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Do We 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 Castro Valley 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.

Californicated1 January 26, 2013 at 08:42 PM
4.) The origins of the California accents-- In the early days, it was probably more of a western North American dialect, which was similar to what was spoken in the Rocky Mountain region until the tourists moved in recently and you can still hear in places like in Wyoming and eastern Colorado ("Flatlander", "Homesteader" or "Sodbuster" as my people call it) which was a mish-mash of both southern (Colorado gold rush was done by folks who mined for it in Georgia back in the 1830s) and midwestern (like how we pronounce "territory"). But the Dust Bowl brought in an influx of Oklahomans, Kansans and even Coloradoans and Texans to the point that the Californian accent appeared more "southern" than western North American, once again, how words for places like San Pedro are pronounced along with Vallejo and even Marin, Napa, Vacaville and Placerville are pronounced, and that Californians these days seemed to say these much like those Dust Bowl refugees started out pronouncing them. Instead of "Mair-in", its "Muh-RIN", and "NAA-puh" instead of "Nah-PAH". A Coloradoan pronounces "Play-SIR-vill" which a Californian pronounces it "PLAA-sir-vill" and then there are the words with "aca" in them like "Baca" and "Vacaville". Coloradoans are like Texans in their pronunciation--"BAA-kuh" and "VAA-Kuh-vill" while Californians seem to use "BAH-kah" and "Vaa-kaa-VILL".
Californicated1 January 26, 2013 at 08:52 PM
5.) How Californians work with German names-- Take Bechtel for instance--the name of a California family and world-renowned Construction and Engineering company. Californians pronounce Bechtel as "Bektle" while every east of the Sierra Nevada pronounces it as "Beck-TELL", which you can hear both in Denver and even on some "60 Minutes" stories Leslie Stahl used to report on. But I will give Californians this, when it comes to their accents, you can probably understand these folks a lot better than you can folks who speak with accents from other parts of the country. The New Englanders talk too fast. So do the New Yorkers and the folks in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The southerners talk too slow, like a 45 RPM record played on a turntable that can also play 16 RPM records. And the Texans, Okies, Kansies, Braskies, Coloradoans and Cowboys alike all pretty much murder their American English, as well as most other languages, too. But at least Californians have struck up sort of a "happy medium" in the way they talk. Not too fast, not too slow.
Californicated1 January 26, 2013 at 09:01 PM
During the Dust Bowl years, a lot of Oklahomans settled up here in the East Bay, mainly in Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro and yes, this Californicated Coloradoan massacres Estudillo, too--"Ess-too-DEE-loh".
Dave Coleman January 27, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Freeway Names: In N Calif, we say Eight Eighty, Two Thirty Eight, etc. In S. Calif they say The Two Ten, The Fifteen, most often giving it the definite article. One of my sons has lived in S Cal for 15 years and uses "The" before the freeway number too. Odd huh? I've often wondered why...
x January 27, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Sounds like an older person saying, "The Facebook".

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