California English

April 20, 2005

Your Linguistic Profile:

75% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
10% Yankee
0% Dixie
0% Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

This table shows my own breakdown of American English (hat tip to Spencer Speaks). I thought this survey was fun; but I doubt it has much real value.

This notes that my speech is 75% “General American English.” I think this term is referring to California English. When I personally hear other Americans speaking, I am very alert to their regional accents. This stems, perhaps, from my interest in and experience with foreign languages. When I hear a person who “doesn’t really have an accent,” in other words, speaks this General American English, it is because they are speaking California English. This is what my mom speaks–and she is from California. My Dad also speaks “without an accent” even though he is originally from rural central Utah. But he has a lot of education, including a doctorate degree, which I believe ameliorates and eliminates the small-town Utah speech of his own parents and brothers from his speech.

It is a curious phenomenon that California English should be termed “General American English” in a survey like this, in other words, that people think of “General American English,” i.e. Standard American English, when they hear California English (although they might not realize that what they are hearing is California English). The reason this is curious is because California is so new, so how could the English spoken there be representative of “General American English”? I would argue that it is because of the Entertainment Industry. With many (most?) movies and TV shows coming out of Hollywood and California, together with the large population of the state itself, the variety of English that was once just another regional variety, i.e. California or Western American English, has become the standard since the middle of the twentieth century. Before that, I would guess that New York English or Northeastern American English was equated with “General American English.”

Or am I smoking crack here in thinking that what is generally considered “General American English” is really California English? (Just a note: the same phenomenon has happened in Germany where regional dialects were even more pronounced than in the USA. There, Hochdeutsch (“high German”) actually is supposed to refer to the dialects of Southern Germany, i.e., in the “high” altitudes. It is very different than the Hannover German which is now referred to as “high German” in the sense of educated and/or accent-less German. Even though popular usage (mis)labels such German “high German,” this is a misnomer. It is more accurately called Radiodeutsch, or “radio German,” under the same logic as above: that the entertainment industry has streamlined to some extent the language so that one variety–in Germany it is the German spoken around the Hannover area–is now considered standard or educated German and other dialects are considered “accents.”)