Sunday, December 13, 2009

California English

Here's a question.

Why don't Californians have accents?

In fact, why don't any of the Western states have accents? Washingtonians, Oregonians and Californians are indistinguishable by speech.

It's a huge area. Compare that to New England and the Eastern Seaboard....where there's a different accent every 20 miles. And New York City, good Lord, where they change by neighborhood.

When I was a kid, I lamented our lack of accent. My mother comforted me by saying that we had a "California accent" and that we just didn't notice it because we lived here and everyone spoke the same, but if we went to another part of the country, it would be noticed and identified as such.

But when I got older, I found out that wasn't true. Everyone from all over the country agrees that Californians "don't have accents".

How is it someone who has a Brooklyn accent which must seem "normal" to them, considers Californians, who speak differently, not to have an accent?

They'll identify us immediately as coming from California—by our speech—but don't call it a "California accent".

I mean, New York and Boston and Philadelphia existed long before California. Why aren't one of those considered the "norm" and California a "deviation from it", an accent?

I get that putting an "r" where no "r" exists ("warsh the clothes") or dropping them altogether ("waash the caah")  isn't how the language is written and all, but even the Queen's English drops "r's" ("good evening, suh" and "she is a sweet little gel" ) and it's considered the "standard" in know, where ENGLISH came from!

And yet I've heard Englishmen say that Californians pronounce English as it is written...esentially, without an accent.


Sure, Californians pronounce all the letters and don't add ones that aren't there.  We say "wash" and "car" and "sir" and "girl"...and pronounce all the nouns without undo broadening or chopping, but what makes our pronunciation the "right" one?

We're a region that was populated late, who came up with speech that is different from the rest of the country which had been the country for a lot longer, and suddenly we're the arbiter of correct American English?

Seriously, everyone who came here came from a place where they talk "funny".  How did all all those regional—and foreign—accents that met here amalgamate into accent-free California English?

Don't you think that's odd?

And it's not just me saying so, obviously. We've decided it as a culture. Everybody who wants to be a national broadcaster has to drop their regional accents and adopt California English. You don't tune into the networks and hear thick Boston, or Jersey, or Cajun, or Fargo from the anchors.

It's always California English.

Of course, it all seems very natural to me. When I turn on the TV, everyone sounds like me. But why does it seem natural to Americans who don't hear people who sound like them?

I'm not arguing;  I agree with the conclusion. Californians do speak English "without an accent". (And I'm okay with it now, Mom.)

I just can't figure out how or why it happened that way.

The Gunslinger, EOTIS
Para Bellum


  1. Utahns have (used to have?) a unique accent. "Somethink," "nothink," etc., and a long "O" (Oh) is often pronounced "Aw." So you might hear some old farmer saying something like, "I gave some arnge carn to the harses." A short "A," however, is prononced more like a short "E." "I gave some arnge carn to the harses in the krell." (corral). LOL! I lived in Utah for the entire decade of the fifties, and at the time, it had its own distinctive "language."

  2. A homogenous settled community will over time develop an accent. All accents in the States developed over time and at a time when there was no mass influx of foreigners, foreigners being defined as foreign to the comunity such as yankees in the South. You need relative islolation and time to develop an accent, California has never had it. Since the first gold rush in California it has seen nothing but a series of "rushes", the depression, hippies, silicon valley, hollywood and now the Mexican rush which is pushing the people who might have developed an accent out.

  3. Ciccio, you misunderstand...

    I'm not saying that we don't have a way of speaking that is "peculiar to California".

    I'm saying that native born Californians DO all talk the a way that all English speakers agree "has no accent at all".

    That's the part that's strange. With all the different accents that you rightly point out ended up here, how is it we developed a manner of speaking that eliminated them all?

  4. That is interesting G.S. when I was stationed in Fort Ord, California I really never payed it much attention but reflecting on it now that you mention it. Your right I guess it never really hit me while I was there due to me being raised an Army brat and being blown around from place to place like a tumbleweed. I just thought it was the norm from having so many cultures brought together much like a Military installation. My father however grew up in the north but doesn't have a northen accent now, must be because he has been exposed to so many different accents over the years. I always thought that the yankee accents were funny myself. Now that I live in the south I do my best to fit in with the Southern Charm. "Yes maam" So with that said I guess that accents depend on your locale.

  5. In a melting pot the L.C.D. will rise to the top.
    All regional idiosyncracies will be brushed aside.

  6. Not just the way of saying the words, but the words too... after moving to Missouri, it took me a long time and a bunch of blank stares, to stop saying "Freeway", and start saying "Highway".