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Old 05-21-2009, 08:30 AM
 
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Default The Stereotypical Northern Accents

I'm interested, predominantly from where and when did it originate? Also, how did the stereotypical northern accent change over time?

Prior to radio and televison becoming such a huge influence, it seems split between "goodfellas" like, well, the movie "Goodfellas", and the sharper intonations of the New England Yankees of Vermont and New Hampshire. From the 50s it seemed to shift west, from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Oregon and Washington. Now it seems to have moved into Iowa, Florida and Nebraska too. Presently, it seems to exclude the southwest; New Mexico and Arizona.

Which cities/regions do you think have most speakers who speak the stereotypical northern accent (not necessarily the MOST or most authenticnorthern)? I think Chicago, Detroit, Columbus and St. Louis are possibly the cities where the northern spoken is quite 'generic' and not as regional as say New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or Minneapolis.

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Old 05-21-2009, 08:36 AM
 
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I'd say alot of midsize towns in the Northeast. Not larger cities though, they tend to have their own accent.

When you go out a bit rural (even in NY) people have a very distinct drawl, sort of like a West Virginia accent. At least in the area I'm from (Western NY/ Southern tier area, Wyoming and Letchworth counties definitely have it)
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Old 05-21-2009, 01:23 PM
 
Location: New Hampshire
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It's worth noting that there is tremendous diversity between dialect regions in the North (moreso than the South). My parents were born about 15 miles from each other (one in Rhode Island, one in Massachusetts) and they have noticeably different accents.

Here's a map of the broad dialect regions in the US:



The principal northern dialect regions are:

Eastern New England (also broken down into "Southeastern New England," primarily the RI area, and "Northeastern New England")
Western New England (also broken down into "Northwestern" and "Southwestern" regions)
New York City area
The Mid-Atlantic
The North
(or Upper Midwest)
Inland North (mostly around the Great Lakes)
Western Pennsylvania
The Midland

There are certainly some limitations to this categorization. Anyone from the area can easily tell a Bostonian from a Providence resident, or a Philadelphian from a Baltimorian. The North / Inland North classification is particularly hard to define.

The Midland accent is the basis for "General American English" and is thus considered the most "generic" of American accents. It is also very closely related to the Western dialect, seeing as how many of the original settlers of the West came from this area. The Western Pennsylvania accent is also fairly similar to this "generic" English but does some have distinguishing features.

These dialect regions have existed for a long time and there have not really been "shifts" like the ones you described (well, obviously you'll hear northern accents in Florida now, but that shouldn't be a surprise). The only accent that seems to have "expanded" in a sense in the Midland / Western accent because it is considered the most "proper" pronunciation of American English and because it has been the standard pronunciation used in media since World War II. This has led to a certain homogenization or neutralization of certain accent features -- young people in America speak much more similarly to each other than their parents and especially their grandparents do.

Of the cities you mentioned, Columbus is probably the best example of the "neutral" Midland accent. Chicago and Detroit are distinctly Inland North, and St. Louis is kind of quirky -- mostly Midland but with some Inland North influence.

The origins of these dialect regions are complicated. New England was settled first by people from eastern England which defined the early dialect there. The Mid-Atlantic, by contrast, was settled by a wider mix of people, including those from the west and north of England, Scots-Irish, Germans, Dutch, etc. New York City had influx from both areas.

As settlers from these regions headed west, they brought their dialects with them. In other words, the New England dialect is the basis for the North / Inland North dialects and the Mid-Atlantic dialect is the basis for the Western PA / Midland dialects. HOWEVER, both the coastal and inland accents changed DRAMATICALLY over time, to such a point that someone from Detroit and someone from Boston might have a hard time understanding each other now!

The New England region, for example, was influenced by continued trade and cultural contact with the British during the early 1800s, leading to pronunciations such as the traditional "broad a" in words like aunt, can't, half, bath, etc (although this is very much on the wane today). The Inland North, on the other hand, has been undergoing its own vowel shift over the past century or so, such that what used to be pronounced "stock" is now pronounced more like "stack," and what was once "stack" has a raised vowel (kind of like "stee-ack").

If you're interested, I recorded an example of how a few words are traditionally pronounced in some of these northern dialect regions. Sorry if I don't sound 100% native in each case, but I did my best:

Eastern New England (excluding RI)
New York City
Inland North
The Midland

Here's the list of words recited in each example, in order:

cot
caught
cat
cart
can't
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:31 AM
 
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Thank you, Verseau!
Very interesting and helpful. I hadn't seen that particular map before.

It's interesting to me how accents are constantly changing and morphing as populations shift. I was born in the South, but from age 8-18 I was in Washington state. I've been gone from there for over 30 years now, and it seems that many accents, or perhaps to be more precise, tonations, have changed since I left.
I hear more people who's speech has an accent or tonation so that it almost sounds as if every sentence is a question. There's a little rise at the end of a sentence. I wish I could describe it better. Sounds to me kind of like a toned-down "valley girl" accent that became popularized during the 1980s.

That sound or tone wasn't there when I lived in Washington--and it seems more prevalent now on the west side of the state rather than on the east side.
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:48 AM
j33
 
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You are referring to 'uptalk' which is becoming increasingly prevalent with the younger population, and not just in the US either. I work with college students, so I hear it constantly, I have to admit, I find it a bit grating.

See the following links for more information

Language Log: Uptalk is not HRT
High rising terminal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Speech habits: Uptalk | Books | The Guardian
Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog Blog Archive The Low Down on Uptalk
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Old 05-22-2009, 03:20 PM
 
Location: Greater PDX
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skinem View Post
Thank you, Verseau!
I was born in the South, but from age 8-18 I was in Washington state. I've been gone from there for over 30 years now, and it seems that many accents, or perhaps to be more precise, tonations, have changed since I left.
I hear more people who's speech has an accent or tonation so that it almost sounds as if every sentence is a question. There's a little rise at the end of a sentence. I wish I could describe it better. Sounds to me kind of like a toned-down "valley girl" accent that became popularized during the 1980s.
I have noticed the very same thing among the trans-Cascadian northwesterners. I call it the "Seattle Accent" because it seems more pronounced/prevalent there than in Portland, for instance. They also have an interesting way of pronouncing the letter "a" (e.g. "bag" pronounced "bayg").

When I think of "northern" accents, I think of the stereotypical NYC accent, the Boston accent, the Michigan/Wisconsin, and the Minnesota accent. I guess northern midwest (Chicago/Ohio) should probably be in this group, too. The Northwest doesn't truly strike me as "northern" though.
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Old 05-22-2009, 03:31 PM
 
Location: where my heart is
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I find this very amusing in that I have worked with different people in the past 3 months (all from either Florida or states other than mine). When I have told them where I am from, they seem shocked and they all tell me they never would have thought I am from NY because I don't have a NY "accent". I was born and raised in Manhattan. Do most people equate a NY accent with a BROOKLYN accent?
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Old 05-22-2009, 06:26 PM
 
Location: Dayton, OH
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Texas South. I worked with a guy from Texas and his Southern was different than what I recalled from Kentucky (which apparently has more than one southern accent).
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:16 PM
 
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I would think that people would associate a stereotypical "northern" accent with the East Coast, particularly New York and Boston, etc. If we're talking about a generic "neutral" accent, then the Midland area depicted on that map would be a good approximation, roughly a line from Des Moines to Peoria to Indianapolis to Columbus.
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Old 05-22-2009, 08:25 PM
 
Location: Stumptown
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colts View Post
I would think that people would associate a stereotypical "northern" accent with the East Coast, particularly New York and Boston, etc. If we're talking about a generic "neutral" accent, then the Midland area depicted on that map would be a good approximation, roughly a line from Des Moines to Peoria to Indianapolis to Columbus.
Exactly.

When I think stereotypical Northern accent I think of a Boston/New England accent. That or a Detroit area accent with all the funny vowel sounds.
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