Thanks to Graham Cooper for this review of my Psychology in the Pub talk in Exeter, 26th November 2014, hosted by the South West branch of the British Psychological Society.

George Bernard Shaw famously said: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.” Accents are a key badge of geographical and social identity: indeed, the drive to display and reinforce our tribal allegiances may have been crucial for the evolution of human language itself.

Research from Plymouth University’s Baby Lab shows that Devon-based babies, well before their second birthday, prefer to hear words like “bear” and “tiger” with that characteristic final ‘r’ pronounced. Surprisingly, this is the case even for babies who do not hear rhotic [final-r] accents at home.

Is speech really rhythmical? What does “speech rhythm” mean?

Imagine getting up for breakfast, saying a bleary “Good morning” and hearing someone else’s voice coming out of your mouth. A Plymouth resident experienced just such a jolt to her identity in 2010.

Did you learn another language at school? Many of us started studying French, German or Spanish at age eleven and found it hard work getting our heads around complicated grammar and getting our mouths around unfamiliar sounds. But all of us, only a few years earlier, learnt our own mother tongue without any effort.