Do San Leandrans Have An Accent?

Stanford linguistics researchers are working on Voices of California, a study of how we talk.

Valley girls. Surf bros. Chicano English.

A team of researchers from Stanford have launched the study Voices of California to determine if Californians have accents.

What do you think the San Leandro accent is?

Penelope Eckert, professor of linguistics and anthropology at Stanford, believes there's more to it than vowel shifting and vocabulary, dudes.

Despite the state's diverse population, many Californians believe they don't have distinguishable way of speaking. (Some call it a "TV accent.")

"It's really important to portray California as it is," Eckert told Stanford News. "People have this view of California based on Hollywood, and California really is a very diverse state."

Voices of California researchers are recording and studying how Californians speak. They've visited Redding, Merced and, last fall, went to Bakersfield.

Eckert and her researchers say they've found distinctions between coastal California and Central Valley, such as influences of southern twang from Dust Bowl migrants. The large number of Latinos in California impacts language as well.

Voices of California participants talk about their lives, but also are asked questions about special words, expressions, and pronunciations during research interviews. Each reads a list of words that researchers think have distinctive pronunciations in California.

Try these words off the list:

  • Wash, because some people pronounce it "warsh."
  • Greasy, because some people pronounce it "greezy."
  • Pin and pen, because some people pronounce them the same.

KQED in San Francisco and Southern California Public Radio invited listeners to record impressions of California accents.

Courtney Young, 40, of San Mateo County said, in one of the public radio recordings, that she thinks Californians draw out their words and use slang. 

"I feel like it's really influenced by surfer speak," said Young, who admits to saying "totally" and "dude" all the time.

Do you think you have an accent? Where does it come from and what does it sound like? Tell us in the comment section below.

Marga Lacabe January 26, 2013 at 07:10 PM
That's a silly question, everyone has an accent by definition :-) The actual question seems to be: "are there regional accents in California"? And here, again, the answer is "yes, but..." The "but" being that for some reason - and leaving ethnic accents aside - not everyone from the same region of California actually has the same accent. I can only imagine that there are other factors at play including parental background/class/friends/media exposure. I can no longer distinguish between California accents, but I could do it easily when I first went to college and for the first time heard non-ethnic non-Los Angelino California accents. Kids from Chico sounded different from kids from Ukiah, and definitely surfer dudes from Santa Barbara had their twang. But not everyone followed this pattern. When I met my husband I felt he had a pretty noticeable and unique accent, which bugged me for years for some reason, but I can no longer hear it (can others?).
David January 26, 2013 at 09:16 PM
Southern California accents are obvious. Listen for certain clipped vowels vs. certain lengthened ones. Northern California accents are obvious. Listen for the speed of speech, many conjunctions are submerged etc. Central Valley accents are obvious in white, non-Hispanics, and sound more like Oklahoma/Texas than "southern." All of these are with the caveats that the person had to grow up in California.
Californicated1 January 26, 2013 at 11:40 PM
When I did Technical Support in a customer-facing call center, I got calls from all over the English-speaking world and given that the nature of my support also involved LInux NAS boxes, I found it frustrating having to give verbal instructions over the phone to log in as "root" user, and the person actually on the phone with me and between the keyboard and chair interacting with the NAS box was logging on as "route" instead. And when I asked how this New Englander from Maine how he pronounced "root" as it was spelled, he said something that sounded more to me like "rut" instead of "root", where "route" to me has an "ow" sound. As mentioned in the Castro Valley discussions on this topic, much of the modern California accent we have came from the folks that migrated over here from the Dust Bowl, especially Texas and Oklahoma--the "Joads" that Steinbeck wrote about in "The Grapes Of Wrath" and much of the Central Valley and Salinas Valley reflect that to this day. Southeast Stockton to this very day is still called "Okieville" by the locals and some people out there are proud of their "Okie" and "Arkie" heritage.
Barry Kane January 27, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Nothing more "Okie" in heritage in CA than Bakersfield.
Kathy Armijo January 28, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Yes, it's called American.


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