In today’s Stanford Report, a report (“Stanford linguists seek to identify the elusive California accent”, by Ed King, a Ph.D. student in linguistics at Stanford):
With the Voices of California project, Stanford linguistics professors and students aim to discover and document the diversity of California English.
Brandon Conlan of Redding, Calif., doesn’t think he has an accent. A trip to Florida a few years ago confirmed his opinion. Friends there said he had the standard “TV accent,” which to them meant that he didn’t have a distinguishable way of speaking.
Conlan and his friends aren’t alone. Because there aren’t many stereotypes of California speech compared to the distinctive way of speaking associated with East Coast cities like Boston or New York, a lot of Californians are happy with their lack of accent.
Penelope Eckert, a professor of linguistics at Stanford, was intrigued by the disconnect between California’s diverse populations and Californians’ views of their own speech as homogenous and indistinguishable. Eckert and her graduate students launched a multi-year research endeavor called “Voices of California” to fully investigate how English is spoken in different parts of the state.
Hundreds of interviews with California residents from Merced and Shasta counties have revealed the influence of the Dust Bowl migration from Oklahoma, and have highlighted differences between coastal California and the Central Valley.
“It’s really important to portray California as it is,” said Eckert. “People have this view of California based on Hollywood, and California really is a very diverse state.”
Despite being the most populous state in the United States, California is largely unrepresented in large studies of American dialects.
The participants are beginning to present results of the project, but this is only the third year of the project (Merced and Redding in previous years, Bakersfield coming up next month) and there’s a lot of California to study.
Here are Penny Eckert and grad student Kate Greenberg at work wrangling data: