Friday, February 24, 2006

Hi. Howdy. Whattup peeps? Like, Dude, how's it hangin'?

Thanks to Fuzz and Nowhere Girl for their inspiration for this post...

I was born in the Bronx, NY, lived in New Jersey, then lived in Kentucky, and finally settled here in Missouri. I have visisted nearly all of the 48 mainland states of this great nation of ours, and I've met people from all over the country. One thing I have always been fascinated with is American Dialects. I consider myself to be pretty good distinguishing a person's speech pattern and guessing what part of the country they are from.

Our American Vernacular is such a strong individual characteristic - and it identifies ourselves involving geography, cultural background, economic background, level of education, and peer group. How you talk tells others who are are, or at least what you want others to think of you. Take Keith Urban, the country singer. He sings with a Southern twang...but the guy is from freaking AUSTRALIA! Why does he then create a fake accent when singing? To sell appeal to his particular group of fans. The way we talk tells people who we are.

So how many dialects are there in America? Some say 3 or 4. Others report up to 30. And yet many linguists say it's impossible to count. Here are just a few of the more well-known dialects of American English:

Southern/Country: From the Appalachinas to the Ohio River, then across Mississippi through Texas and into the great Southwest, the Southern Accent is one of the larger dialects in America. The Southern dialect is a lot of fun, in my opinion. The double modals are interesting: "I might could eat somethin'." They also have their own vocabulary like "ya'll" and "fixin'." Do Northerners think Southerns sound "uneducated?" In general, yes. But I think most people underestimate the power Southern Dialect has had on our everyday language everywhere. "Stiff upper lip" and "hot under the collar" are just two common terms Southern in origin. Here in Missouri, many of us say "warsh" instead of "wash." Southern has it's own sub-dialects such as Cajun, Texan, and Smoky Mountains. Just yell,"Get 'er done!" and you'll make friends fast in the South.

Ebonics/African-American English: The advent of hip-hop music and culture has transformed this country. It's not unusual to see white Suburbanites anywhere speaking Ebonics when out with friends. This dialect really came from a clash of cultures during the slave trade. Many linguists consider African American Vernacular as a sub-dialect of Southern Dialect. That might've been true a generation ago, but I see it almost as a hybrid between Southern and Black Urban. With the hip-hop culture gaining such a strong hold on our nation's youth, this vernacular has become much more mainstream. Within African-American English, there is the Southern influenced form, spoken by the older generation, and a Hip-Hop form which tends to use curse words consistently. Want to translate Standard English into Ebonics? Go to this Ebonics Translator. Standard English: "Good morning everyone." Ebonics: "Good morning brothas, peep dis shit."

Californian/Mallspeak: This is both the most fun, yet most annoying dialects. Mainstream media such as music, movies, and television have such a profound effect on our speech. California, the home of Hollywood, has been an incredible influence among the younger set of America for decades. It began with Valley Girl and Surfer Dude back in the 80s, "Like totally...gag me with a spoon." Continued into the 90s with movies like Clueless, "As if!" And continues to influence teenagers and now 20-somethings' speech patterns. Listen to anyone under the age of 30 speak. How many times will they say "like" or "you know." In fact, linguists say "like" is the new "ummmm." They throw in a "like" during pauses while speaking. The word "dude" is common place among guys under 35. "My friend, like, was home...and like, was watching this show. And the dude was like, freaking totally screaming when the guy, like, came out from behind the door."

Northeastern Dialect: You talk about spin-offs. With Northeastern you got New York City, Pittsburghese, English/Yiddish, Philly-speak, Bostonian, and everything in between! If we can accuse a Southern of talking too slow, then I think it's fair game to say many Northeasterners speak too damn fast, almost eating their words. Out of all these, I find the Philly-speak the strangest. You'll find people from Southern Jersey and Delaware also speaking Philly-speak. It's almost a hybrid of regular Northeastern, with some Southern. In Philly, a "baby stroller" is called a "baby coach." You don't walk on a "sidewalk," you walk on the "pavement." New York City is fun too. You got your typical wiseguy, "Fuhgeddaboutit." And "coffee" is prounounced "cawfee." In New York, a sandwich is a "hero," but in Philly it's a "hoagie." I often find myself doing the Yiddish/Northeastern: "Oye Vey!"

There exists a Standard English. It's considered an accent-free dialect often used by journalists. Some people believe we are losing our regional dialects...that Standard is taking over. I disagree. Do we really want Americans to all sound the same? Not me.

Many of us are able to go from our own regional dialect to Standard - especially in a professional setting. I've witnessed a black person speak Ebonics when they are around other black people, and then go to Standard when at a business meeting, for example. Regional dialect is what gives people their character and shows off a person's 'local color.' Be proud of it! If we all spoke the same way, I think it'd get boring really fast. So what if I call it "soda" and you call it "pop." Although we could both laugh at the person that calls all softdrinks "Coke."

We are a diverse nation, and our own dialect is celebration of that diversity. It's what makes this country so great, or:

Narley. Bad-ass. Smooth. Tight. Uber. Fly. Da Bomb Fo Shizzle. Gooder than grits.

American Dialect Quiz: See how good YOU are at figuring out where each sample of speech is from. This is NOT easy, and I got only 5 right.

Fun American Dialect Quiz: Amazing accurate quiz you can take in just a couple minutes. It breaks down the different dialects you speak. Thanks to Nowhere Girl for this!

National Map of American Dialects: Interesting scholarly project, mapping the different dialects in this country.


BuffyICS said...

I have to confess I refer to all softdrinks as "coke." My question for you is, do you say you live in "Missourah" or "Missouri"?

KC said...

I've lived in Missouri all of my life and have always said Mizz-err-ee.

I'd like to think that I speak Standard English, but who knows? I do know that I have a tendency to take on whatever accent I hear. I think a lot of people do that.

:P fuzzbox said...

In Texas and across the Southwest, the Spanish dialect has also contributed greatly to the spoken language. Their contributions cannot be underestimated. Next week, I will devote some space to Talking Texan: Numero Tres.

I enjoyed this post as I enjoy listening to different dialects spoken across the country. I think that it would be great if more people did an audio post at least once or twice a month. How we talk can be as important as what we say.

Sherri said...

Your Linguistic Profile:
70% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
10% Dixie
5% Midwestern
0% Yankee

Hmmm.... very interesting.

Ben Heller said...

I love the New York accent...

Cheeseboiger'n cawfee

Jamie Dawn said...

My son is using my laptop and I'm using his, and his sound doesn't work. So... I will take that first quiz later.
I love listening to the way people talk. I love the way they talk in SC & GA. So smoooooth. I have relatives that live near St. Louis, MO and they say warsh for wash, and they say dal-lor for dollar. They say Missourah.
I was born & raised in Fremont, CA (SF Bay Area) and thankfully I never spoke Valley Girl, except as a joke.

The Phoenix said...

Buffy, that's an upper Midwest thing. I say Missouree, but the older folks call it Missourah.

KC, If you are in one place long enough, you will definitely take on a little of your surrounding accent. It tends to happen to younger people.

Fuzz, That's one of the dialects I wanted to to discuss, but didn't have room. You got Spanglish, Chicano, and Tex-Mex as well. I would do an audioblog, but I think too many of my readers will stop visiting if they hear my voice.

Sherri, Michigan was found to have the highest percentage of Standard English speakers in the country.

Ben, My parents taped me when I first started to speak. I had a very thick New York/Jersey accent. I laugh everytime I hear it.

Jamie Dawn, Your relatives probably also say "farty-far" for "44." They must be, or grew up with those, from the South City part of St. Louis.

Keshi said...

twas a very interesting read matey....fair dinkum y'all yankzz, G'day ;-)

that was some Aussie slang in Aussie accent lol!

**"I might could eat somethin'

WTH I would not have understood that at all :)

U have been to 48 states already? WOW Phoenix!


Laurie said...

70% General American English
20% Upper Midwestern
5% Dixie
5% Midwestern
0% Yankee

That was really interesting! That's what I love about ya - I always learn something when I visit :-) Funny that I got almost the exact same results as Sherri, too!

Laurie said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention - where I'm at here in SE Michigan, a lot of folks have somewhat of a Canadian influence in their speech, like my manager who says "oot" and "eh". :-)

Karen said...

Mine was 70% General American English...well, and i live in Michigan so there you go! : )

very fun post, phoenix!

LBseahag said...

This was like, so awesome!!!

Pixie said...

WP insits he speaks "clean " american whatever that is although I often catch him puttinf an "R" in Wash LOL.
It amazes me just how few dialects you have here,The UK is only the size of one of your states and we have hundreds of different dialects.Go a few miles from home and they are speaking totally different.

I too like the NY Soprano speak, i am not keen on true southern for the simple fact I often need a translation as to whats being said...

I did this quiz a few days ago as well I got
50% General American English
25% Yankee
15% Dixie
10% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

although at least 3 or 4 of the questions I chose anything because I would call tennis shoes "Trainers"Call a shopping cart a shopping trolley and would not call an easy class anything???

Pixie said...

Btw I took the first quiz and got them ALL wrong heh.

siren said...

Great post! I got 7 right on guessing the different dialects.

80% General American English
10% Yankee
5% Dixie
5% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern

These quizzes are fun :)

Eve said...

Yeah, I guess that I came up 0% Midwestern b/c I don't say "Missourah". That's right... and damn proud ;)

LostInTX said...

Okay, first of all we don't just say fixin'.. it's fixing TO. Like I'm fixin' to do something.. Ha! When I lived in NY I got a lot of questions about that.
And yes, "Coke" means all soda. So when you to a restaurant and say I'd like a coke the appropriate response is "what kind?". Some southern accents are great, like NC or SC for example. Some here in TX are nice but then you have that even I can't understand (MS, KY, WVA).. but I digress..

Orale, you HAVE to do a tex-mex dialogue. Too funny.. I could add many to that one. You is Ju (pronounced like jew almost) just like job is yob. I love my people man.. they are so funny. oh, and bitch = bish :)

Kid Jacque said...

The whole 'coke' thing gets me every time. It's POP!

he he he

Etchen said...

I'v never cared for a Texan or old fashioned Southern drawl, but I do have to say I love the sounds of Louisiana and the cajun vernacular.

angel, jr. said...

I also love the different dialects. I like being able to distinguish what part of the country a person grew up in based on the way they speak.

The Phoenix said...

Keshi, I haven't been to 48 states, but close to it.

Laurie and Karen, That is funny how you Michigan people got almost the same scores. The quiz is pretty accurate.

L.B, I bet you are surrounded by a ton of surfer dudes and dudettes there in L.B.

Pixie, Putting the "R" is "wash" is SO NOT Standard English. That is so St.Louisan. England has a ton of different dialects. Just turn the corner and you get a variation. Probably because Britain is an island, and islands tend to get invaded and inhabitied by different groups of people.

Siren, 80% Standard is the highest score I've seen anyone get.

NWG, I've never heard anyone under 40 say "Mizzourah." Thanks again for your inspiration.

Lostintx, That was one I wanted to do, but Fuzz is going to do that on his blog, I'm sure it'll be great.

Day Dreamer, it's not "pop," it's "soda."

etchen, I like the Southern drawl - it's so distinctive. The only time it irritates me is when I'm in a hurry.

Angel, So do you have a hybrid Virginian-Filipino accent? THAT would be very interesting. I think YOU need to do an audioblogger post for all of us to hear.

Metal Mark said...

I live in Maryland and was born and raised here, but I did live in Kentucky and Tennessee for some years. My wife is from Tennessee and still has some of here accent, but a lot of it has rubbed off since she has lived here. I used to talk like a hick and probably still do, but I have learned to speak a little more proper when I am at my job because I deal with a lot of people.

phred said...

I have always wondered why we.. drive on Parkway and park on the driveway???

Ya`ll have a good weekend!

Jillian said...

Yeah, I definately find it entertaining when I went to visit South Carolina and they called all soda (pop, whatever) "Coke". My family all just had a laugh.

"Whatdaya' want fer drink?"
"What type a coke?"
"Okay I got it, but what type?"
"Okay, I want the beverage COKE. Regular Coke. Not Diet Coke."
"Gootttt yah"

LOL Good times. :-)

Jamie Dawn said...

That audio dialect quiz was fun. Four of the sound bytes were not working, but that is not the reason I didn't do very well. That was a hard quiz!!

Here's my results from that other one:
70% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
10% Yankee
5% Dixie
0% Midwestern

I really want to have more Dixie!!

Yes, my relatives to say "farty-far" for 44.

Mojotek said...

This subject has always interested me... Being from Kentucky, but not having a southern accent has always been interesting when travelling. I do find myself dawning the twang a bit when I'm out in the country camping or shooting guns (not hunting), just so the locals don't look at you like a stuck up city boy.

Hell, I even pop a little ebonics here and there to fit in with my black friends (but just a little, overdo it and you look like an ass).

Denny Shane said...

I'm from Philly, grew up dere, and I don't notice any diffrent tawlking. Of course now I live in Texas y'all and I have noticed my speech patterns changing slightly.

Yo! Get-a-long dere liddle doggie.

Bruce said...

I was born in Upstate NY, but have lived all but the first 7 years of my life in Virginia. Over the years, my speech became filled with a lot of "Southernese", but I still retain some of my NY accent, especially with certain vowel combinations. I pride myself on being able to tell where people are from by their accent, and more often than not, I'm right. I've found that there are different Southern dialects, too. Georgia is different than North Carolina; Virginia is different than Tennessee, etc.

Bruce said...

Of course, after bragging about my ability, I only got 4 right on the dialect quiz...I spoke too soon.
And then, I scored this:

50% General American English
30% Dixie
15% Yankee
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

David Amulet said...

An ex-girlfriend of mine was great with accents ... she could tell you how long you'd lived in her city--and the area where you lived most of your life before that.

And most of the time, she was quite close.

But not for me. Despite her claims, I am not from hell.

-- david

Curare_Z said...

65% General American nglish
20% Dixie
5% Midwestern
5% Yankee
0% Upper Midwestern

But, I've been told I "have no accent" because I grew up all over the place (my dad was military).

Only my husband's friends in Canada say I have an accent. "I" have an accent? Whatever. :-)

The Phoenix said...

Metal Mark, Sounds like most of us have to wear the "professional voice" when appropriate.

phred, that's one of the mysteries of the world.

Jillian, the Carolinas have their own dialect. It's a strange one - cross between some Mid-Atlantic, Midwestern, and Southern.

Jamie Dawn, maybe you should watch old Dukes of Hazzard to get more Dixie.

Mojotek, nothing is funnier than a white guy overdoing the Ebonics thing.

Denny & Bruce, you guys must be totally confused now. Your accents must be very strange indeed. Going from the Northeast to the South is a pretty stark contrast.

David, sounds like your ex spoke in tongues.

curare_z, thanks for coming by again. I've been to your blog and hopefully I can help get more traffic to it. It's great writing. Canadians have the most interesting accent of all. The "abut" for "about" can get annoying. But I find their "intestynes" for "intestines" very amusing.

Curare_Z said...


Thanks for the compliment Phoenix! :-) 'Tis much appreciated!!

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

When I first met the PK, I thought for sure he HAD to be from the Georgia or South Carolina, because he had this southern accent. Turns out, he's from Southern Illinois! All his cousins talk the same way too!

Me...I was born and bred in the south and have NO ACCENT whatsoever. Except for when I say "ya'll" and "fixin to", no one would ever guess I was from the south.

DaBich said...

::laughin at David Amulet::

Youns want some soda? I can gitchsome from the fridge. ;)

DaBich said...

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Your Linguistic Profile:
65% General American English
15% Dixie
15% Yankee
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

Here I thought I was just plain ol' hick ;)

ObilonKenobi said...

Are you really from all those areas? i knew I liked you for some reason... You're from the Bronx and I'm from Lawn Giland...

sarah saad said...

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