21 Accents

By Shamus
on Dec 3, 2009
Filed under:
Movies

Yesterday someone asked what a “California” accent sounds like. This is a pretty interesting demonstration, but you can jump right to 1:40 to hear what I’m talking about:


Link (YouTube)

California is one of those rare places where females and males have pronounced differences in their speech patterns. (The only other that I’m aware of is Japan.)

To me, the “Seattle” accent is “natural” to me. That matches my own accent to the point where I can’t detect any differences.

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  1. Mark says:

    oh come on! a video about accents and not even one from newfoundland!? whats with that, lol

  2. Stephen says:

    I think the “Seattle” one might as well count as the “Americans raised on TV and radio” accent. That sounds natural to me as well, and I grew up in the south (in most city areas it seems way more common than the “Charleston” accent, though she didn’t really touch on the drawl that slips in on occasion).

  3. Volatar says:

    That was very interesting. Thanks for the vid Shamus.

    Interestingly enough, Seattle sounds like the basic American accent, the one I try to speak. However, I have lived in Los Angeles CA, Salt Lake City UT, and Raleigh NC, so my actual accent sounds rather… unique xD

  4. Sam says:

    I’ve always thought that English people doing American (or other) accents were much better than American people doing other countries’ accents. Though I don’t think every woman in California speaks like her California accent. Probably in Southern Cal, but not everywhere. Still, she’s quite good. Better than my accents and dialects, which sound thoroughly exaggerated thanks to my not knowing the languages at all.

  5. Awwww… she didn’t do a Michigan “U-Per” accent, eh? (Which is very similar to a Minnesota accent.)

    Even so, that was a really interesting video.

    Leslee

  6. Hipparchus says:

    According to some online quizs, I have a General American Accent and I’m for California-Seattle area….
    Only I’m from Indiana. I think Indiana doesn’t have any special regional accent, so I’m pretty “Seattle”.

  7. MuonDecay says:

    That was very cute! Probably the best answer possible to the question, too. I see what you meant, now :)

  8. Grant says:

    This sounds a bit more like caricatures of accents. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Canadian accent anywhere in Canada as strong as her Toronto one. I assume the rest are also overdone a little.

    Very impressive talent, though.

  9. Audacity says:

    Am I the only one that thinks this is a wee bit creepy? I can’t speak for all of them, but she does the US west-coaster and Canadian accents perfectly, and the Berliner sounds dead on too.

    I spent my formative years in California, but have always spoken with a Seattle type accent. I think it’s less the TV accent, which has always sounded more mid-western to me, as it is the US military one. It’s how my father, who grew up on the base in Okinawa, and all the soldiers I know talk, no matter where they were originally from.

    @Grant: Most Canadians I know sound indistinguishable from the northern states, but I know a few older Canadians that have accents very similar to the ones she did.

    • Shamus says:

      If you want to hear a crazy and very localized accent, check out that “Pittsburgh” accent sometimes. These people might be faking or exaggerating it, but this is very close to the real thing. Particularly once they start to get upset around the halfway point:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4jn1L-riak

      The accent / dialect is most famous for the word “yinz”, which comes from “you-ins”, meaning “you people”. It’s roughly equivalent to the southern “ya’ll”. It’s quite strong as well. “Down there” comes out sounding like “dahn nair”. Correctly or incorrectly, the Pittsburgh accent is associated with the lower class, trailer parks, and such.

      There are a small number of people with this accent around me. I don’t know where it comes from. Is it a third-generation Polish accent? A hybrid of accents? I have no idea.

      • skeeto says:

        My wife pointed me towards this short film today: Street Light Stories by Pittsburgh Dad. It’s about a summer evening in Pittsburgh in 1987, a time and place where I myself grew up. It was through your comment here that we discovered Greg & Donny years ago, and then eventually Pittsburgh Dad, so I figured this was the right place to share this video.

  10. bbot says:

    The Seattle “accent” is typically called General American or Standard Midwestern English, whichever sounds more boring.

  11. Aergoth says:

    A little analogous to Standard or BBC English?

  12. Allerun says:

    The Texas accent was off, the southern accent sounded forced. Most of the others were well done though.

  13. radio_babylon says:

    as a native texan, born here and likely to die here, i can tell you that ive never met anyone that sounded like that texas accent. i can see how it might sound texan to someone who didnt live here… but its “off”… if you ran around down here talking like that, people would probably come to the conclusion you were making fun of them.

    this is probably the case with all the accents… the rest of them sound just fine to me, but i imagine they sound completely wrong to a native…

    (edit: @14 lol ok glad it wasnt just me)

  14. Dev Null says:

    Fascinating. I think the best bit was the way her face changed to fit the accent she was using…

  15. Hal says:

    I couldn’t really tell much difference between the “Seattle” and the “California.” Is it just the mild upward inflection at the end of the words?

  16. Grant says:

    @radio_babylon

    Exactly the impression I got! While I agree with Audacity that some older Canadians sound a little bit like that, if someone came to Canada and talked that way, we would assume they were making fun of us.

    At least some of them are caricatures. I can’t speak for all of them, of course.

  17. Fosse says:

    1 – I am now in love with this woman. Thank you, Shamus.

    2 – As someone originally from the Inland North dialect region in America (Hipparchus may be from the same, if he lives in the north part of the state), the Seattle dialect is just perceptible as being different than my own. She says “I’m twenty-five,” where most folks I meet would say “I’m Twenny-Five,” without that second “t” sound in “twenty.”

    3 – The TV and Radio dialect isn’t 100% the same as any American regional dialect, least of all Pacific Northwest (including Seattle). But it’s fair to say that it’s comparable to what’s spoken in the Midland area, which includes Hipparchus if he’s from the southern part of Indiana.

    It’s certainly not going to stand up to Pacific Northwesterners in any sort of test. But I do agree with others here that it sounds the most “normal,” in the sense that I’d expect it if I turned on the television. I’m not sure off the top of my head if Broadcast pronunciation would say “twenty-five” like she does or like I do. But it would likely go unnoticed by most people most of the time.

    4 – I really am in love with her.

  18. BFG9000 says:

    Maaaan, I was born in Toronto and never met anyone that spoke like that. That’s Newfoundland, for sure. And a strong Newfoundland. Harumph… Canadians get upset when they are incorrectly stereotyped.

  19. Strangeite says:

    It is interesting how the advent of radio influenced the regional accents.

    Around the turn of the last century, the University of Kentucky conducted a oral history project composed of the people in appalachian eastern Kentucky. In Appalachia at the time, life was very isolated and the people had very little contact with the outside world from the time of the early Scotch-Irish settlers from the early 1700’s.

    What is interesting is a study done by linguists in the 1960’s. They found that there had been a profound change in the accent of the people from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s.

    In fact, when listening to the old recordings, the linguists discovered that the people from Eastern Kentucky were speaking an accent almost identical to “Queen’s English” from the 1700’s.

    By the time the 1960’s rolled around, the accent had changed to the current appalachian accent. The conclusion was that it was the advent of radio that contributed to the change.

    I have listened to some of those early recordings and it is very weird hearing an archaic English accent talking about moonshine, hollers and coal.

  20. I’ve lived in Texas for sixteen years now. While I have indeed heard accents similar Amy’s up there, it’s hardly common and is indeed (as Allerun and radio_babylon say) a bit off – especially the “ah” in “twenty-five” of “twenny-fahv,” as she said it.

    Still, an impressive demonstration! I was most impressed by how clean her transitions were from accent to accent – that’s where I have the most trouble when I’m affecting an accent.

    Ben

  21. Factoid says:

    Here “Charleston, SC” accent was more of a “Savanna, Georgia” accent.

    South Carolinians have a similar drawl, but a faster pace of speech.

    Not that it matters. I don’t think her objective is to have true-blue accents for each place, but rather a recognizable accent that comes across distinctly. The kind that an actor would be trained in…a little embellished, but generally fairly authentic.

    Like the movie Fargo. Nobody in Fargo talks like that unless they’re a second generation norwegian…but it’s not that far off.

  22. Nick says:

    I could barely notice a difference between the California and Seattle accents, though California sounded cheery and upwards. I did notice the “twenny” versus “twenty” once someone mentioned it though.

    I can’t really say which one I prefer / sound-like. As for the Canada one, it sounded a bit too steroetypical, but then this video was about MAKING accents where you don’t have one before. I’ve always been interested in “gaining” a russian accent, personally.

    I always heard that us Utahn’s had a slight accent. I am not sure what exactly it is, but it involves saying… or NOT saying… the word “mountain” right. I’ve heard it, and “curtain” (and similar words) heard both ways. It just depends on whether we want to really emphasize the last “t” by saying “mountain” or go quickly and say “mou-en”. Kinda strange…

  23. UtopiaV1 says:

    That was… surreal. She didn’t do any northern english accents tho, aww!!!

  24. ifriit says:

    From what I’ve gathered, the Seattle accent is considered the most neutral American English accent, which is why it’s common on television and radio across the country.

    That said, the Seattle accent is definitely localized–rural Washingtonians often have an accent that’s kind of like a light Minnesotan. The word that stands out in my mind as an example is the name of the state, which sounds more like “warshington.”

  25. Aufero says:

    The accent at 1:40 is more specifically a Los Angeles accent, (as she points out) not a California accent. You’ll hear those inflections often in the L.A. area and surrounding counties, and less often elsewhere in the state. (It’s a big state.)

    And holy cow, she’s good at that. I’ve never heard an English speaker get the difference between Czech and Russian accents right before.

  26. kikito says:

    I’ve allways had a weak spot for Scottish accent.

    If I only was able to understand it!

    I’ve also noticed that the female on the vid didn’t Indian accent. And she spoke French with an English accent, instead of English with a French one.

  27. Shamus, as soon as I saw this I was going to ask you if you had any sort of Pittsburgh accent. I grew up in Pittsburgh and I try to hide the slight one I have, since I hate hearing it. Maybe it’s just because my dad is from Florida and he would always tell us how ridiculous we all sounded.

    My wife is from Johnstown, which is close enough she has a slight Pittsburgh accent too (as her parents), and even says “yinz” and “read-up the house”. (edit: ah, I see that linked video is from Johnstown)

    If I wanted to show someone the best example of a Pittsburgh accent I know, I just have to introduce them to my uncle. He sounds *exactly* like the people in that video.

    “Correctly or incorrectly, the Pittsburgh accent is associated with the lower class, trailer parks, and such.”

    Well stated.

  28. DmL says:

    Yeah her Texas was more of a blur-up from Oklahoma into the southwestern part of Tennessee. (I currently live in Tennessee and speak mostly General/slightly NC). Compare Reba McEntire. And yeah, I know a couple folks from Newfoundland, and her Canadian was much more like that. As for the SoCal, I’ve heard it much stronger. Most of these are good caricatures and I bet she’s General/Neutral.

  29. Shinan says:

    Somehow I have a feeling that all the ones saying that a certain accent was off is because you are intimately familiar with that very accent.

    What I’m trying to say is that anyone with a native accent will see the flaws when someone tries to imitate that native accent while those of us without will just think “oh my god that is good!”

  30. Zombie Pete says:

    Yeah, her Texan sounds like a combo of Reba McEntire (Oklahoma) and Holly Hunter (Georgia). Impressive, though.

  31. Vegedus says:

    There isn’t much difference between Cal and Seattle accent in my hears, according to that video. Californian accent sounds pretty neutral to my ears, but english isn’t my native language, so, well.

    I’m gonna check out her site and see if there’s some decent lessons in irish and scottish. I love those accents.

  32. Feb says:

    I studied dialects when I was getting my BA in theatre arts, and worked out a pretty good Oxford British dialect with the help of a classmate who came from Surrey.

    The above is true: unless it’s the accent you hear every day, it can be tough to spot the ways in which the dialect isn’t quite ‘right.’ And if it IS your own dialect, you may still feel as though a good imitation is an exaggeration.

    I’m from Minnesota, and studied in Vermont for a year. When people asked where I was from, I asked them to guess first. I got Seattle, Kansas, Ohio, Florida, and Canada. Nobody said Minnesota. So it is all very much relative, and the sheer volume of Amy’s dialect bag o’ tricks is the impressive thing, more than the accuracy (although I’m sure at least a few of them are dead-on).

  33. RustyBadger says:

    I’m wondering why she didn’t do a Newfoundland (Newfie) or Quebecois accent. From a Canadian perspective, those are our best- although the Tronna one is fun to mock as well. Albertans all have a Texan accent, so she did that already. And in BC we sound just like Seattleites. And seriously, I wanted to hear the Chinese and Indian accents too!

    I want to marry that lady. I wonder if she can do a Utah accent?

  34. RTBones says:

    Got to give the lady props. A most impressive demonstration. German was great. And the nuances between Czech and Russian were fantastic and incredibly difficult to do as an English speaker. Having said that — its already been said that her Texas was “off”. To me, it sounds more TN than anything else. I’ve never heard anyone from Toronto talk the way she did. Her Charleston was a little slow to my ear.

    She ran through a series of english accents. Pity there wasnt a Yorkshire or Liverpool thrown in. This side of the atlantic, Maine, Boston, and DelMarVa (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) would have been interesting to hear her do.

  35. Goliath says:

    @Shinian: Sure, maybe some of them are just off enough to be distinguishable from native speakers, but I can tell you that I’ve never heard anyone with the accents she calls Irish and Northern Irish.

    The Irish one is the kind of steriotype you just don’t hear (Unless we’re all so innoculated to it that we can’t perceive it), and her Northern one was deep nor broad enough. In fact, her Northern one was closer to a Dublin accent, albeit one that’s been watered down by living out in the country for too long. Her London one is a bit too clipped, too. Sure, I’ve heard it, but it’s not a living London accent.

    Not that I’m complaining. I know these are charicatures. I just thought it bore mentioning (Seriously, none of us know how you hear that accent when we talk.)

  36. Kdansky says:

    That was awesome. And Californian is one of the least pleasant to listen to. Texas and Brooklyn are also bad.
    All the London ones are great though :P

  37. Neil says:

    That German accent sounded nothing like any actual German person I’ve ever met, and everything like every German from a English language WW2 film I’ve ever seen. The Czech accent sounded like Russian was trying to force its way through as well.
    A lot of these accents sound like the movie version of the accents rather than the real thing, in fact, like the Southern accents as others pointed out above.

  38. Telas says:

    Add my (accented) voice to the chorus of “that Texas accent ain’t quite right.” Texas actually has multiple accents (west Texas, Dallas, east Texas, Houston, south Texas, border, etc), which isn’t that remarkable since it’s actually larger than France.

  39. Telas says:

    I should probably also add that a theatrical accent isn’t supposed to be ‘realistic’, but it should be evocative.

    I’d say her performance is successful on that basis.

  40. Nathan says:

    I’m surprised to hear that so many people think that the California accent and the Seattle accent are the same… As someone who grew up in California (in the Central Valley/Sacramento area), the California accent is the one I am definitely familiar with, and the Seattle accent sounded very unfamiliar.

    I think some people are underestimating exactly how important the cheerful mood of her presentation of the California accent was. It was more than just her playing a character who was happy, it is actually a pretty vital part to how girls talk in California. It is amazing how often you can hear girls sound happy and cheerful when they are angry or upset around here.

    Now if only I could convince people that my own particular accent (which is almost certainly influenced by my German heritage and a youth growing up in Nevada and Oklahoma) wasn’t a “British” accent… It is just weird how often I am told that I sound British, when I absolutely do not. People can have odd perceptions of accents sometimes.

  41. ephant says:

    I thought that the irish & scottish accents to me sounded like an english person putting on a fake irish/scottish accent.

    The sydney australian accent hit the ‘neutral’ spot for me but the broad aussie sounded annoying and fake – the New Zealand accent was subtle but well done – maybe a nzer who had been living over here for a few years haha.

  42. onosson says:

    I couldn’t even recognize her “Canadian” accent until she said “Toronto”… and not “Tranna”!

    FWIW, I’m Canadian, and currently writing a linguistics M.A. thesis on Canadian English.

  43. mark says:

    The belfast one was shit.

  44. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I find so funny when people say one has a “French” accent. Which do you mean? Parisian, Marseillais, Nicois, Belgian, Swiss, Montreal, Quebec City, New Orlean, Abitibi, St John Lake, Gaspesie, Fredericton?

    Not to forget the lebanese, Congolese, maghrebian French accents, which is a double-accentuented speech.

  45. Cuthalion says:

    @ifriit 26: From what I’ve gathered, the Seattle accent is considered the most neutral American English accent, which is why it’s common on television and radio across the country.

    Seattle is actually a bit different. While accents vary like you said, the two big differences I’ve noticed (I was raised in suburbs about an hour from Seattle) between typical Seattle and typical newscaster are:

    1) Cot and caught are pronounced the same in Seattle.
    2) Several words (can’t remember any specifics off the top of my head) are pronounced with a short “a” (as in “cat”) rather than a wide “a” (as in “father”).

    Basically, if you gave a Seattle guy and a Midwest guy the same script, you would only be able to tell the difference on maybe one sentence per paragraph.

    Also, Seattle actually sounds more neutral to me than newscaster, since I grew up an hour from there and my mom and dad grew up in a small city about 1 1/2 hours from Seattle and a suburb of Seattle, respectively.

    That said, the Seattle accent is definitely localized–rural Washingtonians often have an accent that’s kind of like a light Minnesotan. The word that stands out in my mind as an example is the name of the state, which sounds more like “warshington.”

    This is true. Though in a lot of cases it’s because those people grew up in other states. I know a Washingtonian woman originally from Minnesota that talks like you describe, and my grandparents on my dad’s side grew up in other states and pronounce it “Warshington.” (But everybody I know my age (20ish) who grew up there has no “r” in “Washington”.)

    I can’t tell you how much that random “r” bugs me. If you pronounce it “Warshington”, a native will immediately assume you’ve never been there and probably don’t realize the state is different from the city. Or at least, I would. :P

    On another topic, would it be possible to have a bunch of us each record ourselves reading the same script, and then post it somewhere to listen to the accent differences? Maybe I’m weird, but that sounds fun to me. :P

    EDIT: Regarding California accents, I find nothing more annoying than a strong female Cali accent, and nothing more dumb sounding than a strong male Cali accent. I haven’t actually been to a comp with sound to watch the video yet though, so I can’t say if hers was thick enough for me to hate it or not. I know, I know, I’m a bigot…

  46. DmL says:

    Yeah Solka, there is alot of gloss on the whole thing. : ) My wife and I argued all the time over French pronunciation until we realized that her teacher had learned Parisian French and mine Southern (not even mentioning that my teachers learned in Moscow and Minnesota). When I was in France one summer a nice lady in Paris asked if I was from Toulouse. It was quite a shock for her to learn I had studied in Florida (she’d never heard of it : ) This is my favorite post on this site and I love the comments! (Wannabe linguist!)

  47. Macil says:

    But how does she NORMALLY talk? And would you believe her if she told you what her normal voice was?!

  48. PAK says:

    That. Was. Incredible. As a theater actor, I am in awe of this woman. As someone above said, those being nitpicky are obviously intimately familiar with the accents involved. It is VERY difficult for a non-local to hit these things on the nose, and just understanding the basic differences between, say, Los Angeles and Seattle inflections is impressive.

    As a lifelong LA area SoCal native I will confess that, yes, what she is doing is a caricature of the caucasian surfer-chick accent, and very few people who speak with it naturally have it quite so pronounced. But I certainly don’t feel like she was making fun of it. It was very, very close.

  49. mookers says:

    #49: awesome comment.

    I wish she had done a Greek-Australian or Lebanese-Australian accent. Fooly sik, mate!

  50. Davie says:

    That was amazing. For the most part very impressive, although the German accent consistently reminded me of the Medic–that is, incredibly fake-sounding. I AM ZE UBAMENSCH!

    The closest thing to my native accent would also be the Seattle accent, and I have to say she did a pretty good job.
    We Portlanders speak in a weird mix of Cali and Seattle accents. I was surprised that she could discern between the two of them so noticeably. All very impressive.

  51. I’m a native Scot, and the Scottish accent sounded a bit off to me. It started out OK, but it seemed to drift into Irish towards the end. Then again, there are so many different Scottish accents (just as there are in any part of the world) that, for all I know, she could easily have been using one I’m not familiar with. Even so, that’s a seriously impressive talent she’s got there and, as someone else pointed out, perhaps the most impressive part of it is how effortlessly she drifts from one to the other.

    On a side note, it’s always a source of personal amusement to me whenever someone says they don’t have an accent or describes someone’s speech as accentless. As someone who studied linguistics at university, and one of the very first things that was drummed into us was that EVERYONE has an accent of some sort and that there’s no such thing as neutrality.

    PS. I’ve never spent any time in the US but I could hear a clear difference between the California and Seattle accents.

  52. VorpalHerring says:

    The Australia and New Zealand ones were perfect

  53. Tuck says:

    On a side note, it’s always a source of personal amusement to me whenever someone says they don’t have an accent or describes someone’s speech as accentless. As someone who studied linguistics at university, and one of the very first things that was drummed into us was that EVERYONE has an accent of some sort and that there’s no such thing as neutrality.

    I’m a first-generation Australian of English-Belgian background who grew up in Southeast Asia among people of all nationalities (Aussie, US, Canadian, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, German, French, and more!).

    I may have an accent, but I defy you to match it with any one place. :P

    (although now I’ve been back in Australia for years and I notice myself picking up the Aussie accent)

    +1 to another comment somewhere up above that said her accents sounded a bit too “stereotype”.

  54. I’m from New Zealand and both the Welling (NZ) and Seattle accents seemed “normal” to me. Probably because the American tv shows I watch as noted by Stephen.

  55. Tuck says:

    The Australia and New Zealand ones were perfect

    No they weren’t!

    [/opinion]

  56. @Tuck 55:

    Oh, accents can be unique. Yours may not sound like anyone else’s, but I assure you you have one. :p

    Mine’s a bit all over the place myself. A student from China once asked me if I was really from Scotland. She couldn’t believe I was, because — and I quote — “I can understand what you’re saying.” :D

  57. Ysabel says:

    And here I thought her Texas accent sounded just like the Texas side of my family.

    But there are multiple Texas accents. It’s a big place.

  58. Nalano says:

    Amy Walker’s “Brooklynite” accent sounded exaggerated and hokey to me, a native New Yorker.

    While there is a ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ thing, it’s not nearly as pronounced, it’s relegated largely to New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island (where all the eye-talians moved when they left Bensonhoist), and anybody who would walk the streets of Brooklyn sounding like her would prompt passersby to wonder where the MTV cameras are hiding.

  59. Aaron says:

    Yeah, I have to agree that the Canadian accent is a little off. If it was correct I shouldn’t have noticed an accent at all. The accent was more of a prairie accent if anything. Similar to the Minnesota area accent.

    Oddly enough, the Seattle accent sounded normal to me.

  60. MisteR says:

    I’ve been in Belfast for a couple of weeks last year, and it did seem comparable to my memory. The German one was not so great, as was the French. The Czech and the Russian ones were awesome though.

    I was disappointed that she didn’t do the Dutch accent, which I’ve never heard any non-native speaker try successfully.

  61. Scott says:

    The Californian accent (as pointed out above) is actually a Los Angeles accent; more specificly, a San Fernando Valley accent (The one that puts the ‘valley’ in ‘valley-girl’). Being born and raised in the San Fernando area, I have developed that exact accent even though I am not female.

  62. RodeoClown says:

    The Australian accents weren’t quite right – the Sydney one sounded a bit forced. Close, but definitely not native :)

    I thought the “Ocker-Aussie” one was very forced.

    But impressive nonetheless :)

  63. Majikkani_Hand says:

    Ugh, as someone who grew up in the south, I have to admit her southern accent was…just wrong. Of course, as has been repeatedly stated, I’m intimately familiar with that dialect, but even to my untrained ears her Texan one also sounded off. Still, the fact that she can adopt so many accents so clearly distinguished with such a small transitory period, regardless of their accuracy, is extremely impressive.

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