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August 2015

Five distinctive accents in the United States

Notable accents from America that you should know

Like many countries, the United States is one filled with a diverse set of people, and thus a great number of English accents exist. As American pop culture is widely disseminated across the world, you may already be familiar with the more notable accents. Today we’ll take a look at the top five distinctive accents in the United States, covering those you know and maybe a few you don’t.

Southern Accent

While the accent of the American South might be difficult to comprehend for many students of the English language, its original form was actually much closer to British English, albeit with a playful inflection. This was particularly true of what is known as the Southern Aristocracy, a sort of American royalty evident in the first half of the film Gone with the Wind. Today’s Southern accent draws much from its posh past. Today, there are a myriad of varying types of accents in the American South, from that of Georgia to the richness of the Cajun accent.

History Channel explains the origins of the Southern accent.

New Yorker Accent

The New York accent is an important one as it’s iconic of America’s grandest city. This is an accent with attitude, often associated with police officers or gangsters in popular films. You’ve likely heard it in movies like Goodfellas or perhaps in sitcoms like Seinfeld. Sociolinguist William Labov dubbed the New York accent the most recognizable accent in North American English. Not surprisingly, many of its attributes have entered the popular American lexicon.

Learn how to speak with a New York accent.

Bostonian Accent

We could not mention the New York accent without also giving a nod to Boston. Neighbours and rivals, it would be wrong to put both of the North Eastern states under the same item on a list, especially as the accents are both very distinguishable from one another. The Bostonian accent is one characteristic of the accent of New England, the northwestern-most region of the United States. While the accent of Boston proper is characterized by the everyperson, the similar (yet still very different) accent of Connecticut and surrounding states is one that typifies affluence (think: the Kennedys). Of course, these are stereotypes, though ones played heavily in popular media today.

A Boston native attempts to use Siri.

Californian Accent

Whoa, dude. Gnarly wave! From Keanu Reeves to the Ninja Turtles, the surfer and skateboarder accent of California is now ubiquitous around the world, used often by laid-back youths. In Southern California, Valleyspeak is also prominent, a sassy form of English originally from the San Fernando Valley. Those who have seen the film Clueless will be familiar with this accent. More subtly, the Californian accent is similar to the Southern accent, as migrants during the Dust Bowl era of American history settled in Southern California.

Researchers from Stanford University study the Californian accent.

Local Hawaiian Accent

Also known as Hawaiian Creole, Hawaiian Pidgin is noticeably different from any other accent in the United States. It is a mix of multiple languages formed during Hawaii's plantation era during which Europeans, Asians and Americans interacted with the locals. And while Hawaiian Pidgin is like a different dialect, the sound of it still enters into the way proper English is spoken on the islands.

Short documentary on the voice of Hawaii.

Do you have a favourite American accent? How do they sound to you? Let us know on our Facebook page and be sure to “like” TELC English for more fun articles on cultures and languages from around the world!

Picture: (c) Andrey Popov, fotolia