Are regional American accents going away? A local New Yorker investigates


In actual fact, lots of people assume I’ve stepped out of a time machine.

I communicate with what many think about a stereotypical New York accent. And sure, it is distinct.

This obtained me desirous about accents and dialects generally. If you activate tv, it appears like we hear fewer accents than we used to. As an alternative, we get this bland “normal American” accent that does not sound prefer it’s from anyplace particularly.

I set out on a journey to search out some solutions within the second season of my podcast Margins of Error. The podcast will get to the tales which might be typically pushed to the margins. And whereas I like knowledge, we additionally discover the tales behind the numbers.
The concept accents (how phrases sound after we communicate) and dialects (can embrace totally different phrases and phrases for a similar phrase or phenomenon) — that are two various things, I’ve realized — are dying has some foundation in numbers. Researchers at The College of Texas at Austin have been monitoring the decline of the normal Texas accent. Within the 1980s, 80% of Texans they interviewed had that accent. As of 2013, solely a 3rd of them do.

However a deeper dive reveals that there is much more to the story.

For one factor, consultants cannot even agree on what number of regional accents there are in the USA. “There’s some quantity between like three and 25, relying on what supply you are going to,” Nicole Holliday, assistant professor of linguistics on the College of Pennsylvania, identified in an episode of the podcast.

Between three and 25. That is an enormous vary. For me as a stats man — that is freakin’ nuts, of us.

And there definitely nonetheless are variations in the way in which we communicate. When comic and Georgia native Mia Jackson and I took the New York Instances dialect quiz, she and I had very totally different solutions to a whole lot of questions. As an example, what I name a “sunshower,” she referred to as “the satan is thrashing his spouse.” It is a Southern factor, she informed me, and it means raining when the solar is out.

In actual fact, the concept accents are dying is not something new. “American Dialects Disappearing” is the headline of an article from a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon. You need to guess which yr it was revealed? 1960. And sure, I assume individuals from Oregon communicate with an accent.

What I got here to search out out throughout my time recording the podcast is that accents and dialects aren’t dying. As an alternative, they’re continually altering, although normally at a really sluggish tempo.

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The importance of evolving accents is definitely a lot greater than merely sounding totally different than we used to up to now. It is about how we have modified as People. It was once, as Holliday identified to me, that individuals did not combine as a lot as we do now.

“Earlier than we had planes and stuff, individuals dwelling on one aspect of a mountain didn’t speak to individuals dwelling on the opposite aspect of the mountain,” Holliday stated. “And when teams of persons are segregated from one another, they develop other ways of talking.”

Right this moment, with about 8.4% of individuals transferring, based on 2021 US Census knowledge, and People linked by way of applied sciences comparable to social media, accents proceed, normally slowly, to shift.

Typically, although, the story is not about sluggish change. It is about one thing dramatic taking place. As an example, do you know an accent can change due to a Hollywood portrayal?

The 1996 film “Fargo” made individuals within the Higher Midwest suppose twice about their vowel shift, based on Dennis Preston, Oklahoma State College professor emeritus of linguistics, who spoke in a podcast episode.

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However can we lose one thing with altering accents, particularly those who come about due to social strain?

“We’re eliminating a whole lot of the wealthy historical past that individuals include after we encounter totally different individuals,” Vacation stated. “I might hate to see … social strain trigger the disappearance of those varieties that may inform us a lot concerning the world that we stay in in our historical past.”

And that is why I spend a part of the podcast attempting my hand at talking in an accent that appears to be going away.

If you wish to hear me take a stab at a really totally different accent from New York’s and study so much about accents alongside the way in which, you will need to tune in.

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