Friday, April 8, 2011

A Response to American dialects

I wrote this for my online ESL class. We read from a book called American English: Dialects and Variation by Walt Wolfram that I thought it was pretty interesting.  The assignment was to write a summary and response.

This week’s reading asked the question “Are American dialects melting into one or growing more distinct?” After establishing that dialects are indeed still evident and changing, the author discusses recent trends.   Language contact, population movement, expanding transportation and communication networks, and shifting cultural centers are the main causes of dialect shifts. The United States is a melting pot of many immigrants. Previously dialects were the result of European settlers, but not Asian and Hispanic influences are affecting the way we speak English. Although regions are known for their dialects (for example, Southern accents), dialects are not always regionally based, as seen with Black American Ebonics which exist in inner-cities all over the country. “One thing about linguistic stereotypes is certain: they have less to do with the actual speech of a region than with popular perceptions of the region’s people” (110). Due to higher mobility among Americans, traditional dialects are losing predominance in some regions, yet the influx of mainstream dialect sometimes causes local communities to hold more strongly their dialect. Finally, in the past the origins of dialect were in cities, but now cultural centers are the suburbs and teens are starting the trends. Dialect trends “jump” from region to region, without rippling through rural areas of low population. For further study, I chose to read the section on “The Midwest,” chapters 16, 17, and 19.

Often thought of as a culturally bland part of the country, the Midwest encompasses many dialects.  The African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is obviously distinguishable because of the ethnic differences, but White American English is actually quite varied in the Midwest. It is as not as “accentless” as many like to claim. One of they key reasons is internal migration, especially after American wars. Typically, the origins of Midwestern dialects are Scots-Irish, but German and Scandinavian immigrants have also influenced vowel pronunciation and grammar.  Over the years, however, people in certain areas “have also adopted [Inland Northern and North Midland] dialects merely to avoid the stigma of sounding too rustic or uneducated” (127). I think it is interesting that regional accents influence how a person is perceived.  For example, I wonder how this class would be different if we could hear each other rather than read what we write.

Interestingly, patterns that were carried over from New England to Michigan have become the basis for ESL pronunciation. While attending university in northern Indiana, I became quite attuned to dialects and could frequently distinguish whether someone came from Michigan, Chicago-land, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Southern Indiana. I agree with the conclusion that as more people learn ESL based on the Northern, New England influenced dialect, they will find inconsistencies between the classroom and real life. However, I found this section on Midwest dialects lacking as a whole because that it focused mainly on Great Lake cities, rather than the Plains states. I especially took offence that “it is not uncommon to find Michiganders who will claim that the speech of national broadcasters is modeled on their dialect,” (110) because as everyone knows, the best news broadcasters come from Iowa. 


re said...

i don't care what they say... iowans and nebraskans don't have accents. except for the hicks, etc... we actually ARE pretty accent-less. for the most part, anyway.

Эми said...

Preach it, Sister!

Anonymous said...

1) Blog needs to get a face-lift,
2) Linguistically speaking; variations in speech are almost entirely the product of social structure--even in the absence of movement groups begin to speak differently when they internally stratify;

Эми said...

You don't like my new layout?

The Inside Center (Matt Cullen) said...

No. You have a million ads here, and it's all white-and-crappy.


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