How do you pronounce the phrase “barbed wire”? If you’re from Boston, you may say “bahbd wiyah.” A Texan may make the phrase sound like a fight between two guys named Bob—“bob war.” Thanks in large part to the United States’ history of immigration and its large size, Americans speak with a wide range of accents. Sometimes the differences are so great that people from different regions have a hard time understanding each other.
The prediction had been that inexpensive travel and mass media—TV, movies, music—would soon make regional accents disappear. Not so; as recent studies show, accents are thriving in despite the barrage of blandness. A professor of linguistics argues that regional accents are getting even stronger, perhaps as a mirror of widening political differences.
Not everyone, however, wants to retain the accent they picked up while learning to talk. Some people hire coaches to help them modify or lose their accents. Professionals from the South, in particular, have noted that people with a heavy southern accent can be perceived as unsophisticated or even ignorant.
In contrast, many other Americans embrace their accents because the accents identify them with a particular much-loved place. For example, one New Orleans resident who had always tried to eliminate her heavy local accent felt differently after the ordeal of Hurricane Katrina. So much of her hometown had been destroyed; she didn’t want the local accent to disappear also.
Next month, read part 2 of “How Americans Talk,” about regional dialects, to learn what a wampus and a pinkletink have in common.
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- Regional Accents Thrive in US—but Is That a Good Thing?
Listen to people from all over the country read the same passage aloud to compare their accents.
(Source: CNN, September 29, 2011)
- Pahking the Cah? Regional Accents Getting Stronger
Read more about how accents develop and how people modify them.
(Source: MSNBC, September 9, 2011)
- “Do You Speak American?”: Where Is the Speaker From?
Test your ability to recognize regional accents by matching speech clips with US regions.
(Source: PBS; accessed February 29, 2012)
- The Nationwide Speech Project
Compare how different people across America pronounce certain words and phrases.
(Source: Acoustical Society of America; accessed February 29, 2012)