Ever wonder how people sound in different parts of the United States? PBS’s extensive website, “Do You Speak American?” has a wealth of information about regional variation in American English. Not only do we use different words in different parts of the country, but our accents are different. You can listen to recordings from different cities across the US here. How does your city sound compared to the others?
Image credit: Robert Delaney
Seattle's Accent: Generic?
Regional varieties of American English are still going strong in this country, despite the homogenization of “broadcast speech” heard on the tv news. You might be interested to learn what your own biases are when it comes to labeling regional accents as “standard.” While linguists believe that every region has its own standard, there are socio-linguistic trends and preferences that make people believe one American accent is more typical than another. When you are trying to make yourself understood, your best approach is to strive for an accent that is comfortable for you, matches those with who you communicate the most, and has some of the elements used in American accent training such as slow rate and clearly pronounced consonant sounds.
Want to test out how your opinions compare with others? Try this fun mapping activity on PBS.org.
How to Sound American
Many non-native English speakers ask the question, what is the "typical" American accent? Some regional dialects sound more standard than others, but the speakers who are most easily understood are those who sound like they are from nowhere in particular. People from different parts of the US would say that television news anchors sound like them, because they speak in a style which is easily understood by all. You might be surprised to know that TV broadcasters speak more slowly than the average American, and use pronunciation techniques taught in accent training, such as pronouncing all consonants in a word. Read more about the typical American sound you hear in broadcasting here.
Americans speak with a wide variety of regional accents. American accent training will help you have a Standard American Accent, but there's no reason not to enjoy hearing the different accents people speak across the United States. Here's an audio clip from Robert Blumenfeld's "Accents, A Manual for Actors," where he demonstrates regional differences in the pronunciation of the words "pork chop."
photo from porkbeinspired.com
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