Accent Questions

C   Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 19:40 GMT
Hello. I am not racist, but I feel that Black Americans, or at least the majority of them, are terrible speakers. If you compare their speech to virtually any foreign speaker, the foreigner sounds better. Does anybody share this sentiment? If so or not, I would like to get your feedback on this issue.

I have been told that the Midwest naturally speaks with the Standard/General American Accent. But Far Westerners--California, Washington, etc---don't exhibit a distinct accent. Do you really think it is safe to say that the Standard American Accent is indigenous to the Midwest?
svalovec   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 02:28 GMT
I am not a racist, but...


It is all relative mate.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 04:31 GMT
About 60% of American blacks are functionally illiterate, and illiteracy and generally poor education make for incompetence in the use of language and poor diction. Whether the speech of these blacks sounds better or worse than that of anyone else is a highly subjective question, but it is certainly true that many of them speak incorrectly with respect to standard English.

Both people in the far west and the midwest areas of the U.S. speak General American English. The differences, where they exist at all, are too small to worry about. Many people in Canada also speak GAE.

I don't know if it's safe to say that GAE originates in the midwest. Does it matter? What's important is how widely it is spoken and how consistent it is. GAE is very, very widely spoken and extremely consistent. No pronunciation of English is spoken by a greater number of native speakers than GAE, and it is increasingly taught in ESL classes in place of the much more artificial Received Pronunciation (which has never been the native pronunciation of any significant number of people), especially in Asia.
Ben   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 18:46 GMT
I know this sounds like a very PC thing to say, but African American English really is a "dialect" of the language, not a deviation from the norm. For the first three hundred years of their residence in the United States, blacks were quite literally ghettoized and segregated from the white population. Much in the same way that the Jews of Eastern Europe formed Yiddish, an non-standard dialect of German, blacks in the US created their own dialect.

Again, I'm not trying to make a political point here--you can find this in any US history book. Black English in the US is not just "bad English"--it actually has its own rules, syntax and unique idioms.

Much of the language can easily be traced back to its history. It borrows heavily from the speech of the coastal south--the phrase "What's wrong with they house" ("What's wrong with their house") drops the "r" in "their" because that's the way white in the surrounded areas spoke. There are also many bits of African grammar and word structure that made their way into the accent. So again, it's a non-standard dialect, not poor speaking.

The majority of black Americans are poor. I can't see how Black English is any worse than any other working-class dialect (New York, Cockney, etc.). If anything it's more colorful and unique than most.

As for General American, it most definitely DOES originate in the midwest, and here's why:

After World War II, the American economy created "nuclear families"--people who would move out of their home regions to find jobs in other parts of the country. My father was one such person--his dad moved from Iowa to North Carolina to Wisconsin to Alabama.

The effect of all this movement was predictable--since the midwestern accent is more prevalent than any other type of American English, it likewise meant that the majority of these "nuclear families" were midwesterners. Hence this accent began to be perceived by the country as a whole as the "normal" way of talking, and began to affect other regions of the country. This is why my roommate, who is from Maine, speaks with a General American accent, while his father, who is much older, has a thick Maine accent.
Toasté   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 19:26 GMT
Ben... yes, I have the same general understanding about black English as you from my old University linguistics classes. As I recall, black variant English descends from the gullah dialect in the old south with modern influences from the regional english of the early 20th century south.

Again, as I recall the GAE accent does come from the midwest and it became general standard because it was decided to use it in early radio broadcasts.

I know GAE is also the accepted pronunciation here in Canada, but I forget why we ended up with it... probably from radio too.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 19:29 GMT
Whatever you call it, it's not standard. I certainly would not recommend that anyone learn it.
Tiffany   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 21:07 GMT
I always called it "ebonics", Mxsmanic, and most who do speak ebonics can also speak GAE (proper english as they say around here). They just prefer to use it with thier "homies".
Toasté   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 13:34 GMT
The point is... it's their language. You're not supposed to learn it.

A lot of black English words are picked up in mainstream American English, however, thanks to the entertainment industry. Which is not a bad thing.

English is, after all, still a living language, and one of its strengths is its ability to quickly and easily assimilate new words from other sources.
Steve K   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 16:14 GMT
Toaste said

"I know GAE is also the accepted pronunciation here in Canada, but I forget why we ended up with it... probably from radio too. '

English Canada was largely settled originally by the Loyalists who immigrated from the United States, or did you not learn that in school ? That is why we speak the way we do. (.....probably from radio ????)
Toasté   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 16:23 GMT
Oh, yes Steve... of course you're right about the Loyalists.

Except that the original accent of the Loyalists was NOT GAE, it was a British influenced English accent used at the time in New York and Pennsylvania.

The GAE accent did not begin taking its current form until the mid-1800s... AFTER the Loyalists came to Canada. So, I think we should still keep considering the CBC as a good possibility.
Steve K   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 18:50 GMT
I am trying to understand what you are saying.

What is a British infuenced accent? What in fact was this accent of the Loyalists? Ulster, Scottish, Yorkshire, Cockney, Oxford or what? What is your source for this information?

Are you saying the before radio Canadians spoke differently? I have heard interviews with people who grew up before radio and their accent was identifiably Canadian. If is was radio, why single out the CBC?

Based on everything I have seen from what is taught in linguistics in universities I would disregard anything your professor or linguistics book had to say as essentially useless intellectual gobbledy-gook.

Ebonics is a corruption of English. Educated blacks do not speak it. It is like joual in Quebec. Educated Quebecois do not use it and most Quebecois do not like to hear their political leaders use it. Same with ebonics and blacks.
Tiffany   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 20:47 GMT
"Educated blacks do not speak it. It is like joual in Quebec. Educated Quebecois do not use it and most Quebecois do not like to hear their political leaders use it. Same with ebonics and blacks."

I don't think this is exactly true. No one is brought solely with ebonics. I don't know one black person that speaks ebonics that can't speak GAE as well. They just choose not to speak GAE in favor of a dialect they feel brings them together as a black community.

Educated black people do not use ebonics in public speech because they know that they will not be taken seriously if they do. I don't think it's that they prefer it. I actually think it's the other way around.
Alex   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 22:18 GMT
Would you mind to share a classical example of ebonics?
Tiffany   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 22:21 GMT
Ain't nuttin wrong wit it. Me an my homies was jus chillin'. Ain't no crime in dat.
Jamal   Thursday, October 28, 2004, 22:46 GMT
Message on voicemail: Yo, homes. Where you be at? Me and my lady wuz comin' over to chill wit chu but I see you ain't home. Ai-ight. Paaace.