Hi. Howdy. Whattup peeps? Like, Dude, how's it hangin'?
I was born in the Bronx, NY, lived in New Jersey, then lived in Kentucky, and finally settled here in Missouri. I have visisted nearly all of the 48 mainland states of this great nation of ours, and I've met people from all over the country. One thing I have always been fascinated with is American Dialects. I consider myself to be pretty good distinguishing a person's speech pattern and guessing what part of the country they are from.
Our American Vernacular is such a strong individual characteristic - and it identifies ourselves involving geography, cultural background, economic background, level of education, and peer group. How you talk tells others who are are, or at least what you want others to think of you. Take Keith Urban, the country singer. He sings with a Southern twang...but the guy is from freaking AUSTRALIA! Why does he then create a fake accent when singing? To sell albums...to appeal to his particular group of fans. The way we talk tells people who we are.
So how many dialects are there in America? Some say 3 or 4. Others report up to 30. And yet many linguists say it's impossible to count. Here are just a few of the more well-known dialects of American English:
Southern/Country: From the Appalachinas to the Ohio River, then across Mississippi through Texas and into the great Southwest, the Southern Accent is one of the larger dialects in America. The Southern dialect is a lot of fun, in my opinion. The double modals are interesting: "I might could eat somethin'." They also have their own vocabulary like "ya'll" and "fixin'." Do Northerners think Southerns sound "uneducated?" In general, yes. But I think most people underestimate the power Southern Dialect has had on our everyday language everywhere. "Stiff upper lip" and "hot under the collar" are just two common terms Southern in origin. Here in Missouri, many of us say "warsh" instead of "wash." Southern has it's own sub-dialects such as Cajun, Texan, and Smoky Mountains. Just yell,"Get 'er done!" and you'll make friends fast in the South.
Ebonics/African-American English: The advent of hip-hop music and culture has transformed this country. It's not unusual to see white Suburbanites anywhere speaking Ebonics when out with friends. This dialect really came from a clash of cultures during the slave trade. Many linguists consider African American Vernacular as a sub-dialect of Southern Dialect. That might've been true a generation ago, but I see it almost as a hybrid between Southern and Black Urban. With the hip-hop culture gaining such a strong hold on our nation's youth, this vernacular has become much more mainstream. Within African-American English, there is the Southern influenced form, spoken by the older generation, and a Hip-Hop form which tends to use curse words consistently. Want to translate Standard English into Ebonics? Go to this Ebonics Translator. Standard English: "Good morning everyone." Ebonics: "Good morning brothas, peep dis shit."
Californian/Mallspeak: This is both the most fun, yet most annoying dialects. Mainstream media such as music, movies, and television have such a profound effect on our speech. California, the home of Hollywood, has been an incredible influence among the younger set of America for decades. It began with Valley Girl and Surfer Dude back in the 80s, "Like totally...gag me with a spoon." Continued into the 90s with movies like Clueless, "As if!" And continues to influence teenagers and now 20-somethings' speech patterns. Listen to anyone under the age of 30 speak. How many times will they say "like" or "you know." In fact, linguists say "like" is the new "ummmm." They throw in a "like" during pauses while speaking. The word "dude" is common place among guys under 35. "My friend, like, was home...and like, was watching this show. And the dude was like, freaking out...like totally screaming when the guy, like, came out from behind the door."
Northeastern Dialect: You talk about spin-offs. With Northeastern you got New York City, Pittsburghese, English/Yiddish, Philly-speak, Bostonian, and everything in between! If we can accuse a Southern of talking too slow, then I think it's fair game to say many Northeasterners speak too damn fast, almost eating their words. Out of all these, I find the Philly-speak the strangest. You'll find people from Southern Jersey and Delaware also speaking Philly-speak. It's almost a hybrid of regular Northeastern, with some Southern. In Philly, a "baby stroller" is called a "baby coach." You don't walk on a "sidewalk," you walk on the "pavement." New York City is fun too. You got your typical wiseguy, "Fuhgeddaboutit." And "coffee" is prounounced "cawfee." In New York, a sandwich is a "hero," but in Philly it's a "hoagie." I often find myself doing the Yiddish/Northeastern: "Oye Vey!"
There exists a Standard English. It's considered an accent-free dialect often used by journalists. Some people believe we are losing our regional dialects...that Standard is taking over. I disagree. Do we really want Americans to all sound the same? Not me.
Many of us are able to go from our own regional dialect to Standard - especially in a professional setting. I've witnessed a black person speak Ebonics when they are around other black people, and then go to Standard when at a business meeting, for example. Regional dialect is what gives people their character and shows off a person's 'local color.' Be proud of it! If we all spoke the same way, I think it'd get boring really fast. So what if I call it "soda" and you call it "pop." Although we could both laugh at the person that calls all softdrinks "Coke."
We are a diverse nation, and our own dialect is celebration of that diversity. It's what makes this country so great, or:
Narley. Bad-ass. Smooth. Tight. Uber. Fly. Da Bomb Fo Shizzle. Gooder than grits.
American Dialect Quiz: See how good YOU are at figuring out where each sample of speech is from. This is NOT easy, and I got only 5 right.
Fun American Dialect Quiz: Amazing accurate quiz you can take in just a couple minutes. It breaks down the different dialects you speak. Thanks to Nowhere Girl for this!
National Map of American Dialects: Interesting scholarly project, mapping the different dialects in this country.