Speak Out: What Kind of Accent Do Californians Have?

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

Valley girls. Surf brah. Chicano English.

A team of researchers from Stanford have launched “Voices of California,” a study to determine if Californians have accents.

What do you think the California 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.

Joe Prasso, who was born in Chula Vista and lives in San Ysidro next to the border, said in one of the public radio recordings that she does not think Californians have an accent.

“To my ear, we sound like most television news anchors,” she said, adding that she looked forward to the results of the project because “it’ll be cool to hear how other people sound.” 

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

Washy January 29, 2013 at 03:14 PM
hahah I was just going to say I speak hippie
ATC January 29, 2013 at 03:21 PM
I'm sorry you feel that I'm a "downer". I tend to think of myself as more of a realist. Being a "neat" study doesn't justify wasting more than a million dollars on it. How about studying ways to help the homeless? Or helping to keep inner-city families intact? You're right, there are plenty of things that money is wasted on; adding another doesn't make it right. In fact, I see very little difference between this study and studying Ebonics.
Agnes. January 30, 2013 at 03:49 AM
As a native Californian, I found this discourse to be funny and entertaining. I've always been fascinated by accents. While growing up, our mom was always aware of how we pronounced our words and was always correcting us. But I loved to try the accents of other people. She was raised in a large Texas family and we found out she tried hard to "lose" her accent when she moved to CA in the 40's. I could never understand why. I find all accents interesting and have always felt we Californians speak rather plain compared to all the other U.S. regions. Can't imagine saying "warsh" though. I've been told I sound "Canadian" of all places! Go figure.
Babaloo January 31, 2013 at 06:54 AM
Jay February 03, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Who cares about the accent. How about speaking grammatically correct english??


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