Getty Images
Cailey Rizzo
August 27, 2016

You’ve likely heard the words “Standard American English,” for describing certain accents that lack distinguishing sounds. Well, apparently, that's not real.

Every single American has an accent. For those who have lived in one part of the country and then moved somewhere else only to be told “You have an accent!” this is great news.

For a while, people described the accent from Northeastern Ohio as standard American, and the Midwestern accent was ascribed the title “General American.” But at some point, maybe during the immigration patterns of the 1950s, people shifted and the midwest accent changed. For a few more years, people held onto the belief that the midwest dialect was standard, until everybody came to their senses and realized that people from the midwest definitely have an accent.

As Atlas Obscura put it: “Generally, Americans tend to believe that the accent they’re most familiar with is the most correct.”

Everybody thinks that their own accent is the most correct, and that the accent of those who speak the most differently is also the most “wrong.”

In linguistics, an accent is a particular way of pronouncing sounds. But it’s important to note that this particular way of pronouncing sounds may be associated with a specific stereotype. Ergo, if people don’t want to be associated with a particular stereotype, they will try their best to not speak with the associated accent.

But the plot twist is that Americans are actually really terrible at hearing accents. We identify each accent with only a sound or two. When most Americans think of New Yorkers, they think “cwaughfee.” When most Americans think of southerners, they think of “y’all.” They don’t tend to hear nuances in speech, aside from a couple vowels or distinguishing words.

If a person from the Midwest is trying to “lose” their accent, it will sound very different than someone from the South trying to do the same. If both lose their most identifying traits, neither will particularly sound accented, but they won't sound the same either.

So basically “Standard American English” is a lie and you will only ever sound like where you came from, minus (maybe) one minor, identifying trait. But the good news is that no one will be able to tell.

There’s another loophole in speech that many newscasters use to sound like they’re from nowhere particular: A precise enunciation, similar to what some may call a “stage voice,” is the same everywhere in the U.S. To reach members in the back of the audience, it is important to clearly enunciate each word.

When each sound of the word is very clearly pronounced, it will fool a listener into thinking that the speaker is accent-less.

So, to blend in in a place far from home, apparently all you need to do is tone down certain vowels and enunciate your words.

Cailey Rizzo writes about travel, art and culture and is the founding editor of The Local Dive. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @misscaileyanne.

You May Like