General Question

Supacase's avatar

Thoughts on the American Accent?

Asked by Supacase (14533points) June 24th, 2009

I have often wondered if the American accent isn’t the collective English accent of the world. I do not mean this in the “Oh, America is so awesome! Our way is the best way!”

What I mean is, we are the “melting pot,” after all, and our accent developed over time through input from all nationalities. When the accents of British, French, Mexican, Japanese, Russian, Indian, and all other people from around the world speak in English around each other to the point where they lose their identifiable accent, is “American” the resulting blend?

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55 Answers

Tink's avatar

America has an accent?!

Supacase's avatar

@Tink1113 People from other countries think we do. I am thinking television anchor accent which, to me, is completely lacking in accent but would not be to someone from, say, Australia.

Tink's avatar

@Supacase – Oh I get it

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@Tink1113 Of course America has an accent. Think about it in this way: If you met a British guy and talked to him, you’d think that he has an accent. And guess why? It’s only because his style of speaking is different from yours (ie your accent). It’s impossible to not have an accent.

whitenoise's avatar

Call it any which way you want, but the correct word is aluminium. ;-)

Tink's avatar

@Saturated_Brain Don’t get me wrong I love guys with accents, but they don’t think they have an accent?!

Bobbydavid's avatar

No it’s not the worlds accent, it’s the American accent with regional differences. All English speaking countries have their fair share of input from settlers over the years. America is no different.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@Tink1113 No. They don’t think that they’re lacking an accent. They know that they have one, just that because it’s so ingrained in them they don’t even think about it anymore. Why should they? That would be tiring..

Bobbydavid's avatar

I don’t understand the “we are the melting pot” quote. How and why is this the case considering the age of America then this is pretty wide of the mark?

Tink's avatar

@Saturated_Brain – Understood :)

Bobbydavid's avatar

@Supacase
I’m not trying to offend btw, just trying to clarify. I’ve probably totally misunderstood anyway so sorry if I have!

Supacase's avatar

@Bobbydavid Not offended. Could be that it is just a dumb question.

Are you saying we are too old or too young to be the melting pot? The term came from the large number of immigrants from all over the world during America’s past. I can see where that might not be considered the case anymore.

I was thinking more of the floods of people entering the US during certain periods history and how so many people with different accents speaking/learning English at once might impact the resulting blend of sounds. As in, Japanese people sound different when speaking English than Mexicans do. Once all of those waves of people in the early years started sounding the same, seems to me the American accent was born.

Has any other country had that same kind of influx of immigrants to a relatively new country where they all had influence in forming it? Otherwise, why wouldn’t we just sound mostly British since the original settlers were from England? Australia’s accent is very similar to the British accent, thought certainly not identical, but I believe they had more British people as a whole when it was being widely populated instead of people rushing in from all over. (Could totally be wrong.)

Have the British, Scottish, Irish accents changed as international travel has increased? I truly don’t know.

Sariperana's avatar

When i watch tv or movies, most of them come from America (i live in Australia) and you really cant tell there is an accent – however, when you hear an Australian accent on American TV their accent sticks out like dogs nuts (excuse the aussie saying)
I dont know if that is because we all grew up watching American tv or movies that we have become so accustomed to it or desensitised to it.
However, when you hear or listen to an American in real life, you can spot their accent from a mile away!

Also – when travelling overseas, europe esp. and alot of asian countries, when they speak english, it is with an American accent, though that is because the English they learn is American English and not Australian English or English English (is there such a thing as English English?)

When i have travelled overseas, sometimes i have heard my own accent – it certainly is a very strange thing to listen to yourself and hear your aussie ocker accent. shudder…

Sariperana's avatar

Oh and lastly – the reason we dont have the same accent as america, is because Australia started of mainly from English settlers (and convicts) plus we had a big influx of Dutch settlers, and also the Europeans! We are a relativley new country in comparison to our bigger english speaking ‘brothers’. We have an entirely different combination of immigrants, not to mention we still have the indigenous australian (aborigines) Most of the aborigines live up north in Darwin, and that is where the Australian accent is the most thick.

This comment is not based on fact, but rather my understanding of how our accent down under came to be…

Lupin's avatar

America has many accents. Often you can tell where people are from with just a few sentences.
Lon Gyland: “Howa ya doin’? I sawh Shelly at the wedding. She looked Gawhgeous!”.
Appalachian: “She look purdy”
Calif, Southern Belle, Tenn, Texas, NYC are very distinctive.
Standard Newscaster speak is right out of Wisconsin.
A British woman once told me she found the American accent “exciting”.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Hey! I’m from Wisconsin! I can read! I know what a TelePrompTer™ is! My looks wouldn’t break a camera lens! Huh. How about that, there, now! I should get a job as a newscaster.

I was going to say otherwise that there are so many American accents, and obviously derived from the blending of certain populations in different areas, that one can’t really say “the American Accent.” I’ve noticed that Brits and Aussies playing Americans seem to have an easier time with American Southern accents. And Canadians know us so well, we think they’re one of us when we see them in the media. I mean, Peter Jennings, amirite?

Harp's avatar

The evolution of the North American accent is complex. The different regions of the original colonies were settled by Britons who already had regional British accents: the puritans from East Anglia who settled New England, and the settlers from the West Country (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset) that settled the coastal South. These were soon influenced by the Dutch around New York and New Jersey, and by African dialects in the South.

Because these regional pockets were relatively isolated from each other over the many decades when transportation and voice communications were minimal, they held onto their distinctive characters and also gradually drifted away from their British phonological roots. Vowel sounds slowly shifted, sometimes even losing distinctions among vowel sounds that their British forebears would have made. Over time, large urban centers developed quite distinct accents, many of which have survived in muted form today.

The greatest initial factor in the mixing of accents was the push of Western settlement. As the bearers of the regional Eastern and Southern accents diffused westward, the accents became less distinct. There was indeed an “averaging out” of accents in the Midlands (though the Scandinavian influence in the Upper Midwest introduced a marked regional character).

I should note that all of the above is a rather gross simplification.

The second greatest factor in the blending of accents, of course, is the high mobility of the modern population and the ubiquity of voice communication across regional boundaries.

richardhenry's avatar

@Sariperana Your avatar photo is terrifying.

wundayatta's avatar

I think television and travel help diminish the difference between different accents of American and Indian and British and Australian and South African (to name just a few) versions of English. However there are constant pressures for accents to diverge within all these countries. I do not believe there will ever be a single accent for English that is shared around the world. Some people consider Ebonics to be not just a dialect, but a separate language as legitimate as any other.

The illusion of a single accent is perpetuated because most American’s experience of English as spoken by others, comes from television or radio. Don’t worry, regional and micro-regional variants of English are alive and kicking and ever shall be.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@daloon Ebonics is a sociolect, and this article might help to show everyone exactly how many various regional accents of English exist.

wundayatta's avatar

@eponymoushipster There is not complete agreement on that point. It is true that some, perhaps many, consider it a sociolect, but by no means do all linguists think of it that way.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@daloon no, that’s true.

LexWordsmith's avatar

Great answers—thanks for all the info, peeps!

As a native Rhode Islander, i was bemused by the idea that there is an American accent, but i agree that there is a TV accent, one that Oz-native film stars such as Nicole Kidman have to learn to use in American movies.

Up until WW2, it used to be that Europeans mostly spoke English with a British accent, because their teachers were from Britain and the British Empire seemed classier than America’s frontier rough-edgedness, but now the prevalence of American TV shows (such as Dallas and Dynasty in Finland) has made the teaching of American-accented English much more marketable.

pezz's avatar

Having watched a lot of American films & TV shows and music for that matter. My conclusion is the accent is stronger or weaker from the different areas. It’s the same in England, BBC news readers are not supposed to have any accent.

DominicX's avatar

America doesn’t have one accent; it has many accents. Southern, New York, Boston, California, San Fernando Valley, Bakersfield, etc. The UK has many accents, too. Cockney is very different from Manchester, Scottish, and the upper class British accent. Australian is different than British too. Not to mention all the accents of foreigners.

Darwin's avatar

@Sariperana – I met a man from Cornwall once – he sounded almost exactly like an Australian. I always wondered if a number of those forced settlers might have been from Cornwall.

MacBean's avatar

Even New York accents can be broken down further. I’ve lived upstate my whole life where I frequently get comments on my Long Island accent, which is different from the various city accents. And there are different accents in different upstate areas, too.

Ivan's avatar

Heck, even people from Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas make fun of each others’ accents.

Lupin's avatar

@MacBean I grew up on the Island and recognize the distinctive accent immediately. I can revert on command.
By the way, my mom was talkin’ ta your mom at Bee’s house last week. You know you’re breakin’ her hart. Wenare ya’ gonna get a real job? All that education. You want she should keep complaining? You’re killing her. Pleeze! Far be it from me to tell anyone what to do.

lloydbird's avatar

The American accent is pretty cool. Although, some regions can be lazy when it comes to the letter ‘T’ (Nodice instead of notice for example, ‘wader’ instead of water).

Ivan's avatar

@lloydbird

I find it interesting that some British accents don’t pronounce the letter ‘T’ in words such as ‘water.’ Instead the word just kind of halts, the speaker holds their breath for a moment, and then they continue pronouncing the rest of the word. To me, a ‘T’ sound involves your tongue making contact with the roof of your mouth.

DominicX's avatar

@Ivan

Yeah, the Cockney accent does that. The “glottal T” I believe it’s called.

lloydbird's avatar

@Harp It seems to be derived from lazy speech. But thanks for the technical excuse.

Strauss's avatar

The “American” accent used on most US TV programs is usually known as the “American Standard” dialect. I suspect that the BBC tends to use the “British Standard” dialect, otherwise knows as “The Queen’s English”; I have noticed, however, that both BBC broadcasts and American TV/radio have a diverse group of dialects, often reflecting the native dialect of the reporter.

In my own experience, during my brief theatrical career (college and community level) I discovered that dialects helped me to maintain character, and speaking in character would tend to produce an appropriate dialect. Some were more difficult than others.

I also noticed that when I would sing a country/western song, I would tend to sing it with a southern or Texas pronunciation of the words. That led one of the patrons in one venue to say, “When you sing, you sound like you were born ‘n’ raised right here in Texas. But when you’re not singin’, and you open your mouth, you sound like a damn Yankee!” although I did pick up a southernism or two while I was there!

JLeslie's avatar

I was in Bath, England years ago at an Italian restaurant and the owner came over to check our table. After speaking with him for a moment my dad asked, “are you from Brooklyn?” Hahaha! I guess when your first language is Italian and you learn the English language as an adult you get that accent…that is why Brooklyn sounds like it does. I lived in the midwest for a while and so many people there insisted they had no accent. Of course you have an accent, each region does. The severity of the accent usually can be linked to socio-economic status in my opinion. The poorer and less educated you are the harder you are to understand…this is all over the world in almost every language.

JLeslie's avatar

Accent doesn’t bother me. Using different words for things like pop vs. soda doesn’t bother me. Double negatives, poor grammar, slang terms that are derogatory that bother me. When I lived in MI some people used the term “Jew it down” for trying to bring down a price or bargain. Can you believe it?! I swear they did not even know what they were saying.

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie

I have a Jewish friend who uses the term “jew out” to refer to going back on a promise.

LexWordsmith's avatar

@JLeslie : i agree with most of what you say, but the bias against using double negatives is prescriptive in origin—it didn’t exist in early English and doesn’t in most other languages. i don’t have a feel for the situation in other Germanic languages—in my study of German, i somehow never came across the issue—but it was the Latinists who were trying to force English grammar into the straitjacket of (the very different) Latin grammar, in the 17th and 18th centuries iirc, who invented this shibboleth. That said, i support the proscription against double negatives in English—it strikes me as more logical than simply “understanding” double negatives as single, a practice that in my opinion opens the door to misinterpretation. Strangely, the French have always considered themselves a more coldly logical people than the rest of the continental Europeans (whom they think overly emotional) and the British (who they consider weakly sentimental), yet their language employs double negatives freely.

JLeslie's avatar

Lexwordsmith—to your point Spanish uses double negatives and this is frequently why we hear the use of it in English in the US, because we have such a large immigration to our country from Spanish speaking countries. I am completely tolerant of people who immigrated here, and very forgiving towards any difficulties they have with English due to their mother tongue. BUT, where I draw the line is if you were born here. The generation who migrates here is one thing, but in our schools we should be speaking, reading, and writing proper English. I also would like to point out that I am fine with people who use slang, dialects, speak other languages, even ebonics in their home and immediate community, as long as they are fluent in English to be able to interact with society at large…again, I want to emphasize that I do not apply this demand to someone who has immigrated here. Lastly, I wonder if you have noticed that there is a serious problem in the last 5 years concerning adverbs…people are not using them. People drive safe not safely, and they take things personal instead of personally….what is up with that? I find the NE still uses adverbs, but around the country it is lacking.

cyn's avatar

@Saturated_Brain I would like to meet a britsh guy with the accent…

Tink's avatar

@cyndihugs ooo me too dude :)

LexWordsmith's avatar

@JLeslie : i agree with most of your points, but the double negatives go much further back than the recent wave of Latino immigration.

Interesting point that you make about the adverbs. English is largely a word-order language, so can get away with it, and is thereby returning to its Germanic roots. i suspect that the ”-ly” ending is a ground-down version of ”-like”, and there are several adjectives in English that have it (friendly, gingerly, elderly, ...) so it’s a source of confusion to non-native speakers, and there are many more of those lately, and their influence is communicated very quickly by the InterNet, so i foresee English as going the way of Chinese in terms of dropping endings.

JLeslie's avatar

@LexWordsmith I finally figured out how to get the @ someone in my answer :). I actually hear the drop of ”-ly” in the center of the country which is not heavily influenced by immigration.

I do agree that with texting, facebook, etc. we will probably see words shortened and become accepted as common usage—a little frustrating for me. Like I mentioned before I am easy going on shortcuts and slang among your “group” but when it comes to writing a formal document I would hope we know what is correct and hold onto this in our language.

Lastly, it is scary how educators in primary school do not know the English language themselves…this is a BIG problem. My girfriend teaches elementary school and uses the phrase “I’ll borrow you it” instead of “I will lend you it” to this day. She still doesn’t know that “Joseph is staanding between Cecilia and I” is wrong, because she doesn’t know what the object of a preposition is. One of my worst subjects was English class until my sr year of high school when I becomemore interested, I was a math and science girl, but yet I know more than her…scary. For most of the problems in schools and with education I blame the parents and the community, but with this I blame the schools. My father was the son of immigrants, he has a PhD and speaks English perfectly, but back then immigrants emphasized to their children learning English and “fitting in.” They understood it was a basic requirement to be able to take advantage of all America had to offer. Now things are taken for granted and people feel too entitled. They feel they should be able to make a mistake, because in their language it is done that way…well I say no to that.

In closing I would like to add that I don’t understand with so much media around us how people don’t know what English should really sound. There are people in Memphis (I live in Memphis now) from lower socio-economic areas, who are probably 4th generation Americans (mostly black Americans) who are almost impossible to understand. My question is do thay have a hard time undersatnding me also? Do they watch TV and cannot understand what they are watching? Or, are they lazy when they speak?

Strauss's avatar

@LexWordsmith I noticed the phenomenon of dropping of endings when I worked in an Italian restaurant (run by 2nd and 3rd generation Italian-Americans. for example, the word “ricotta” would sound like “ricot’”, or “Parmigiana” would come out “Parmigian’”.

LexWordsmith's avatar

@Yetanotheruser : i think that’s the effect of local dialects in Italy, rather than anything that happened in the USA. All four of my grandparents came to the USA as children, and none of them spoke “standard” Italian (which i think started out as the Tuscan dialect and was regularized to conform better with Latin—once, for an assignment when he was a schoolchild in Italy, Mario Pei wrote an entire poem that was correct Latin and correct standard Italian). My mother’s mother would say “ree-gawth” rather than “rih-kaw-tah”, “ahl-yah-ool” rather than “ahl-yaw-wed-awl-yoh”, and so on (including the “American Standard” “pah-stuh-vah-zool” instead of “pah-stah/eh-fah-jaw-leh”), and that wasn’t what was considered standard Rhode Island Italian, so it didn’t come from American influences.

mattbrowne's avatar

All accents are wonderful. In any language.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

English has been used as a lingua franca long before America’s days of cultural dominance – after all, it was the English that took it there, and to the other colonies!

So the English that is spoken globally today is always changing, relevant to its area, pidgin, full of inaccuracies and linguistic borrowings, it is not American and I can’t understand how it could be – it is Nigerian or Indian or Japanese etc, and it is that person’s alone. Every pidgin speaker of English will display their own little idiosyncracies. And this is what makes it so glorious!

Sariperana's avatar

@richardhenry not as terrifying as the real thing ;) Ha its a real photo of me, just one that was taken through a photo melting app… but cant believe you someone gave you lurve for that! Who else thinks i am terrifying??

@Darwin Cornwall??? I’ll have to scribble that one off my ‘exotic places to see list’

Darwin's avatar

@Sariperana – I can’t say I ever considered Cornwall to be exotic anyway.

Strauss's avatar

@LexWordsmith Thanks for pointing that out.
@mattbrowne I realized I was close to fluent in Spanish when I not only understood (without having to mentally translate) what native speakers were saying, but I could hear the difference between Puerto Rican Spanish, Panamanian Spanish and Columbian Spanish, and that they were all different than the Castillian Spanish I had learned in school

Sariperana's avatar

@Darwin it was said tongue in cheek…

LexWordsmith's avatar

@jo_with_no_space : do you think that “lingua franca” means “French” (referring to the period in which French was the international language of diplomacy, from about 1750 up until about 1940) or “open tongue” (that is, speech that anyone educated should be able to understand”?

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