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May 29th, 2005

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09:43 am - *laughter*
Everyone has an accent, but no-one wants to be told they talk funny.

It's the same as how everyone has a culture, but a fair number of members of the dominant culture of an area only think of culture as something other people have - them, they're just "normal". Most Anthropology 101 classes have to spend a week or so smacking this idea into a few of the privileged who've made it to college without having their noses rubbed in the idea that not everyone out there shares their ideas, mores and opinions (nor *gasp* do they want to) - then everyone can get on with the class material.

In linguistics class, it always struck me as academic snobbery that threw the western-most third of the country into one dialect, especially after seeing My Fair Lady where (and I can't find the quote after a half-hour of Googling, so you will have to bear with me) Professor Henry Higgins says something on the order of how you can place the suburb a Londoner grew up in by accent, if not the exact street. London such a hotbed of accents, New Guinea such a plethora of different and unrelated languages, and the entirety of ten states speaks all one dialect, right. This beside the empirical fact that my mother's Idaho-native speech differed from my father's Utah-native version in easily detectable ways. Good grief, what about California? if nothing else. Difficult to so successfully satirize something like 'valley-girl' speak if it doesn't really exist, for only one example.

But you know, if you're happy with and invested in the idea that you as a PNW-er don't have an accent, you're not going to take kindly to someone telling you otherwise, complete with odd descriptors like "creaky voice" for some of its quirks. I'd call it more of a burr than a creak, but I knew exactly what was being talked about when I read about it.

Then again, I've been accused of being a closet Canadian for some of my speech patterns. To which I say, pity they won't take that as evidence at the border.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:May 29th, 2005 04:59 pm (UTC)
When I moved up here from California everyone told me I talked funny. Although it wasn't because I sounded like a valley girl. Think about how surfers are alleged to speak, and scale it back a few notches.
Date:May 29th, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
I started following the links off the sidebar to one of those articles which led me to http://www.aip.org/149th/ingle.html , and a few samples of women speaking with a California accent. It occurs to me that valley girls and surfers may not speak so differently after all.
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Date:May 29th, 2005 05:15 pm (UTC)
Part of that "Western" dialect homogeneity theory may also be related to the difference in the distance you need(ed) to travel to detect significant changes. I mean, you have multiple accents within New York City itself, not to mention all through New England (you'd never confuse a Boston (and even that has it's sub-categories I suspect) accent with a Maine "downeast" accent. So although I definitely think that Seattle and other parts of Western Washington have accents distinct from Northern and Southern California, and probably other parts of the West, I could see how it could be overlooked by just the sheer amount of distance you'd have to cover to sample populations that, at least for many of those states (other than the West Coast ones maybe) aren't very densely packed.

But yeah, "you people talk funny!" :)

(Of course, nobody can ever place where I'm from by how I talk. And they never even come close to guessing the truth.)

Date:May 29th, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
Me neither. It's that trace of Hungarian that throws people.
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Date:May 29th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)
You know, it's pretty funny. The woman training me spent most of her life in Seattle, and I had a very strong suspicion when I first started listening to her talk. It wasn't the creaky voice though; I still have no idea what they are talking about there. Even though she looks and is part Native Hawaiian, she's doesn't speak pidgin like she would have if she grew up here, but the weirdest thing is that she sounds almost exactly like my cousin Cathy. Like, if I close my eyes, I can't tell who is talking. She uses hard Rs and lots of Ss, which local Hawaii people don't (We're really lazy about consonants,) and well, is very articulate and analytical. And she likes to think out loud. At first I didn't understand and thought she was asking me all these hard questions, then I realized she was thinking out loud and didn't expect me to answer. I found out that she was from Seattle later when I saw the license plate holder on her car from some dealership in Seattle and asked.
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Date:May 30th, 2005 02:27 am (UTC)
I don't think London or New Ginea are very good comparisons to the western U.S. Those other places have had a lot more time for language diversity to develop.
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Date:May 30th, 2005 12:26 pm (UTC)
Ah, but in the case of London there's been all that time for interaction to increase homogeneity.

I meant to point out by my example that population density and geography, while influences, are not controlling factors. Actually geography seems to be more of an influence than most, which would argue for MORE diversity in the Western US until recently - isolated populations develop their own variations faster than non-isolated populations. It doesn't have to be physical separation though - witnessing class difference in accent, scientific jargon, thieves cant, teenage slang, etc. as examples of differentiation in non-physically separate populations.

Time is a factor, true, but not nearly so strong of one here as it is in morphological change, say. Language changes can be extremely rapid; I would posit each individual person goes through at minimum two or three different linguistic sub-repertoires over the course of their lives. Maybe more if at any point they are involved in some conscious effort to alter their speech patterns.
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Date:May 30th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)
Ah, but in the case of London there's been all that time for interaction to increase homogeneity.

I wouldn't grant that interaction automatically means reducing diversity. It does for some kinds of interaction, such as that involved in the formation of a pidgin, or cultural dominance of one area over another, which can spread a prestige variety of speech. Close contact may inhibit divergence, but I don't see that it automatically promotes convergence.

Actually geography seems to be more of an influence than most, which would argue for MORE diversity in the Western US until recently

But has there been? Ingle's study seems to suggest that Pacific Northwest speech is growing to be less like California's, which must mean less diversity in the past. And given the constant stream of migration into the western US since English speakers first arrived here, I wouldn't characterize the populations as physically isolated. Americans have been less isolated than Londoners on class grounds as well. My guess would be that what diversity there is here is more a result of the varying speech habits of the immigrants to the various parts of the west.

In any event, London has a great deal more speech diversity than the western U.S. does. Where would you go to find native English speakers whose speech you understand only with great difficulty? I can't imagine that happening between me and an anglophone native of San Fransisco or Boise or Reno, pathological cases aside. But I know that this does happen between residents of London.

So it looks like I disagree with you at nearly every point, just in your first two paragraphs. In your third paragraph, I can't tell what you mean. Does "here" mean "in the case of sound change," as contrasted with morphological change? And if language change can be very rapid, then why do you say that time is not a comparatively strong factor?
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Date:May 30th, 2005 07:12 am (UTC)
I DO NOT talk funny. I sound just like everybody on t.v.


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