistic environment. This phenomenon of accent acquisition occurs frequently in our multicultural world, but has not been widely researched. Jamaican Creole, known also as Patwa, is spoken to some extent by the majority of Jamaicans and has a close linguistic relationship with Standard American English (SAE). Through oral and written interviews with six Jamaican immigrants living in the United States, this study examines the accent acquisition of SAE from Patwa. The study considers four phonological features that occur differently in Patwa and SAE and that have different levels of phonological complexity. I hypothesized that the participants’ acquisition of the SAE accent would be correlated with their length of residency in the U.S., their gender, their motivation for immigration, and their self-reported native language. I also predicted that less complex phonological features would be acquired more fully than more complex phonological features. Overall, I found evidence that strongly supports that all the participants acquired the SAE accent to some extent; none of the participants exhibited all the phonological features of Patwa but neither did they have all the phonological features of SAE. I argue for a plateau effect of acquisition wherein participants undergo an initial period of accent acquisition, which then levels out to an incomplete acquisition of SAE. After accents are deemed acceptable by SAE standards, further accent acquisition is not required. This study also raises concerns about the process of determining phonological complexity, as well as the extent of the impact that complexity has on the acquisition of phonological features.