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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Do Northeast Ohioans have an accent?

“I was told that Northeastern Ohio is one of the few areas that speaks American-English without an accent. Is that true?” The Newton Falls Public Library staff’s immediate thought was everyone has a regional accent; but we don’t judge questions, we only seek to answer them. It is time to seek the truth.

The American Language; an inquiry into the development of English in the United States by H.L. Mencken, published in 1936, is old but an excellent place to begin. Our questioner used the term accent, Mencken refers to our differences in speech as “regional peculiarities and intonation” [p. 90] and “localisms” [p.416]. There is an entire chapter dedicated to The Pronunciation of American. The main dialects listed in this chapter are Western American [which includes northern Ohio], the New England, and the Southern. The language of immigrants in these areas also colors the manner in which words are spoken. Mencken notes that “the standard American that seems to be gathering form today is principally Western, and Dr. J. S. Kenyon, the author of the best existing textbook of American usage, did well to base it on ‘the cultivated pronunciation of this own locality – the Western Reserve of Ohio’ [p 327].” This was Kenyon’s opinion in 1928, but is it still considered to be so?

In 2004, James L. Fitch, Ph. D presented a paper titled, Standard American English (SAE) []. He describes Standard American English as easily understood by everyone and does not mark someone as being from a particular geographic area. It is more formal than General American English and is routinely used in business.

PBS has a website, Do You Speak American? []. American Standard is actually an idealized way of speaking and is taught by accent coaches. These 'accent reduction'
classes to lose regional dialects are taken by actors, business people, and other professional communicators. While Midwestern speech is not as distinctive in its differences as that of New Yawkers or ya’ll down South, it does have things which also make it unique. It cites examples of these regionalisms, including that Midwesterners say Dawn and Don in the same fashion rather than as two different words. Apparently, while we are not without an accent, we are considered to have the most neutral sounding one.

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