American Dialects in California
Upon closer inspection, the American accents and American dialects found in the cities and towns that comprise California have proven to be relatively resistant to the broad generalizations which characterize dialect zones linguists use to divide the United States. California experienced a massive influx of English speakers and immigrants from other portions of the U.S. during the Gold Rush period from 1848-1855. During this time the predominant regional dialects found in a given area were a product of the settlers” native dialects, thus Standard American English was found in San Francisco, while families who migrated to Southern California introduced their Southern drawl to the region, where it remains prevalent in cities such as Bakerfield. The fact that such dialects exist in California is virtually unknown to the general public due to the national media and influence of popular films, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which portrays Californians as speaking in valley girl or surfer dude speech that is in keeping with their supposed laid back personalities. This association also carries with it the stigma that Californians are less intelligent than the rest of the country”s population.
Non Rhotic Los Angeles
Sam Huddy, a linguist from Pasadena, California, prepared a linguistic survey in the spring of 2012 in an attempt to discern some of the differences between the dialects found in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Among the traits Huddy found in the Pasadena dialect were a more openly pronounced diphthong, or a sound that gradually transforms from one vowel into another within a single syllable, in the words “house” “about” and “town–although this was more obvious among younger speakers–and the “i” phoneme being pronounced as an elongated “e” near the back of the throat, as seen in words such as “pillow” and “milk”.
Unlike the openly pronounced diphthong in “ou” words, this elongated “e” pronunciation was noted across various age groups and towns such as Burbank. However those with a higher education/income level were less likely to utilize this phonemic pronunciation. Huddy”s assertion that the main accent in Northeast Los Angeles is becoming non rhotic is surprising claim, as this accent is normally associated with Boston and New York, and is seen in the aforementioned places as more common in speakers born before World War II. A study of residents in Boston Massachusetts revealed that men over 40 pronounced the final r in words 11 percent of the time compared to 55 percent for those under 40. This suggests that while the non rhotic accent may be too firmly ingrained in these areas to completely disappear, migration and reinforcement of proper American English in schools has effectively marginalized the accent.
While Huddy admits he doesn”t have significant data as of yet to support his non rhotic Los Angeles theory , the theory in itself nonetheless epitomizes how young adults and teenagers are instrumental in shaping the linguistic direction, American dialects, and overall culture of a given area. Whereas adults are more likely to emphasize speaking in proper English regardless of the situation, younger adults and teenagers regularly incorporate their own slang and phrases they”ve heard from peers into their speech. Occasionally some of these phrases cross over into mainstream vernacular and become acceptable to use even in formal speaking situations, or come to broadly define an American accent and all American dialects therein, as in the cases of “valley girl” or “southern drawl.”
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