Linguists Detect Possible American Accent in Latest ISIS Video

ISIS/Al Hayat Media

A possible American accent was detected in the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) video which showed the slaughter of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on a Libyan beach.

The speaker in the video did not identify himself or speak for very long, but one US official said the intelligence community is “analyzing facial features and speech patterns” to determine if he is from America or one of the many recruits from the West. There are currently over 2,700 Westerners within the terrorist group. From ABC:

Professor Erik Thomas, a linguistics expert at North Carolina State University, told ABC News that based on distinctive word pronunciations, “he sounds like an American” with some Arabic influence. Another linguistic expert from another American university, who requested he not be named, said the masked man may be a native Arabic speaker but came to learn American English likely by spending a “significant amount of time” in the U.S.

Experts will observe the man’s height, build, and choice of words. CNN reports linguists detected “Arabic influence” in his voice, which means he is probably bilingual. University of Georgia professor Bill Kretzschmar thinks English is the man’s second language, possibly learned in “North America or from a North American teacher.”

“The speaker may have English as a second language because the intonation is not quite fluent in the way you would expect of a native U.S. speaker or native Canadian,” explained Kretzschmar. “But the speaker may have spent a long time in North America, because the speech is really too fluent just to have been learned abroad.”

West Virginia University linguist Kirk Hazen said the English “is not a British variety” since the speaker has “Rs at the ends of syllables.” This means he could have learned English at any American university in the Middle East and not necessarily in North America.

“The speaker is obviously a native speaker of Arabic, given the way he speaks that language and the influence it has on his English” said Charles Boberg of McGill University in Montreal. “But his English is extremely fluent, to a level I would label near-native.”

Boberg continues: “Its regional characteristics indicate that it was acquired in North America, probably in middle to late childhood, early enough to have little trace of the sort of ‘foreign’ accent you would hear in true second-language English, acquired by an adult immigrant, but not early enough to acquire the truly native characteristics of any particular regional variant of North American English, as we would hear in the speech of someone who was born in North America.”