The Roots of the California Accent

California has an accent as distinctive as its bridgesThe California accent is at a young stage of development. As late as 1941, David DeCamp believed the California accent to be similar to the non-rhotic speech of the east coast; however the accent is closer in tone to the Midwest accent.

Upon moving to Los Angeles many actors and actresses take accent reduction courses to eliminate their regional accents and achieve a Los Angeles accent. Producers will often try to portray any accent that deviates from standard American as a hindrance to one’s acting career.

The stereotypical California accent was introduced into public consciousness by Frank Zappa’s 1982 single “Valley Girl”, which features Zappa signing the song’s title with intermittent random monologues from his daughter throughout, littered with the quotative word “like” to preface one’s speech or another individual’s statement.

The Vally Girl accent is a variation of California's Accent

Like, What Do You Mean?

One of the speech characteristics accent reduction specialists face with the valley girl/surfer dialect is the upward intonation in the voice. This causes every statement to sound like a question.

Accent reduction specialists have clients record themselves in everyday conversation and ask them to play it back, paying strict attention to vocal pitch at the end of sentences. Accent reduction specialists assist the client in recognizing when they raise their voice (intonation), to reduce the habit and begin to develop a consistent tone.

In a study headed by Leanne Hinton at University of California at Berkley, the accents from a cross section of speakers were examined. Among white individuals in Northern California, the cot-caught vowel merger is evident. Words with vowels pronounced in the back of the throat according to standard American English have begun to be pronounced as frontal vowels.


Accents Define Generations

Research by Melissa Iwai and Norma Mendoza-Denton suggested accent differences have played a role in creating the generation gap that exists within California’s Japanese American English speaking population.

The oldest generation of English speakers, known as the Nisei, has a unique dialect compared to the modern day English spoken by the fourth generation, or Yonsei. The Nisei were held in internment camps in California and Arizona during World War II and conditioned to believe they needed to denounce their heritage and linguistic traits to improve the chances the Americans around them would become more tolerant.

Upon being released, the Nesi were placed in random sectors of the U.S. and thereby prevented from reestablishing personal and linguistic contact with friends and family members.


Ready to Improve Your English?

Learning English is an important step to successful communication, especially for business.  If you aren’t in Chicago, then we suggest our ever popular one-on-one online accent reduction classes.  Widely used, you can take our classes from the privacy of your own home or office from anywhere in the world.