Imitation may help with understanding accents
I’m sure it’s happened to most people before: you meet someone with a new, interesting, or strong accent, and somewhere in your conversation with them, you feel yourself start slipping into an (often awful) imitation of their speech. When you realise you’re doing it, you feel like a bit of an idiot, and you hope they haven’t noticed.
So, it turns out that accent imitation, besides being used for intentional and accidental mockery of others, can actually help you to understand the speaker’s accent. A study in the Netherlands has shown that if accented speech is repeated, it helps the listener to better understand it.
The participants in the study were first asked to listen to an unfamiliar accent of Dutch. To ensure that the accent was unfamiliar to everyone, the researchers made up a new accent by doing a consistent vowel sound change. After this, the participants were asked to listen to 100 sentences in the unfamiliar accent. Participants were asked to respond to the sentences in different ways: some repeated the sentence aloud while trying to mimic the new accent, some repeated it in their own accent, some transcribed the sentence, and some only listened. When the sentences were tested again, those that had repeated using the unfamiliar accent did far better than the other groups.
Unfortunately, in real life, even if you know this information it’s not very polite to talk to someone while trying to imitate their speech patterns. I suppose if you really wanted to, you could always use this study as justification.
Full article: Science Daily.