Friday, August 1, 2014

Regional Accent Reduction

There was a recent news item regarding the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN offering a Southern accent reduction class; this was canceled after numerous complainants found it to be offensive.  My first response was: How stupid and insensitive they were to offer such an offensive class.  And I got slightly pissed, besides.  (Sorry for the language.)  But, then, I wondered whether this was special negative treatment for Southern accents; or whether this kind of accent reduction treatment is given to other regional accents as well.

So I did a Google search.

I found that accent reduction classes were offered for reduction of Texas accents, New York accents, Boston accents, and several others in addition to Southern accents.  In general, some people in several different localities want to change how they sound.  It may be because they perceive their accents as burdened with certain lazy, media-supported stereotypes (i.e., the dumb Southerner, the brash, in-your-face New Yorker), or they see their accent as a handicap to career development.  In other words, accent reduction, for some, is part of a life or occupational strategy.

So is there a more desirable accent?  Apparently, it's a dialect called General American; most similar to a Midwestern accent.  Think of it as sounding like you're from Iowa, mid-state Illinois, or Nebraska.  Actually, this is what newscasters sound like.  One former newscaster, Linda Ellerbee, put it succinctly: "In television you're not supposed to sound like you're from anywhere."

I suspect that there are many who adopt a pattern of having a pattern more approximate to General American in occupational settings but switching to a back home accent or dialect when one returns to a familiar setting.  For example, the second person plural in the Southern dialect could be dropped when one hazards to go north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of Texas.  (Click on illustration to enlarge it.)  I had to learn not to sound Cajun and avoid New Orleans dialect terms.  

Okay, having been a little heavy about accents, I'll leave you with a joke about the Boston accent:

Researchers for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found over 200 dead crows near greater Boston recently, and there was concern that they may have died from Avian Flu. 

A Bird Pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, and, to everyone’s relief, confirmed the problem was definitely NOT Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be vehicular impacts. 

However, during the detailed analysis it was noted that varying colors of paints appeared on the bird’s beaks and claws. By analyzing these paint residues it was determined that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with trucks, while only 2% were killed by an impact with a car. MTA then hired an Ornithological Behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of truck kills versus car kills. 

The Ornithological Behaviorist very quickly concluded the cause: when crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow in a nearby tree to warn of impending danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows could shout “Cah”, not a single one could shout “Truck."


Bijoux said...

I always thought I had the no accent thing going on and that all of us here sound like they do on TV. When my oldest went to college, 60 miles away, everyone told her she had an accent!

Linda Kay said...

That is hillarious, ya'll! Coming from the General American territory in central Illinois, I get really tickled at the Texas accents, but also the pronunciations of things that are familiar. For example, the Pedernales River to the locals is the Perdenales River. Also, in Illinois there is Chicago, which also has an accent of its own. Thanks for the chuckle

Mike said...

I've never heard the term 'general American' before. But I remember broadcasters being taught to speak 'non-regional'. And although there is a band of general American speakers that start around DC and head west to mid Missouri, each area still has it's own regionalisms.

And after the crows would get hit they did manage to say something like truck.

TexWisGirl said...

i know anyone in broadcasting pretty much has to go thru accent reduction. except maybe radio folk. :)

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Accent reduction helps in occupations where coming into contact with people from other regions.

Big Sky Heidi said...

I sound like I'm from Middle Tennessee, and it's hard to change. And what's the point?

Cloudia said...

Truck! Truck!

You ought hear Hawaii pidgin

ALOHA from Honolulu
=^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Hawaiian pidgin is really neat, Cloudia!

Bilbo said...

This isn't just an American thing. I learned pure High German in school, then started to pick up regional dialects when I was living in Germany. Agnes was always on my case to not fall into the Berlin dialect (especially) or the Hessian dialect because she thought it would make me sound dumb. I told her I can sound dumb regardless of dialect.