Good article about speaking with accents at Slate today.
Drawl on Demand Does Hillary Clinton speak with 2 accents?
Some politicians are accused of linguistic pandering to potential voters. I don't think it's really all that conscious. Heaven knows that if I lived with Bill Clinton, I'd have a drawl in no time but would probably revert to LongIsland-ese when I visited home.
The article mentions "code shifting" a term used by linguists, when you change the way you speak in subtle ways depending on who you are speaking to. Some people speak differently at work from how they speak with their family and friends. Makes sense, especially if your peeps speak a lot of slang and you work in a bank on Park Avenue (like I did.)
I'm a natural born mimic. It's not always conscious. I do pay attention to speech patterns just for the joy of it. If I spend a lot of time with someone from Queens, NY, I pick up the accent for a while, especially when I am in their company. It's not my usual speech pattern to sound like a cross between Tony Danza and the Fran Drescher (depending on how phlegm-y I am at the moment), but it comes out without my even thinking about it when I am in the company of those who speak like that. No one in my family spoke in a heavy Queens or Long Island accent (which is a combination of Irish, Italian and Yiddish accents). But I had neighbors who did. A lot of NYers are first or second generation Americans, hence the weird accents. I mostly speak like a flamboyant NY gay man who works in theater. I have no idea where that came from although I think I picked it up from my "artsy" relatives and now we all sound like that, especially at Christmas under the influence of vodka. It's very dramatic. "You bastard!" "I'm fabulous and you?" People often ask me where the hell I am from. When I spend time in NH, I find myself sounding like them within minutes. "We ah going shawping in Pawtsmith and then to Dovah faw lobstah and chowdah (shopping in Portsmouth and Dover for lobster and chowder). I might do some of that deliberately just because it sounds cool. I sound like I am from Brooklyn when I hang with my clay buddies from Massachusetts (there's a subtle difference in dropping your "r's" which I haven't quite mastered yet) and Lordy, y'all should have heard me after a week in Texas- I had a Mexican accent.
My favorite accent of all time was when Val Kilmer played Doc Holliday in Tombstone.
"I'm your huckleberry."
"I'm dying, how are you?"
"I have not yet begun to defile myself."