Can a lip reader tell if you have an accent?

10th February 2011

Asked by: Harry Oates, Isle of Man

About a third of the sounds we use for speech don’t use the lips or the front of the mouth, and so can’t be distinguished by a lip reader. Accents normally show most of their variation in the vowel sounds and these are the hardest to pick up by lip reading. A strong regional accent can often make lip reading impossible, so a lip reader might be able to tell that you had an accent simply because they couldn’t understand you. Identifying which accent it is would be harder, although some accents – such as Mancunian, which tends to use a wider mouth shape for vowels – might be detectable. More likely, a lip reader would infer your accent from dialect words and phrases (such as the Liverpudlian ‘hozzy’ instead of ‘hospital’).

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