Thursday, November 17, 2005

Do you speak Californian?

The first emigrants from England to North America in the late 1600s brought their distinctive dialects with them. From that time, American English began to diverge from British English. Words have been adopted from Spanish (e.g., "alligator", "canyon", "cargo", "comrade", "embargo", "ranch", "silo"), native languages of the Carribean (e.g., "barbecue" and "hurricane" from Carib, "tobacco" from Arawak), Central and South America (e.g., "chocolate" from Aztec, "coyote" and "shack" from Nahuatl, "cigar" and "shark" from Maya) and North America (e.g., "caucus", "pecan" and "racoon" from Algonquian, "skunk" and "squash" from Massachuset, "persimmon" from Cree).

New immigrants arrived from different areas of England and other European countries and settled the North American continent, adding new words and pronunciations into the mix. Today there are at least three main American English "dialects": Northeastern, Southern and Midwest/Western. Each of these can be split into a number of regional varieties, from Cajun to New York to Texas.

There is, supposedly, a distinct California accent:
In the speech of white people in California, as in many parts of the west, the vowels of hock and hawk, cot and caught, are pronounced the same—so awesome rhymes with possum. Also notable is the movement of the vowels in boot and boat (called back vowels because they are pronounced in the back of the mouth). These vowels all have a tendency to move forward in the mouth, so that the vowel in dude or spoon (as in gag mewith a…) sounds a little like the word you, or the vowel in pure or cute. Also, boat and loan often sound like bewt and lewn—or eeeeuuw.


Can you tell?

NPR Story "Linguistics on the Playground", about the Northern California accent.

Listen to native English speakers from Southern California

• Test your recognition of regional American accents on the PBS website for "Do You Speak American".

English spoken around the US and the world (search for California to compare to other American regional accents).

• Stanford Professor Penny Eckert's web site with sound files.

• Take the quiz: What Kind of American Do You Speak? My resuls:


Your Linguistic Profile:



50% General American English

25% Yankee

15% Upper Midwestern

0% Dixie

0% Midwestern



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