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Do Tri-City Residents Have an Accent?

Stanford linguistics researchers are working on Voices of California, a study of how we talk.

Valley girls. Surf bros. Chicano English.

A team of researchers from Stanford have launched the study Voices of California to determine if Californians have accents.

What do you think the Tri-City accent is?

Penelope Eckert, professor of linguistics and anthropology at Stanford, believes there's more to it than vowel shifting and vocabulary, dudes.

Despite the state's diverse population, many Californians believe they don't have distinguishable way of speaking. (Some call it a "TV accent.")

"It's really important to portray California as it is," Eckert told Stanford News. "People have this view of California based on Hollywood, and California really is a very diverse state."

Voices of California researchers are recording and studying how Californians speak. They've visited Redding, Merced and, last fall, went to Bakersfield.

Eckert and her researchers say they've found distinctions between coastal California and Central Valley, such as influences of southern twang from Dust Bowl migrants. The large number of Latinos in California impacts language as well.

Voices of California participants talk about their lives, but also are asked questions about special words, expressions, and pronunciations during research interviews. Each reads a list of words that researchers think have distinctive pronunciations in California.

Try these words off the list:

  • Wash, because some people pronounce it "warsh."
  • Greasy, because some people pronounce it "greezy."
  • Pin and pen, because some people pronounce them the same.

KQED in San Francisco and Southern California Public Radio invited listeners to record impressions of California accents.

Courtney Young, 40, of San Mateo County said, in one of the public radio recordings, that she thinks Californians draw out their words and use slang. 

"I feel like it's really influenced by surfer speak," said Young, who admits to saying "totally" and "dude" all the time.

Do you think you have an accent? Where does it come from and what does it sound like? Tell us in the comment section below.

Mona Taplin January 27, 2013 at 06:55 PM
My family is from rural upstate N.Y. They warsh their clothes in waater,( waa rhimes with ha), instead of cans they open tins of food, some moved to Orburn (Auburn) and made comments about the politicians in Orbany (Albany) and they ain't gonna do anything they don't like.
Tim January 27, 2013 at 10:38 PM
I grew up upstate as well, in Westchester... don't know anyone who talked like that.... you must be talking about the sticks up in Watertown or something.
Dee Wright January 31, 2013 at 01:37 AM
Growing up in West Virginia, I certainly did have an accent. When I did the dishes and something was “greezy,” I had to “woish” it. Many one-syllable words became two syllables. “Hill” was “he-el,” ”pan” was “pa-an,” and “gone” was “goi-on.” “Fire” was “far,” “tire” was “tar,” and “hire” was “har.” Then there were “yeller,” “feller,” “swaller,” “waller,” and “holler,” all supposed to be rhyming with “yellow.” It wasn’t until I went to college in Indiana that I learned that “pen” and “pin” did not sound like “pe-un.” I found out that I had an accent!
Dee Wright January 31, 2013 at 01:39 AM
Growing up in West Virginia, I certainly did have an accent. When I did the dishes and something was “greezy,” I had to “woish” it. Many one-syllable words became two syllables. “Hill” was “he-el,” ”pan” was “pa-an,” and “gone” was “goi-on.” “Fire” was “far,” “tire” was “tar,” and “hire” was “har.” Then there were “yeller,” “feller,” “swaller,” “waller,” and “holler,” all supposed to be rhyming with “yellow.” It wasn’t until I went to college in Indiana that I learned that “pen” and “pin” did not sound like “pe-un.” I found out that I had an accent!
Dee Wright January 31, 2013 at 01:39 AM
Growing up in West Virginia, I certainly did have an accent. When I did the dishes and something was “greezy,” I had to “woish” it. Many one-syllable words became two syllables. “Hill” was “he-el,” ”pan” was “pa-an,” and “gone” was “goi-on.” “Fire” was “far,” “tire” was “tar,” and “hire” was “har.” Then there were “yeller,” “feller,” “swaller,” “waller,” and “holler,” all supposed to be rhyming with “yellow.” It wasn’t until I went to college in Indiana that I learned that “pen” and “pin” did not sound like “pe-un.” I found out that I had an accent!

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