Some examples of this might be Standard American English (though this may still be tied to geography) or, more likely, Received Pronunciation. The speaker's language doesn't have to be English, of course.

Basically, the speaker's accent isn't discernible or particular to some region. It may be that the speaker has a unique way of talking or a blend of accents such that a listener can't place the speaker's origins. I don't think "accent-less" would be valid, since technically there's no such thing as having no accent. I'm also trying to describe the (artificial? synthetic?) accent of some text-to-speech programs.1

1: Can a TTS program truly have an accent in the first place? (I know you can assign an American or Australian "accent" in some cases, but I'm referring to the crude, "robotic"-sounding speech typical of early TTS.)


FrustratedWithFormsD's suggested indiscernible implies you're not aware of any accent at all. Which is increasingly common today. Just as genetically we're all becoming coffee-coloured people in this modern world of global communications and travel, so differences in regional accents tend to be "ironed out".

But OP wants a word to describe speech which is clearly recognisable as having some kind of accent - just not a "placeable" one. Perhaps because someone's speech combines two or more relatively strong accents in a way that makes it difficult for others to identify the components.

I'd call that a nondescript accent, as apparently would many others in that link.

  • I think that may work. Do you know of any more technical terms, though? Specifically, I'm thinking of an "accentual blend" (note: that phrase only gives me 1 Google hit) or amalgamation, but in linguistic terms. I didn't want to overload my question with context, but I'm trying to see whether a well-traveled speaker or one who grew up among several accents (of perhaps several languages) will actually "blend" their accents (phonetics and perhaps grammar) or if distinct elements from each source arise in their typical speech (e.g. particular words are spoken with a single accent). – Zairja Oct 4 '12 at 21:42
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    @Zairja: If there's a "technical" term, I either don't know or can't recall it. But "unplaceability" would vary hugely according to the discriminatory powers of the listener. FWIW, my 91-year-old father still has a definite Lancastrian accent that most Brits could easily place, but he's lived south of the Thames most of his life. His speech includes both your characteristics (some aspects are totally Lancastrian, some are a sort of "blend" of Northern/Southern accent and vocabulary, and in a few contexts he could almost sound like a Cockney for a word or two). Ask at lingistics.se for more? – FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 22:04
  • lol...the coffee-coloured people article is just some writers fantasy and no more. – Chris Oct 5 '12 at 0:22
  • @Chris: Perhaps you'd better wake up and smell the coffee! Multiracial Americans numbered 9.0 million in 2010, or 2.9% of the total population, but 5.6% of the population under age 18. Those currently under 18 will be even more likely than their parents' generation to choose a partner of different ethnicity, and if I understand anything about genetics, I reckon that means coffee is on the rise. Don't be misled by the cartoon on that BBC article, or some of Dr Curry's more extreme predictions. – FumbleFingers Oct 5 '12 at 4:07
  • I'm tentatively accepting this answer, but if you or someone else stumble upon a technical term before I do, please update or add that as an answer. I will ask over at linguistics.se, as well. – Zairja Oct 5 '12 at 13:23

Per this site:

A neutral accent is a way of speaking a language without regionalism.

A neutral accent seems to be the most common way of referring to an accent that you "can't place" since it's free of regional or mother tongue influences.

This article in The Telegraph, for example, touts "neutral accents the best if you want to get ahead," and notes:

The “best” accents selected from a list were those belonging to Peter Jones (Dragon’s Den) and Clare Balding (Sports Presenter) – whose accents are both hard to place.

You could also refer to it as a generic accent, although neutral accent turns up more relevant hits on Google by far.

  • I've seen some criticism of this term (and site), though. I think that by removing a thick regional or foreign accent, you still end up imparting some other accent (probably SAE/Midwestern for ESL learners). As I think on it more, it seems that it's not about speaking without regionalism (which, unless you're a machine or deliberately constructing phonetics that don't conform to any region, seems impossible). It's about speaking with a composite that obscures one's origin. That's not to say there can't be a person with a wholly unique manner of speech, but then I wouldn't call it generic. – Zairja Oct 5 '12 at 0:18
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    "It's about speaking with a composite that obscures one's origin." That's somewhat the thrust of this article, which refers to the more homogenized accent you find closer to London (for example) as generic. This article applies neutral to the same process of obscuration, if you will. – Gnawme Oct 5 '12 at 0:34
  • Thanks for the articles! I will look more into this usage and see what I find. – Zairja Oct 5 '12 at 0:50

You could call it indiscernible (taken from your question). Other choices could be ambiguous, or hard-to-place.


The answer depends on whether 'you can't place it' means you the speaker or a generic listener, implying that nobody can identify the accent. The former is probably just unfamiliarity; there are plenty of British people who class everything from Canadian to Deep south as 'an American accent', just as there are Americans who talk of 'a European accent'. And that you refer to an accent at all means the speaker doesn't speak the way you do.

The latter is more problematic (and causes more problems). While Henry Higgins was fictional, there are plenty of people who can (or think they can) identify regionalisms in absolutely any accent; having one vowel sound from the North and another from the South doesn't make an accent nondescript, just mixed. But your question seems to be international in scope, and I simply don't believe there is anyone speaking English who cannot be identified (by somebody familiar with the region) as coming from one particular country.

  • The heart of my question is ultimately to test your last sentence. – Zairja Oct 5 '12 at 0:05

Homogenized (made homogenous, blended) is used to refer to having little or no discernible accent, in some articles (1, 2, 3) about language and regional accents.

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