Do Americans have an Accent?

Jennifer   Tuesday, August 17, 2004, 19:04 GMT
I know this might be a stupid question, or maybe too broad, but I often times wonder what we sound like to people in other countries.

Moving from Arizona to Western New York, I could hear a distinct accent in the New Yorkers (I heard "beg" instead of "bag" or "Jon" instead of "Jen") And I can tell the Canadians from the Americans ONLY when I hear them say certain words ("about" sounds like "aboot" and "out" sounds like "oot")

I am sure when we speak to people around us, we do not hear accents, but when we hear from people in other countries, we do.

For instance, when I hear someone with an accent (from other countries), I can usually tell where they are from. Do people from other countries hear us and say "There's an American!"? Do other countries also have differant accents for differant areas of their country?
CG   Tuesday, August 17, 2004, 19:10 GMT
Of course we can tell you by your accents. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a person from the US and a Canadian, but we never think, hmm, where is that person from, they do not have an accent at all.
mjd   Tuesday, August 17, 2004, 19:54 GMT
Everyone has an accent, Jenn.
Jennifer   Tuesday, August 17, 2004, 20:03 GMT
I figured as much.

What countries are you people from?
Emma   Tuesday, August 17, 2004, 20:07 GMT
hmm....when Canadians say a word that has an /ei/ sound,they say it in a more narrow way than Americans.That's how I tell them apart.
Jennifer,almost every country has them...Germany,French,Japan,Korea,China...etc,etc,etc.
Marie   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 00:09 GMT
Speaking any language equals to having an accent, so yes, we all have one, Jen. Some of the easier accents to detect (for me) is the distinct New York accent, southern accent, Boston accent etc., not everyone who grew up in the same state share the same accents I notice though, it depends which area of that state they were brought up, the influence of family, friends accents and so on.
It seems that many of your recent elected U.S. presidents come from the Southern Hemisphere of America(?). It's as though people have more trust in them along with their credentials, I'm only musing about that.
A large majority of Nova Scotians have a distinct accent including people that are from the same provinces in Canada.
Random Chappie   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 06:06 GMT
The answer to all of Jennfer's questions is YES!

I'm from the UK but live in the US and I hear many different accents everyday.
The Right Honourable MJD is from the US (New Jersey, if I recall correctly).
I believe CG is either from the UK or Australia.
Random Chappie   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 06:12 GMT
I pronounce "about" a bit like uh-baaht when I'm speaking quickly, which is rather typical in the south of England, especially amongst the younger generations in or around London. People from certain areas in Northern England and Scotland pronounce "about" the way the Canadians do.
Jennifer   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 12:46 GMT
Ah, well, it seems to make sense now.
Marie-I do think the most recent elected US presidents mostly have strong accents, George Bush was born in Conneticut, but was raised in Texas, and I do believe he has a very strong Texan Accent. Bill Clinton was born and raised in Arkansas, and I'd say he has more of a mid-western accent-easier to understand than George Bush. So yes, the past 2 presidents (that's as far back as I care to go) are from the southern hemisphere.
Random Chappie-do people often compliment you on your accent? I think the Americans in general just love to hear the accents of people abroad.
Andy Mad   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 13:07 GMT
>> "Jon" instead of "Jen"

what do you mean, Jennifer? they say [jan] for Jen?
Jennifer   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 13:37 GMT
I would hear "Jon" or "Jaun" instead of "Jen"

My brother's name is John, and MANY times, they'd say "John" and I'd answer.

Mom is the same way, it sounds like "maaaahm" they really stress the "ah" sound.

I just find accents interesting-call me weird.
Ben   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 17:02 GMT

I'm assuming what you are noticing is a phenomenon called the Northern Cities Vowel shift. Part of what this means is that "o" words, like bottle, not, mop, and Jon are pronounced with an extremely flat vowel, an intermediary sound in between the "a' sound in "father" and the a sound in "cat." Thus the e in Jen and the o in Jon are probably fairly close sounding, especially when someone is talking quickly.
Jennifer   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 18:42 GMT
Wow, you people are smart :o)
I feel out of place on this site!
Thank you for explaining, it seems to make more sense to me now!
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, August 18, 2004, 19:23 GMT
No language has only one invariant pronunciation; there are always minor differences between individuals and between regions, even among native speakers. However, some pronunciations often have more prestige or are more widely used than others.

In English, two pronunciations are in this privileged category: Received Pronunciation and General American English.

Received Pronunciation is a non-rhotic pronunciation (explained later below) that represents the type of standardized pronunciation taught to children in the best public schools (that's why it is called "received"--received from school, that is); it's the English spoken by the Queen and the royal family, and by many people in the English upper classes, either natively or (more often) after learning it in school or acquiring it deliberately to sound "better."

General American English is a very constant rhotic pronunciation spoken by most native English speakers in the United States and Canada; in fact, it's the most widely spoken native pronunciation of English in the world. It's not explicitly taught, but it is so widespread that it has become a well-accepted standard. Almost everyone in the western and midwestern U.S. speaks it, as do most people in most parts of Canada, and large sections of the eastern U.S. and some non-CONUS regions (Alaska, Hawaii). Only the southern U.S. and some localized areas of the U.S. differ significantly from GAE. There are many very tiny variations from region to region, but they are so close that even native speakers usually cannot hear or identify them.

Anyway, a non-rhotic English pronunciation is one that doesn't pronounce the 'r' in a word if it's at the end of a syllable. RP and many southeastern British pronunciations are like this, as is Australia. People speaking RP will say "ka" instead of "kar" when pronouncing "car."

A rhotic pronunciation pronounces all the r's that appear in words. GAE is rhotic, as are most pronunciations not directly descended or influenced by RP. Irish and Scottish pronunciations are rhotic, as are Indian pronunciations. It is thus more widespread among native speakers than the non-rhotic pronunciations.

RP has been taught for many decades in English-language courses, and that, coupled with the former influence of the UK worldwide, has made it the most common and prestigious standard for English pronunciation. GAE is gaining, though, because of the influence of the U.S., and also because there are a lot more native speakers of GAE. (Even in English, the number of people who speak RP from birth represents only about 2% of the population.) Note that the BBC speaks RP (or close copies thereof), and CNN speaks GAE.

Finally, keep in mind that the variations in pronunciation among the major standards (GAE, RP, etc.) are very small indeed, and they are mutually intelligible without any difficulty. Native speakers typically don't notice the accents after thirty seconds of conversation or so. As a non-native learner of English, which pronunciation you choose is up to you, but RP and GAE are the most popular choices, and indeed you can mix and match if you want something that's really unidentiable as coming from any particular region.