Saturday, December 3, 2011

We all speak with an "accent"...

       I just got done listening to a free podcast with this British guy speaking. It got me thinking, the conventional wisdom is for Americans to listen and say he has an accent. Nothing wrong or offensive about that as many people find British "accents" rather charming (Don't we all love the Gecko from Geico?). If I was in Britain however it wouldn't take long for people to figure out I'm not from there. I was in England (London) once but not for a long enough to interact with the locals more than briefly.
       I bring this up because this is another example of the ego-centeredness inherent in everyone. It doesn't mean we're all bigots or don't mean well, if anything "accents" tend to be used as an asset with TV heart-throbs. I also see a parallel here between how we judge who's normal and who's eccentric. It was the English people who invented our language and we still tend to see them as having an accent.
       I personally don't see myself as speaking that differently from national news reporters. I've been told by some I have no accent, yet when I travel further south I have been asked if I'm from New England, New York, Chicago, Boston (though I do pronounce my "R's"). I take it as neither an insult or a complement, just a neutral and interesting observation. Americans do recognize regional dialects within its boundaries, especially New York, Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia/Baltimore, Amish/PA German, and the different dialects of the Southeast. It seems it's mainly the inland north and parts of the Midwest and west that seem to be exempt from being told they have an accent but it's all relative. I'm not implying that I think the word "accent" should be deemed offensive people have enough excuses to be offended these days, though I think dialect is a better way to look at things at least in an intellectual context.
       According to this map (I love maps!), I'm clearly in the Northern Dialect region of Pennsylvania. To a lot of younger people the lines on this map may seem arbitrary but I do notice a slight change in speech patterns as I travel even 2 hours southwest into the Midlands dialect range. Here's the map, scroll down since it's a rather large page:
       Here's another map showing the geography of how Americans refer to soft drinks. I briefly went to school out in Pittsburgh when I heard the word "pop" and realized "soda" is not a universal term:

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